(This article is part of the ongoing column 12 Steps to Success.)

Any successful healthcare encounter requires active listening,1 which is far more than just paying attention. It is a specific communication skill based on the early work of psychologist Carl Rogers that indicates “I am here for you.”2 Active listening is the nonverbal demonstration that the veterinarian is paying attention to the client and his or her story. Maintaining appropriate eye contact, body language, organized pacing of the interview, and attentive silence allows the client time to gather his or her thoughts before the veterinarian’s response.3


Feeling heard is often of top importance to the client when he or she visits the veterinarian. As Dr. Suzanne Kurtz says in her interview (see box), it is imperative to give clients space to think, participate, and collaborate in their pet’s care. Active listening not only creates openings in the interview with the veterinary team for this opportunity, but also is key in satisfying angry or complaining clients.4


Listening intently to clients is fundamental to the entire veterinary diagnostic and treatment process. However, extrapolating from research in human healthcare, we can expect active listening to fundamentally impact 4 key aspects of client interaction:

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