17 Feb Eschew obfuscation. Espouse elucidation.
If the title of this blog got you reaching for the dictionary, you’re not alone. Similarly, if it switched you off just a little bit for being too fancy or confusing, perhaps you’ll now have a little idea how it feels to be the pet owner on the receiving end of an overly detailed post-surgical debrief. A client like the one we recently witnessed looking befuddled, after being asked by an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon to watch for distal limb oedema, when pointing at the dog’s leg and saying “look out for any swelling here” instead, would have been instantly understood.
Choose your words to give clarity.
Fewer words, better said.
As members of the veterinary team, we’re in the business of helping our clients provide the best care for the animals in their lives. If we’re expecting them to follow our treatment plans at home, or keep up with medication regimes as prescribed, then it’s vital that they understand what we’re asking them to do. Owners want the best for their animals, so if they don’t do as we ask then it’s most likely to be because they didn’t really know what it was we were asking. To avoid this, in the consult ask yourself two things:
- What do you want the client to hear?
- What do you need the owner to do?
Intentionally design the conversation around these objectives, so you can be confident that the client will understand and remember what you have told them when they get home. Think about the words and phrases you choose and strip out any jargon (unless you’re talking to a fellow vet or medic).
Simplify the message.
Clarify next steps.
Social psychologist Dr Amy Cuddy has written about the disconnect between medical professionals and patients. The former generally value competence above empathy, whilst for the latter group the opposite is true. Clients would much rather feel that you truly understand how worried they are about Max’s leg injury than hear you tell them in detail exactly how you are going to fix it. When our clients trust us, when they know that we will always recommend what’s best for their pet, then those pets will always benefit from the very best care because the owner is fully bought-in to what is being done and why. Dr Cuddy explores the delicate balance between trustworthiness and strength in her 2012 TED talk, ‘Your body language may shape who you are’, named by The Guardian as ‘One of 20 online talks that could change your life’. It’s well worth a watch.
As a related phenomenon, right now we’re also witnessing the fallout from when communities are marginalised by authority, in the shape of vaccination hesitancy. Covid vaccine support in BAME communities appears to be lower than expected, which many commentators put down to the fact that they have historically been mis-advised or mis-treated by institutions that remain predominantly white, old and male. (You might draw parallels within the veterinary world, we couldn’t possibly comment….)
The point is, we all need to feel seen and understood in conversations about health and wellbeing. We need to trust those telling us to do something, and we need to understand why we’re being asked to it.
It really is this simple, when we eschew obfuscation and espouse elucidation.
Or should we say, deliberately avoid ambiguity and adopt clarity.