Effective Communication Strategies for Veterinarians

I have always bristled at any suggestion that males and females fit into boxes based on separate, distinct gender-specific traits.  So when I heard the suggestion that the gender pay gap between men and women may have to do with differing communication styles between the genders, of course I threw a fit.

Then I started researching…and writing.  Is it true??  It seems as though it kind of is.  But there are more variables than gender, and, I was happy to find, communication differences do NOT divide neatly between gender lines.  We are, in fact, all unique and valuable individuals who do NOT fit neatly into little boxes.  *phew*

Effective Communication Strategies for Veterinarians

Shawn Finch, DVM

Are gender-communication differences contributing to the gender-pay gap?  In the June 2008 Veterinary Economics article “Are Women Tough Enough?” Jan Miller explores the role of communication style differences in the revenue discrepancy between male and female veterinarians (20 – 30% on average according to a 2005 AVMA-Pfizer study!)  Are women and men in our profession communicating differently?  Are our differing communication styles affecting our salaries?

Donna Zajonc and David Womeldorff, in the August 2006 workshop entitled “Emerging Perspectives on Feminine and Masculine Leadership Styles-and Why We Need Both” explained that the only area in which males and females tend to consistently differ in the Myers-Briggs personality assessment is decision-making function, with two thirds of men assessed as thinking and two thirds of women assessed as feeling.

According to Zajonc and Womeldorff, “Some of the key aspects of ‘thinking’ relate to an emphasis on objectivity, logic, clarity, justice, consequences of action and being firm and fair.  Some of the key aspects of ‘feeling’ relate to an emphasis on values, interpersonal relationships, harmony, mercy, empathy and compassion.”

They assert that leaders need to be able to utilize both decision-making styles.  While I agree that we need to be able to function as both “thinkers” and “feelers,” I believe improvements in our communication abilities will be best achieved if we identify how we tend to make decisions, and focus on strengthening that tendency.

If you tend to make decisions based on thinking, you may need to consciously convey compassion, but do not try to negate your “thinking” tendencies.  Clients are confident in medical care of their pets when they know that you are absolutely sure of your recommendations and can firmly lead them through difficult decisions.

If you tend to make decisions based on feeling, nurture that tendency.  Beware of the potential of becoming emotionally over-invested in patient care, which may increase your risk of burnout.  Protect your compassionate nature, but allow it to emerge when communicating the importance of your medical recommendations.  Clients are reassured when they know that you are recommending for their pet what you would do for your own.

We are not women in a man’s career (or men in a woman’s career).  Neither is a feeling or thinking-based mode of decision making superior to the other.  We are called to the care of people and pets, and have been endowed with different yet equally valid strengths to assist us in fulfilling our calling.

As we improve our communication skills, honing our strengths and bolstering our weaknesses, client confidence will improve, which will allow our patient care to improve.  As we all approach our highest potential as communicators, perhaps the gender pay gap in our profession will begin to narrow as well.

This was first published at The Wagging Tail for Veterinary Professionals on August 3, 2010.

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