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Active Listening: Finding Focus at the Front Desk 

Sarah Rae Murray is a writer, veterinary practice receptionist and an advocate for all animals. 

It’s a Thursday of a rollercoaster week. Your clinic delivered a difficult diagnosis to a good client in the morning, you fielded rapid-fire requests all day and now you’re wondering how you’ll have time after work to get groceries, make dinner and make it to your child’s music lesson that evening. The phone rings for what feels like the thousandth time. You exhale, then pick up the receiver.

Halfway through the conversation you realize that you’ve shifted into autopilot. You heard the pertinent information to successfully complete the call but you weren’t really listening. Did the client notice? Did you miss a critical detail?

For a veterinary receptionist, listening to people is a big part of the job. Many of these conversations happen over the phone, making it easy to be distracted by your own surroundings and disengaged with the client’s call. But with front line staff serving such an important communication role in the veterinary team, listening skills are vital .

Halfway through the conversation you realize that you've shifted into autopilot. You heard the pertinent information to successfully complete the call but you weren't really listening. Did the client notice? Did you miss a critical detail?

Practicing active listening not only facilitates a better experience for the client but it also allows for accurate information to be gathered and relayed to the rest of the team. Here are some easy tips to integrate active listening into your daily communications:

1. Be present:

Mindfulness seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue lately and for good reason: being present becomes increasingly hard living with one foot in virtual reality. When you take a client’s call, the only screen you require houses your practice management software. The information you pull up should be necessary or helpful, not distracting.

2. Focus on the speaker’s voice:

It can be difficult to accurately gauge a client’s emotional state in the absence of visual cues. Focus on the client’s words, their tone of voice, and vocal indicators of emotions (i.e. wavering, audible sighs, etc.).

3. Ask questions:

Asking a client questions has multiple functions. It demonstrates to the client that you care to know more, it reveals a more detailed picture of what is going on with a pet and it can be used as a tactic to diffuse conflicts.

4. Avoid interrupting or jumping to conclusions:

Resist the urge to dive into the conversation before the client has finished their thought. This builds rapport by being respectful of the client’s thoughts and feelings. Don’t assume that you know what they are going to say next, anticipating the direction of the conversation can actually hinder progress.

5. Don’t let prejudice interfere:

Judging a client based on past experiences is unfair to the client and inhibits your ability to openly listen to what is actually being said. You can utilize your knowledge to enhance the interaction but don’t allow your biases to sneak in and cloud your judgment.

6. Paraphrase and summarize:

Repeating information back to the client is an easy way to reassure them that you are listening, it confirms the information you are processing is accurate and it keeps you focused on the interaction as it unfolds.

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Grohol, John M. “Become a Better Listener: Active Listening.” PsychCentral, 20 Mar. 2017. Web.

Miller, M. Carolyn. “You’re Not Listening to Me!” AAHA Trends Magazine, Nov. 2017: 51-56. Print.


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