Difficult clients are part of the business, but there are ways to manage them, help the horse and still maintain your sanity.

It’s a topic that Colleen Best tackled on day 2 at North Carolina State University’s Equine Health Symposium.

“Our emotional clients are always hard to deal with,” says Best, a veterinarian at Ontario Veterinary College. “Are they good listeners? No. Are they good decision makers? No. Are they safe horse handlers? No. Emotional clients are really a whole big ball of miserable wax. When we’re dealing with them, the one thing we are going to try to do is to try to help them return to their rational brain. We can do that by communicating. It’s hard, but you can do it.”

Being aware of how you are communicating is critical. Body language and other non-verbal signals can influence a difficult situation.

“About 80% of our communication occurs non-verbally,” she says. “When you are on the phone talking with a client who is freaking out, if you are talking fast you sound hurried and uninterested. Even over the phone, we are sending non-verbal signals and we can manage that.”

It’s not easy, though. Your body language will betray the words you choose to speak.

“If you don’t authentically believe or you are trying to ice over something, your body will give you away. We send messages that we don’t realize we are sending. When you are managing your non-verbal cues, you need to be aware of what you are doing.”

If you know that you’re going to be involved in a stressful situation such as a difficult footcare case or you’re trying to collect money, you can set yourself for success before it occurs.

“Visualize a positive outcome for the interaction, because if you believe you are going to achieve it, your body is going to help you get there,” Best says. “You can also assume a confident posture. If you are going to a difficult conversation and you tend to not be assertive and you are talking with a very assertive trainer or owner, stand with your legs apart and your fists on your hips behind your truck — where no one can see you for a minute or two. It will change how you feel.”

Your verbal skills are also important. Best suggests starting with an open-ended inquiry — a question that cannot be answered with yes or no. Ask questions such as, “What can I do for you today?” or “How can I help you?”

“How powerful of a question is that?” she says. “It tells you right off the get go.”

It’s important to try to understand your client’s perspective, Best says, even if you don’t get it.

“If we can figure out what they are, it gives us a chance to educate a person away from that,” she says. “You can actually ask, what are your expectations? Often they don’t know it’s unrealistic. If it’s unrealistic, take a deep breath and say, ‘I can do my best.’ Maybe, let’s take a look at the horse. Maybe it’s a number of things, but it’s really important to understand what they want from the get go.”

Among the other lectures of the day, Wellington, Fla., farrier Curtis Burns presented, “Managing And Repairing Quarter Cracks”; Raul Bras of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., discussed, “Practical Approaches To Foot Infections”; and equine surgeon Lauren Schnabel of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine lectured on, “Lower Limb Radiographic Anatomy”.