Consider designating an area for tough discussions that's pleasant, clean, and quiet. Use soft lighting and comfortable furnishings
and avoid or eliminate visual distractions, such as clutter or a highly-trafficked coat rack, or audio distractions, such
as barking dogs or talking people.
4. Make a connection
Successful communication occurs when both parties emotionally connect. So when you deliver bad news, connecting with the client
is key. What makes a successful connection? It differs greatly with age, gender, familiarity, occupation, and many other factors.
You'd obviously approach a 6-year-old child differently from a 36-year-old attorney, but there are universal pathways, including
body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones.
My physician is the best communicator I know. He has scores of patients and many life challenges. But during our meetings,
I feel I'm his only concern. He dresses in clean, professional—but not overly formal— attire and positions his chair to remove
any physical barriers between us. From beginning to end, he gives me his complete attention. He maintains an open body posture,
never crossing his arms or legs. He doesn't fumble with equipment or read medical charts while I'm speaking. He speaks clearly
in warm vocal tones and smiles. He's calm, confident, decisive, and caring.
As it turns out, I've learned a lot from my doctor. I'm a tall man and know many of our clients are taken aback by my size,
especially if I burst into the exam room. Their eyes widen as they trail toward the ceiling, searching for the uppermost limit
of my body. So before I enter a room to deliver important news, a team member leaves a chair for me, and the most diminutive
client towers over me. I use body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones to establish a connection. To demonstrate
I listened and understood, I repeated their responses. Some say parroting back is passé, but I disagree. It's easy, effective,
and surprisingly powerful.
5. Let people see inside
Clients expect veterinarians and team members to care deeply about animals and the people connected to them—and that's what
they want to see. So let your guard down, open up, and show them your personal, animal-loving side.
While the discussion shouldn't focus on you, some heartfelt self-disclosure can reassure clients you understand their feelings
and relate to their pain. Sometimes, I feel it's helpful and appropriate to mention my mother's losing battle with breast
cancer or my father's fatal car accident or share the loss of one of my pets. And I often discuss other recent similar medical
cases to show clients they're not alone.
6. Use humor
Humor is highly personal—and risky. Failed humorous attempts can seem callous or inappropriate. But successful attempts can
defuse otherwise difficult situations and bring sunshine into a dark world. You've just told a client her beloved pet has
renal failure or metastatic cancer. Consider reminding the client how the dog stole toilet paper from her bathroom, knocked
over the Christmas tree, or buried her spouse's slippers in the yard. Or mention something funny the pet did at your practice.
Perhaps the patient's eyesight is failing and you reassure the owner blind animals often compensate well and it's not like
her dog's a jet pilot. Clients often appreciate levity and laughter, and it changes the climate from enduring a problem to
extending a worthwhile life. It shifts the focus from negative—the expense and the pet's pain—to positive—the value and joy
What is the risk?