Communication Skills

Why are communication skills so important?

Good communication skills are essential if you want to find out the information you need to help your patient and client and for you to give your fantastic advice in an understandable way.



Hottest Tips:

Listening: ‘Ear, ‘Ear… it’s not just about hearing the words. It is about understanding what your client is saying.

Speak clearly and confidently: ‘I say, I say’…but not loudly or in a dictatorial manner.

Looking: ‘eye, eye’ … look (not stare) at the person you are talking to and make occasional eye-contact. [You’d be surprised by the number of times I’ve caught myself talking to my computer screen…DOH].

Avoid using jargon: … That’s a Big 10/4 Rubber Duck…. Eh? Express yourself in a manner at the client’s level of comprehension, not yours. It’s all too easy to think that because you understand what you mean, the client must as well.

“Yes, he has a comminuted fracture of the left tibia”….

What’s that? Oh, a Broken leg – why didn’t you say so?

Chat:… a professional natter. Have a friendly conversation your client rather than read-off a script. They will feel far more at ease, less anxious and take on-board your advice more readily and you’ll probably learn more yourself as they relax, open-up and tell you more about their pet.

Ask probing questions:… dig deeper. Don’t just rely on what you are immediately told – you need to find out as much information as possible.

For example: Weight clinic. Bert the Labrador isn’t losing weight.

Initial Question:  “What do you feed Bert”
Answer:  “2 bowls of weighed-out dried food daily”.
Confirmation:  “That’s great! You’re feeding Bert the amounts we talked about last time we saw you”.
Probe further:  “Does Bert get any treats?”
Ask what?:  No wonder poor old Bert is not losing weight. The client hasn’t understood that ‘food’ includes ‘treats’ and so doesn’t mention this until you dig deeper.


How does your client live their life? Understanding their point of view and their life circumstances.

You say: You say: “Bert needs to have supervised walks on a lead 3 times daily for a minimum of 10 minutes
and a maximum of 30 minutes per session”.

*You’ve set an impossible task as, without knowing it, the client can’t (or won’t) do this. The only exercise Bert will get is toddling around free-range and unsupervised in his owners garden, once in the morning and once in the evening.*

How do you gain compliance?: You need to find out more about the client’s circumstances. What can they do? What can’t they do? What can you suggest to help them, to help Bert.

Clever tip: Ask what Bert enjoys doing for exercise?

Use this as an opening question over “what exercise do you give Bert?” and you will gain far more information to help you design an achievable exercise plan.

Joint Commitment: Ask what the client is able to regularly commit to, in time and involvement, to help Bert have fun on his weight-loss journey.

Design Bert’s new exercise routine together with the client. A jointly agreed enterprise works better than a dictated regimen.

Stuck? Clever tip: Suggest ‘outside help’ – you’d be surprised how many times this has been the magic-wand suggestion for me. Suddenly your client is excited that they CAN do this for Bert!

Temporary or permanent solutions; for example; a dog-walker or maybe enlisting help from a family-member or neighbour to pop around to supervise the redesigned garden jaunts.

Orating:… No speech-making or just reading words from a hand-out sheet or form.

There needs to be a conversation interaction between you and your client.

If your client needs to read a form, allow them time to do so and check their understanding; [especially if it is a consent form]. 

Observe & Listen: … Listen to the tone and check their facial expressions and body language – to check for comprehension and to modify your delivery as appropriate e.g. 

  • nodding (understands)
  • eyes darting or wrinkled brow (doesn’t understand)…
  • terse replies (get on with it!)
  • shuffling their feet or fidgeting (nervous or they want to get out of there – either way they aren’t engaged and not listening to you)
  • leaning towards you and smiling (either they fancy you or you’ve got the message across successfully!)

Not sure?: … Never guess, find out. You can’t make the right decision if you don’t have the right information.

SKILLS! They’re multiplying!!

Ask open-ended questions:

  • Tell me about…
  • Explain to me…
  • Describe…
  • Who, what, where, when, how

Use close-ended questions as reflective or qualifying statements


Giving Fred his Tablets:

Tell me about giving Fred his tablets. Listen. Then reflect on and qualify the information provided by the client e.g.

  • “I see. Does that mean it’s difficult to give Fred his tablets?”
  • Client answer: YES.

Explain / describe to me about giving Fred his tablets e.g.

  • “What else have you tried to do?”
  • “Please describe how you give the tablets to Fred
  • “When does Fred get his tablets?”
  • “Who gives Fred his tablets?

Ask a close-ended question: When a Yes or a No answer is needed e.g.

  • “Do you have any other questions about giving Fred his tablets?”
  • Client answer: YES. Resume probing/open-ended questions etc to find out more
  • Client answer: NO. Your Job’s Done!

Ending a consult: to ‘close’ the consultation, and very especially for those times when the client over-stays, (perish the thought!)

Close-down techniques

  • pack away your equipment
  • move towards the door and open it
  • discreet time-check: never look meaningfully at a clock or your watch – that’s rude – however a discreet glance at the clock or your watch can politely can prod the client into understanding you need them to go

Repeat over-stayers:… in advance of the consult, ask a colleague to pop in, after, say 10 minutes, to ask for your assistance in 5 minutes time. You can say…

“Ah good, we’ve still got 5 minutes left on your consultation before I am needed. Is there anything else we need to discuss before I go?”

Have any questions or thoughts on this blog? Send them over to Alison –