Communication, your key to success

March 1, 2019

two people talkingCommunication is the key to your success

There is no one greater skill that will boost your career and job satisfaction.

From my observations, individuals who listen well and understand the positive outcomes of conflict resolution are well respected and considered good communicators. People who empathize with others and have positive body language are good communicators.

To communicate well means you understand the other person, that person understands you and your presence is inviting and sincere.

Here are some highlights of what to consider when communicating with others.

Body Language

Every day your body language influences the way you are perceived and heard. Facial expressions, posture, movements, attire and eye contact influence your ability to express yourself with confidence and continuity. Roughly 70% of communication is nonverbal!

“Studies indicate you have 4 seconds to make a good first impression on those you come in contact with. And this is used as a yardstick for all future communication by those whom you meet. You can’t make a good first impression through your words alone. In fact, nonverbal communication is between 60 to 75% of the impact of a communication. But despite being the most important aspect, body language is also the most misunderstood and misinterpreted. You could be making the most wonderful compliments or praise to people, but it’s difficult to gain their trust or approval if your words contradict with your body language,” reports Kevin Hogan, PsyD, a leading expert in body language, persuasion and sales.

When speaking with someone, relax, engage, lean forward, loosen up “tight” clothing, be comfortable, open your arms, be inviting. When listening, nod, engage, lean forward, and relax. Be aware of each person’s comfort zone. Pay attention to nonverbal clues indicating you are too close, not getting your point across, or “pushing buttons.” Eyebrows, frowns, smiles, nose twitches are all nonverbal clues that will let you know if your conversation is being accepted or rejected.

Empathy Statements

“Many people are terrified of empathy. Maybe we fear it’s on the edge of counseling. Or maybe because it doesn’t feel like it fits in the clinical realm. Don’t fool yourself. Empathy statements are the strongest ingredient in building relationships with people. There’s no formula for when to use them. Look for opportunities to communicate your understanding of some situation, dilemma or conflict. We don’t use this technique nearly enough and that’s a shame. Practicing empathy makes for a more efficient visit and helps clients feel more connected,” coaches Cindy Adams, MSW, PhD.

What is empathy?

Empathy is defined as having the similar experience as another person and feeling the similar pain, anguish, joy, exuberance as they did. For example: If you lost a beloved pet and there was a family in the exam room who recently euthanized their beloved pet, then you could empathize with them. The confusion lies with sympathy.

For example: If you have never had a spouse come home from the war then you could not empathize with the wife of a soldier that just returned. You could sympathize with her; however you could not empathize with her.

Creating strong relationships with co-workers and clients occurs when you can have heartfelt conversations, enriching bonds of trust and understanding. Sincere, lasting connections are made when candid, casual conversations transcend to higher levels of acceptance without judgment.

When you practice empathetic statements and reach a point of consciously engaging in deeper conversations, you will naturally become more confident in your own skin. Every day, challenge yourself to be empathetic with a client, a team member or family member. Listen to their story and reflect upon the experience. Add your empathetic statement (not your entire story) and then listen again.

Communication Preference Styles

We all have different moccasins, walked different miles, and have different “filters.” Embracing these diversities and understanding the breadth and depth of our histories enhances empathy.

Your veterinary team may benefit from taking communication preference style profiles. Hospitals may use this tool at the time of hire, for team building or during times of transition (new facility, owners or philosophy changes).

Dr. Carin Smith writes in her book, Team Satisfaction Pays, “One goal of conducting personality profiles is to help people understand themselves and others. For many people, an understanding of others’ personality “profiles” helps them to “depersonalize” actions. If each individual can respect and become more aware of other’s styles, then they may work better together as a team.”

Profile resources:

  1. DISC (Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, Compliance)
  2. Myers-Briggs (Introvert, Extrovert and more)
  3. Color Code (orange, yellow, green, blue)
  4. Enneagram (Achiever, Loyalist, Challenger and more)

As you see, there are a number of tools at your fingertips. Implementing these tools may be your biggest challenge. As a veterinary team member, you may see a great need for and identify the many benefits of performing a team-test. As the team changes (people leaving and new hires), this allows them to work better as a collective group.

“We [veterinarians] are a bunch of introverts, trying to be extroverts, leading a whole bunch of introverts!”

  • Kenny Johnson, DVM
  • Epiphany after he attended an AAHA practice management course

Active Listeningpuppy listening

You have probably spent years learning how to read, write, and speak. How much time have you spent learning how to listen? After all, it’s a conversation, not a monologue. Practicing active listening elevates all of your relationships; those at work, at home and with friends and family.

Another challenge; focus once a day on actively listening.

There are three components to active listening:

  1. Receive the message
  2. Process the message
  3. Respond to the message

Listen and look for the total visual and auditory message. Listen for the entire message. If you are thinking about what you will say, you are not actively listening. Stop whatever you are doing, look at the person who is speaking to you, establish eye contact, and focus on listening.

You are disengaged when you are thinking of a response, talking at the same time or distracted. You are disengaged when you ask a question without allowing the other person time to respond. Focus, once a day, on one conversation and see how it feels to actively listen and be engaged.

Give yourself some time to evaluate the conversation, analyze and process the message. Adopt a relaxed body posture, relaxed tone of voice and soft facial expression.

Mirror the conversation, let the speaker know you have not only heard what was said, but that you understood what was said.  Your co-worker, family member or relative will appreciate your reflection. Try this approach with your children, too.

  • “What your are telling me is….”
  • “Let me see if I heard you correctly….”
  • “It sounds like you felt….”
  • “I hear you experienced….”

When you do find yourself disengaged, daydreaming, fidgeting, reading or some other way of not actively listening, there are ways of correcting the situation. First, refocus and make a conscious choice to engage. Once the person is finished with their statement, admit you were disengaged.

  • “I was truly thinking of something else, please repeat what you said.”
  • “I apologize; I was not paying close attention. Will you please explain your position, again?”

You may feel this is rather awkward, at first. You will be surprised by the new found respect that is shared during the thoughtful exchange. Give it a try. What do you have to lose? You weren’t listening anyway.

It is also respectful to write down what a person is attempting to convey. Imagine how fewer mistakes will occur if you wrote down the veterinarian’s orders instead of banking on your brain to remember? If it is really important, write it down!

Even when you are talking on the phone and a client is relaying information you are to pass onto your doctor, explain to the person on the other end of the line that you are taking notes. They will appreciate your extra effort, the message is more accurate and the doctor receives a written transcript of the conversation. A win/win situation.

Conflict Resolutionpeople yelling

Yes, we are going to go there. Do you realize that when your neck is aching or your shoulder has a knot under the blade, the cause of your pain is that you are not expressing yourself? That’s right, brushing conflict under the rug causes STRESS!

You may believe that “tiptoeing around,” avoiding conflict, will make it go away. Think again! Avoiding conflict makes the conflict worse.

Human Resource managers report spending 24-60% of their time on employee disputes. Like birth, taxes and death, conflict is an inevitable part of life. Workplaces that accept differences, understand attitudes, and encourage open dialogue offer a safe environment to bring conflict to light.

How you deal with conflict is solely your responsibility and yours alone. Always ask yourself, “What role am I playing in this drama?” You are better off taking responsibility for your own reactions and begin processing from within your own realm of understanding. It is easiest to blame; however it is in your best interest to understand your part in the conflict. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

There is hope. By facing and managing conflict directly, it is possible to eliminate tension and angry emotions along with strengthening co-worker and important relationships.

Your employee handbook may outline how grievances are to be handled. Review it, learn it, live it. Is the employee handbook adequate? What can you do to create a pathway for grievances?


Your career will be elevated when you seriously and objectively look at your present communication styles; assess your body language, begin empathizing with clients and co-workers, actively listen and engage in conflict resolution with a plan and win/win outcome. Attend seminars offered by veterinary consultants, career organizations and colleges. Create conflict resolution outlines for your employee handbook.

Practice makes perfect. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Become the communications expert at your workplace and home. Communication is the key to your success and reaching your professional goals!



The Communication Funnel-Know it, Use it. Cindy Adams, MSW, PhD

Team Satisfaction Pays, Organizational Development for Practice Success. Dr. Carin Smith. Smith Veterinary Consulting and Publishing. 2008

Listening with Empathy: Creating Genuine Connections With Customers and Collegues. John Selby. Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc. 2007

The Joy of Conflict Resolution: Transforming Victims, Villains and Heroes in the Workplace and at Home. Gary Harper. New Society Publishers. 2004