Communicating without words: Measuring nonverbal communication between veterinarians and farmers during routine herd health consultations

F. MacGillivray*, A.M. Bard, K.A. Cobb, L. Corah, K.K. Reyher, M.J. Green, W. Wapenaar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Uptake of advice and the ability to facilitate change on-farm are key elements for successful veterinary practice. However, having the necessary clinical skills and knowledge is not enough to achieve this: effective communication skills are essential for veterinarians to realize their advisory role by exploring and understanding the farmer's worldview. Research of verbal aspects of veterinarian communication supports the use of a relationship-centered communication style; we next need to study how veterinarian-farmer nonverbal communication (NVC) can influence interactions and their outcomes, which has been examined in medical and companion animal practice. In this study, we considered which aspects of NVC should be measured, and how, to provide an essential first step toward understanding the significance of NVC for veterinarians working in dairy practice, which should be of interest to researchers, veterinary educators, and practitioners. Eleven video recordings of routine consultations in the UK were analyzed for farmer and veterinarian NVC. The NVC attributes with established links to positive patient and client outcomes from medical and social science studies were chosen, and a methodology developed for their measurement, by adapting measures typically used in NVC research. Each consultation was segmented into intervals defined by the main activity and location on farm: introduction, fertility examination, discussion, and closing. This approach allowed us to analyze the content more consistently, establish which aspects of NVC featured within each interval, and whether the activity and location influenced the observed NVC. We measured 12 NVC attributes, including body orientation, interpersonal distance, head position, and body lean, which have been shown to influence empathy, rapport, and trust: key components of relationship-centered communication. Future research should seek to establish the significance of NVC in effective communication between veterinarian and farmer, building on our findings that show it is possible to measure nonverbal attributes. Veterinarians may benefit from becoming skilled nonverbal communicators and have more effective conversations during routine consultations, motivating farmers to make changes and improve herd health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5452-5467
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number8
Early online date20 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2023


  • communication
  • effective communication
  • empathy
  • herd health
  • nonverbal communication
  • Farmers
  • Humans
  • Dairying/methods
  • Veterinarians
  • Animals
  • Farms
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Communication

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