Animal Health Focus and that these goals are achievable. This aspect requires a move away from the traditional hierarchical approach or righting reflex most practitioners within the veterinary medicine world engage in. It’s often the first reaction of a veterinary surgeon out of their desire to help the farmer to instantly outline what the farmer needs to do to fix their problems and improve the farms overall performance. However, research has shown us that if the individual, in this case the farmer, is not included in the development of the plan and the setting of the goals they are unlikely to put in the required effort to implement the goals set out. The farmer needs to be engaged and included in the generating of solutions to his on-farm issues. In doing so this will create a sense of ownership of the goals and will therefore will be more likely to result in positive behaviour change. This is why the righting reflex does not work – the farmer feels no sense of attachment to the goals as they have just been thrust upon him. Essential communication skills 1. Asking open questions 2. A rmations JULY 2018 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com Affirming is about noticing and commenting on the positive aspects in a client. The use of affirmations identifies client strengths and acknowledges the clients’ efforts in their struggles. Are affirmations the same as praise? Not exactly. To praise is to raise a roadblock as it subtly implies that the praiser (the vet) is the arbiter of praise or blame. ”You tried hard this week” “Look at this! You did a really good job of keeping those fertility records.” The vet is ideally reading the body language response of the client. The skill is to discover how best to convey to the client your genuine appreciation and positive regard. Reflective listening involves responding to a client by con- 3. Reflective listening An open question is like an open door. Open-ended questions allow you to learn more about your client through conversation rather than interrogation. If you are trying to foster a client-centred approach one should avoid questions that can be answered with brief yes or no answers. Open questions invite clients to “tell their story” in their own words without leading them in a specific direction or pigeon-holing them with a question to which they can only answer yes or no, which can put people on the defensive and unwilling to take on new information. They focus attention in a particular direction. Open questions such as “How can I help you with ___? Help me understand ___? Tell me more about___?”, help to gain a more accurate understanding of their experiences and elicits discussion of the reasons for making desired change. It also elicits more information, allowing one to make a better-informed decision about how to address the client’s problems. In addition, it helps to build a rapport with the client as you are showing interest in what they have to say. cisely restating the patient’s own statements. The purposes of reflective listening are to ensure that the veterinary practitioner understands what the client means. Therefore, on-farm if the vet reflects something the farmer did not mean, the farmer can then clarify. What reflective listening also does in the small animal consulting room is diminish the clients resistance by communicating that one understands and acknowledges the patient’s thoughts and feelings. This also builds rapport as the client feels understood and listened to. Reflective listening also encourages discussion of the patient’s reasons for wanting to make changes. This is done by selectively reflecting the statements the client makes in favour of change, thereby eliciting further statements in favour of positive change. 4. Summarising 32 Open-ended questions also act as a release valve for clients as they are able to voice their concerns and doubts openly. One is providing the client with some degree of control in the conversation so they don’t feel as if they are being interrogated. They also place the onus on the client, provoking them into thinking about the problems they are experiencing and explain them coherently. Through this, you are helping the client themselves to recognise the need for change which is more effective than simply being ordered by an external body that they need to change their behaviour. Summarising reinforces what has been said, and shows you have been listening carefully. Summaries are usually brief, three to four sentences and decisions need to be made about what to include. Use summaries throughout the consultation or farm visit as well as at the conclusion. It is a good way to check that both the vet and the client are on the same page. The client hears a rundown of their concerns and has the opportunity to correct any errors in understanding. A summary can also be used to help shift direction in the session and move the conversation forward. “So, let me see have I got this right; the calf health issues on the farm are not only hurting you financially but the sick calves are causing a lot of stress…and you would like our vet practice to help fix these issues?” or “To summarise, you are concerned about the weight gain in Sheba, especially since she was neutered and you are concerned it’s going to affect her joints or her general health. Tell me if I have missed anything?” Summarising helps to ensure that there is clear communication between the vet and client. Also, it can provide a stepping stone towards change and instigating a collaborative plan. Veterinary communication skills are a cognitive skill that must be learned and is essential to becoming a successful veterinary practitioner in all fields. Communication skills is an important pillar in veterinary medicine alongside problem-solving abilities, physical procedural skills and science-based knowledge. The client, their animals and the vet all benefit from good communication.