I often get caught in conversations with clients, and then I'm behind for the rest of the day. How can I stay on schedule
without offending clients?
"Congratulations! It sounds like you've mastered the fine art of building rapport," says Dr. Lydia Gray, MA, executive director
of the Hooved Animal Humane Society and a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member. "Some veterinarians never develop 'bedside manner.' But, as you've discovered, sometimes
having a great doctor-client relationship leads to other difficulties. You're right to worry about how ending a conversation
inappropriately might be perceived by your client."
Dr. Gray points to a veterinary communications expert, Dr. Jacob Antelyes, who was a former columnist for JAVMA, for help.
"Our vehicle, the doctor/client conversation, is not an off-the-road machine; for maximal performance, it must stay on the
highway," said Dr. Antelyes. He offered several strategies to get conversations back on track in his Jan. 15, 1989, article,
"Listening: Heart and Soul of Doctor/Client Relationships."
According to Dr. Antelyes, one strategy is to interrupt. "He said productive interrupting stops the flow of talk in a friendly
way and provides an opening so you can change the direction of the conversation," says Dr. Gray. "But don't just interrupt.
Say 'excuse me' or 'pardon me for interrupting.'" Then, regain focus by paraphrasing something the client said earlier, asking
a clarifying question, or structuring the patient's problem, Dr. Antelyes recommended.
Another strategy Dr. Antelyes recommended is to bring the client back to the central theme of the visit—the patient. "He suggested
saying something like, 'This is very interesting, and I wish you'd tell me all about it another time; the most important job
we have to do today is take care of your horse's leg.' Then use the strategies above to regain focus," says Dr. Gray.
Another reason conversations stray is because the veterinarian isn't totally focused, she says. Dr. Antelyes recommended bringing
an undistracted mind to the patient's problems. "You can't always expect clients to remain focused when they're worried about
their animals," says Dr. Gray. "If, at least, you're focused, you can do a better job of corralling conversations."
Dr. Lydia F. Gray, MA