Utilising interpersonal skills to manage challenging client behaviour

02 June 2022
8 mins read
Volume 13 · Issue 5
Figure 1. The physical, behavioural and emotional signs of acute and chronic stress


Widespread pandemic-related disruption has led to increasingly challenging client interactions. TheBritish Veterinary Association (BVA) found that 57% of veterinary staff surveyed in 2021 reported feeling intimidated by client behaviour during the previous year; a 10% increase from 2019. The psychological impact of consistently difficult or abusive interactions can be significant and contribute to the high incidences of stress, burnout, attrition and potentially suicide increasingly noted in the industry. This understanding further highlights the need to focus on developing individual self-care strategies and leaders offering appropriate support to their team. Historically, veterinary education has overlooked the importance of training in interpersonal skills, such as communication, conflict resolution and emotional intelligence. However, human and veterinary medicine is evolving with increasing recognition of the significance of communication skills training to help prevent and manage of challenging client behaviour. This may help to ensure practitioners are better prepared for the challenges that await them.

Many who embark on a career in veterinary nursing do so out of a desire to help animals and develop their clinical knowledge and skill set. However, the ubiquity of client service in the veterinary profession is often underappreciated (Cornell and Kopcha, 2007). Equally, preparation for the challenges associated with this component has historically been an afterthought in veterinary education (Heath, 2006). Seemingly ‘soft skills’, such as communication training, were once considered irrelevant, leaving many veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses inadequately prepared for inevitably challenging client interactions (Lewis and Klausner, 2003). However, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has now included communication as a day one skill and education and continuing professional development (CPD) providers deliver training in non-clinical skills, such as complaint management, complex conversations and managing stress and mental health, alongside technical skills (Kurtz, 2006). Encouragingly, the recent RCVS Workforce Summit (2021) report suggests including interpersonal, leadership and personal skills as compulsory CPD requirements (Loed, 2022).

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