Communicating with your team

Good communication between veterinary teams and their clients is widely known to be an important part of a successful veterinary practice. However, the way that the team communicates with each other is also a vital component of a happy and productive practice culture.

It’s not just the words you use that contribute to communication. Your tone of voice, body language and use of visual aids can all come together to change the tone, urgency or meaning of the communication you are engaging in.


When it comes to conversation, your use of non-verbal signals can be just as important as the language you use. In fact, more than 60 per cent of your message is communicated through non-verbal signals. Your use of facial expressions, eye contact and body language contribute additional meanings to the words you using. Especially in a busy setting, eye contact and body language are necessary to show that you are fully engaged in a conversation and are paying due consideration to the person you are speaking to.

One of the most important signals to be aware of is your tone of voice: a cold, blunt voice can feel alienating whilst a shrill, loud voice can be irritating. The ideal voice is friendly, warm and low-pitched. Take care to speak at a steady pace, pronouncing words clearly to ensure that the meaning isn’t lost.

Be aware that your body language can also affect the meaning of an interaction. If an interaction is intended to be friendly, be sure to show this by smiling and gesturing to this effect. Likewise, if you need it to be clear that you are taking a situation seriously, reflect this with a more serious facial expression and gestures for emphasis.

Ultimately, you should always remember that you are talking to a fellow human being. Know that they will also be reacting and responding to the information you are conveying, perhaps for the first time, so you should adjust your dialogue and gestures in response to this. How you speak with others is an important element of practice culture, and could even make the difference between a distressed colleague leaving or staying at the practice.


It should be no surprise that listening to colleagues, especially in a clinical setting, is absolutely vital to the successful running of a veterinary practice. In most situations, but particularly when discussing a diagnosis, paying close attention to what a colleague says can make a significant effect on, not only the patient outcome, but also your professional relationship. Research has shown that we use less than 25 per cent of our listening skills in a typical conversation, losing potentially 75 per cent of the message.

A technique to make sure you are not only hearing but actively listening to a colleague is to repeat and rephrase parts of the information back to them. This provides them with the opportunity to correct any misinterpretations or misunderstandings you might have made. If you think you are too busy to hear them, remember that fully understanding a situation now can save much more time later.

Even if you are actively listening, be aware that your body language might give a different impression. If you are using closed body language, such as having your arms crossed or not using eye contact, you risk appearing uninterested and unattached. Try to practise open body language – maintain at least 60 per cent eye contact, uncross your arms and nod or shake your head to show understanding.

Written material

When you have information to convey that is particularly complex, important or wide-spread, it can be better to use written communication. Written communication can have many benefits, as diagrams and notes can clarify information and reduce opportunities for misinterpretation as well as being easy to refer back to.

Remember to use written communication wisely, as too much of it can easily swamp someone and the significance could be lost. For example, if you continuously mark memos as ‘Urgent’ or ‘Important’ your colleagues may begin to ignore the label. When information then comes through that is truly urgent or important, your reader may disregard it, causing significant problems.