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  • Writer's pictureFiona MacGillivray

Ah, now I understand!

3 tips to improve comprehension


Professionals from all walks of life are prone to using acronyms, technical terms and jargon, which can hinder us when it comes to effective communication with our clients. Being aware of this in advance of our conversations can make a huge difference to how well our advice is taken up, the level of engagement from clients when discussing management protocols for their animals and strengthen our relationships.


If we focus on improving our verbal communication, it can be useful to consider the '3 Cs':

  • use of clear language,

  • being concise,

  • and checking our client's understanding.


Use of clear language

When speaking with fellow professionals, it can make the conversation flow more easily, show we have a level of knowledge or even act as a code eg TFBNDY, PTS. But it can be a significant barrier to understanding if we use technical terms or acronyms with others who aren’t used to that language. It can also make us appear aloof, disconnected and uncaring. Even when the other person might have some knowledge of the topic we are talking about – say, calf pneumonia or chronic renal failure – it does no harm to use clear and simple language.


We might lapse into the use of technical jargon that risks leaving the client uncertain of what we mean, confused by terminology or even embarrassed at their lack of understanding. The outcome can leave both parties feeling frustrated: for example, we might be annoyed to discover that medication wasn't used as we advised, while the client felt disconnected from the conversation with no opportunity to influence the outcome of the consultation.


And if you are trying to explain a particularly technical point, using images can be very helpful. Don’t worry, simple line drawings and stick people suffice for those less skilled in art (see below!).


Being concise

Being passionate about communication can sometimes lead me to talk at great length to my audiences! Indeed, having extensive knowledge and interest in any topic can tempt us to share more than is necessary during a conversation. When it comes to effective communication, saying less can often help with understanding what are the key points you are raising that are important in that conversation, reducing the risk of ‘information overload’, and the risk of switching off the other person to what is being discussed.


Checking understanding

One simple model of the communication process between 2 people that can help us appreciate where an intended message might be misinterpreted is shown below:


 

The speaker chooses what they will say to convey the message they want to share. This is called encoding and can be delivered either by spoken or written words, images or through their nonverbal communication.


The listener receives this message and interprets it, a process called decoding. We can use their response - verbal or nonverbal - to help us determine whether they are likely to have received and interpreted our message in the way we intended.

  

To reduce the chances of misunderstandings, how can we check someone's interpretation of our messages? Is it enough to see the other person nod, smile or say OK? It can be useful to ask questions along the lines of ‘how does that sound to you?’, ‘what are your thoughts?’ or ‘what questions do you have about that?’.


Taking the time to make some small changes to our own communication, using the 3 Cs approach, can really help improve understanding during our conversations.

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