How Nonverbal Communication Impacts Veterinary Client Interactions and Outcomes

When pet owners decline your treatment plan or suggested veterinary services without an apparent reason, you may wonder if it's because of something you said. In reality, it may not be what you said, but how you said it.

Although it's natural to blame your choice of words or phrasing, nonverbal communication elements can actually create more discord. This includes facial expressions, gestures, posture, mannerisms, and more. Popular nonverbal communications such as frowning, sighing, and arm-crossing are some of the most obvious examples, but many smaller, subtler cues can also impact how your message is received.

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Learning how to use and interpret nonverbal cues—be it when handling frustrated clients or trying to gain client compliance—can improve relationships with clients as well as patient outcomes. Here's why.

Functions of Nonverbal Communication with Veterinary Clients

Mastering the subtle art of nonverbal language results in more than good manners; it can significantly improve patient outcomes and client satisfaction. Advantageous functions of nonverbal communications in a veterinary practice include the following:

  • Establishing trust: When your nonverbal communications align with your spoken messages, clients perceive honesty and sincerity and will feel more comfortable with your advice. This is especially helpful in emotional situations or when timely decisions must be made. Active listening can play a big role here, as it helps clients know their input is valued. Engaged clients who see you as both provider and listener will be more likely to trust and consult with you.

  • Enhancing understanding: When nonverbal communication does not appear to align with the verbal, clients may waste unnecessary time deciphering what you're saying rather than comprehending the options to reach a solution. They may also become confused or frustrated and decline care. Incorporating more confident nonverbal cues, such as standing straight with your chin up and hands out of your pockets, can effectively underline the information you're providing and add clarity to it.

  • Increasing compliance: When clients hear a clear message at all levels of communication, they're better equipped to make informed decisions about their pet's care and provide consistent and appropriate home care.

  • Improving care: Clients are more willing to share key information about their pet's history when they trust their veterinary professional. That's why it's important to both manage your own nonverbal cues and also read those of your clients, as well. As a result, you'll better recognize reluctance, avoidance, or the desire to share additional information, which may be critical for an accurate diagnosis.

  • Preventing or calming angry clients: When your body and speech send a unified message, clients are less likely to react negatively with confusion or frustration. Already angry clients are easier to de-escalate when you project a nonthreatening and compassionate response at all levels.

  • Boosting perceived value of services: Nonverbal language that reinforces your speech projects professionalism, expertise, and empathy to your clients. Your practice's core values are subconsciously imbued in your actions, which can increase the client's confidence and trust. As a result, comfortable clients are more likely to see your services as being worth the cost.

The Power of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal messages are constant—beginning the moment you meet the client and resonating long after the appointment. Start by making an intentional effort to observe your natural habits and consider what messages you may be sending. Put the same attention on reading others more carefully, as well. Recognizing nonverbal cues in your practice can change the way you interact with clients but also fellow team members, inspiring positive outcomes across the board.


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Sarah Rumple
Owner, Chief Creative Officer of Rumpus Writing and Editing

Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer and editor. Since 2011, her work has focused on pet health/behavior and veterinary practice management topics. Her clients include individual veterinary practice owners, national corporations, nonprofit associations, media companies, consultants, and others. Learn more at sarahrumple.com.

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