Every farrier has at least one client who square dances on your last nerve while wearing 4-inch spike heels.

Although it’s tempting to fire an emotional or difficult client, improving your communication skills can go a long way toward improving your practice and keeping an otherwise good paying account.

“Our emotional clients are always hard to deal with,” Colleen Best told attendees at last weekend’s North Carolina State University’s Equine Health Symposium. “Are they good listeners? No. Are they good decision makers? No. Are they safe horse handlers? No. Emotional clients are a big ball of miserable wax.”

The veterinarian from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College offered a number of tips to improve communication with your clients — and perhaps even break them of some bad habits.

Use open-ended questions. It’s important to find out what your clients know about certain subjects. A client’s belief system usually is based on information gained from a source they trust. Sometimes that information is inaccurate.

“Open-ended questions tend to begin with the words: what, how, describe, tell me or explain,” she says. “For example, tell me what you know about founder and what your goals are for Buddy?”

Many times, the information that someone has is based on research that since has been proven incorrect.

“My Mom is really upset that I don’t let my baby sleep on his side,” Best says. “They disproved that about 20 years ago. My Mom’s old knowledge is really stuck, because that was the recommendation when I was a baby. Since I know why it’s stuck, I can at least explain the new knowledge. When you know what our clients know, we can tailor our explanation.”

Attentive listening. We live in an age of distraction. When our communication devices go off, often our attention is divided and we stop listening.

“When you’re looking at your phone, what does that say to your client?” Best asks. “I’m not listening. Something is more important than you.”

Do you have a client who repeats his or her point over and over again? You might be giving nonverbal cues that suggest you’re not listening.

“They’re worried; these clients think what they have to say is important and they don’t think you’re listening,” she says. “We have to be mindful of what we’re saying with our body. Maybe there was something about what you were doing that was telling them that you’re not listening.”

Some nonverbal cues you employ that let the client know you’re paying attention are — making soft eye contact, nodding and responsive facial expressions.

“When you’re listening to someone, think of it as a quiz,” Best suggests. “Task yourself with, ‘I’m going to have to say something back to the client that embodies what they just told me.’ Paraphrasing back to them what they said to you is going to help you stop the repeating.”

Not only will it help you to become a better listener, but it also demonstrates that you understood their point and/or concern. At the very least, it could head off a misunderstanding.

Empathy. Expressing empathy is important to most clients, but it should be important to you, too. Why? It will help you better understand where the client is coming from. Yet, to understand how your client feels, you must hear their experience. By asking, “What’s going on with Fluffy?” the owner often will express what’s important to them.

“We have to ask questions,” Best says. “How something is affecting a client is not the same way it effects us. By hearing what the client has to say, we can get an intellectual understanding. Then we can respond with a verbal or nonverbal understanding of the situation.”

By making the effort to listen and understand, you can improve your hoof-care business.

“Feeling understood is a really powerful thing,” she says. “You want to work with that person again. You feel more comfortable talking to them. Chances are you’re going to respect them.”

Communication isn’t always easy, but by improving your skills you can become a better farrier and develop better clients.