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Communication skills – all part of the service

Communication skills – all part of the service

Excellent Communication Skills’ is a key item cited in job descriptions, but what is actually meant by the term? It seems it’s a term used to imply more that there will be a significant requirement to interact with colleagues and customers and to be confident in doing so in a way that others will not object to. However, for veterinary professionals, communication skills are an even more vital part of the role than in most professional environments.

It’s so important in the veterinary profession

Veterinary professionals have to be able to communicate with customers over a variety of potentially sensitive topic areas: the health of a beloved pet, financial implications of treatment, disease prognosis, concerns over animal welfare. Any one of these situations, if not handled with tact and finesse, may cause a difficult conversation to spiral out of control. Knowing how to convey concerns, or deliver bad news is absolutely essential, so communication skills are high on the list of ‘essentials’ rather than ‘desirable’!

A two-way street

However, communication is a two-way street. Being a good communicator means being able to actively listen to what someone is trying to say to you. Often, this means being able to read between the lines and interpret something the customer may not even realise they’re saying. Other times, it could be your customer does not have particularly good communication skills – after all, that’s not in the ‘customer job description’! It’s up to you to draw out the information you require to diagnose the patient’s problem and determine the best course of treatment.

Body language

Also to be considered is that communication is not simply about talking; much of our communication is non-verbal. Body language plays a large part in conveying the true state of affairs. Consider how easy it is to tell when a pet and an owner have a great relationship – the owner will probably be cuddling or stroking the pet, even when their attention is focused on what you’re saying. The pet will likely be leaning up against the owner. Their proximity tells you the relationship is good. Conversely, it’s possible to tell when the relationship is not good.

It’s not just customers

Communication isn’t only about how you interact with customers: working within a Practice requires you to be able to communicate effectively with your colleagues. Within teams, an abrasive style of communication is likely to cause friction, while not communicating your message clearly can result in poor patient care. It is true people have different communication styles, but ultimately you must be able to get your message across and understand the messages you’re receiving. If in doubt, speak to your Practice Manager at your next appraisal. Communication skills are rarely taught at Veterinary College, but they’re too important to your ability to perform your role to be ignored.

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