Client Communication Styles in Veterinary Practice
Productive relationships with clients are key to your success as an equine practitioner.

Veterinarians need to recognize various communication styles used by clients and know how to respond properly. Thinkstock

The ability to forge productive working relationships depends on how well you are able to interact with your clients and staff. You need to effectively communicate your thoughts so they are delivered and received as you intended. To achieve that, you need to understand the various communication styles you will encounter. This is important in your veterinary practice as well as for everyday life.

Researchers have categorized many types of communication styles. A communication style is not a specific ability, but rather a preferred way of adapting and using your abilities. Following are the most common communication styles.

Passive or Submissive: This person avoids expressing his or her thoughts, opinions or feelings. Those controlled feelings might mount up to a breaking point that results in an outburst, which isn’t helpful in endearing a client to you, or vice versa. This type of communicator relies on apologies, prefers not to make decisions and avoids confrontations (yet feels like a victim and blames others).

Aggressive: These individuals overtly express their opinions and feelings, often in a way that runs over the rights of others. Communicators with this style feel that they are more important than anyone else. It is not uncommon to have clients who behave this way.

Passive-Aggressive: To an observer, this person might seem passive, but beneath that veneer is anger. Ultimately, such resentment causes the person to undermine the perceived (real or imagined) offender. A sarcastic, complaining, patronizing behavior typifies this kind of “communicator.”

Assertive: An assertive communicator has no problem being decisive or expressing his or her thoughts and feelings, but does so without violating the rights of others. This behavior is optimal for good communication, as these individuals value not just themselves, but also respect other peoples’ time and expertise.

Manipulative: This person seeks to make others feel sorry for him or her because that individual feels that his or her needs are not being met. This creates an uncomfortable and frustrating atmosphere for those on the receiving end.

From these descriptions, you might consider that you routinely fall into one or two categories, and you probably know clients who fit in each category. Affixing “labels” to yourself or others isn’t constructive, but it is helpful to note preferences in communication style. You might find that communicating in one manner is relevant to certain situations and not others. Recognition of these traits gives you a means to begin working on improving and fine-tuning your communication skills.

Here are situations that might help you understand these styles in your clients:

  • You might have a client (manipulative) who makes you feel bad because you don’t want to schedule routine appointments during dinner or on the weekend.
  • You might have a client (passive/aggressive) who undermines your credibility because of a perceived negative interaction with you or your practice.

If you capitalize on an “assertive” communication style when explaining health care, and your client is similarly respectful, this generates the best path to success for the horse and for improving your enjoyment of the profession.

Research has demonstrated that effective communication is based:

  • 7 percent on word meaning;
  • 38 percent on the way we say the words we choose; and
  • 55 percent on nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions.

Therefore, achieving successful interactions also relies on observation of nonverbal communications. This is similar to what you do when “reading” your equine patients.

Take-Home Message

Finding the right mix of communication styles between you and your clients can help diminish friction, stress and anxiety in your professional life while enabling you to build strong relationships with your clients. Ultimately, this enables you to do the best by their horses and to maximize the enjoyment of your chosen profession.


Visit and search for “communication styles” for a PDF on “The Four Basic Styles of Communication.” 

This article is brought to you by Boehringer Ingelheim.

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