Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and convince you to vote for a particular candidate. From what I can tell, all of our Facebook friends are doing a bangup job of that all on their own. In fact, that’s kind of what I want to talk to you about today, since I decided to skip out on the many debate drinking games going on last night and managed to remain dead sober through the whole hot mess and I need something to do with all this angsty energy.

Besides, you’ve made up your mind already, right? Most of us have. If the debate last night changed your mind, let me know, because you’re a unicorn and reporters would like to speak with you. It’s the way of the world that people have very strong opinions, and they look for facts to support those opinions (both Clinton and Trump have fact checkers running live on their sites, and I guarantee neither candidate is doing anything to fact check where they are wrong.) It’s called confirmation bias, and it defines how we consume media these days.

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Facts are less important than trust.

I’ll repeat that: people pay more attention to whether or not they trust you than whether or not you have facts on your side. Facts, these days, are negotiable. It bears repeating because way too many veterinary professionals forget that when we’re talking to clients, and it hurts us in the long run.

I remember the first time I read The Food Babe’s site- I think it had something to do with the ‘yoga mat chemicals in Subway bread’ thing. She is photogenic and charismatic and very, very passionate about her work, which for her millions of fans overcomes the fact that when it comes to science, she is very, very wrong. Because people trust her as a person, they are willing to overlook or completely dismiss the long line of scientists who will tell you in no uncertain terms all the reasons her approach to science is completely incorrect. After all, she means well. If you call her out on being wrong, you are insulting this very nice lady personally, and you therefore are horrible.

It carries over into veterinary medicine too. All of us know the agony of spending an hour discussing evidence based treatment of newly diagnosed diabetics and why diet X is the one we recommend, only to have them call back the next day and say “I read prescription dog food is full of dead cats and you just prescribe it to get free trips, so I’m going to go with this treatment I read about online.”

And how do we react? The exact same way we do when our blustery Uncle Joe shares some horribly biased article about the candidate we can’t bear: with anger, with a long list of our own (much more accurate, of course) fact sources, probably served with a not so small hint of irritation. At the end of a long exchange, you’ve unfriended 5 people and need a stiff shot just to get to bed. It never really works.

When clients react to our recommendations with hesitation and we respond by saying, “No really, that’s wrong and I’m SO RIGHT, SO, SO RIGHT, and here’s why” it becomes about who is more right rather than why they were concerned in the first place, and that’s a problem.

 

Dachshund head on businessman's body

We need to earn our clients’ trust long before they encounter facts that contradict our own.

We do that through our interactions with them every day, through sharing posts on social media that demonstrate our interest in our clients, by listening to their concerns and acknowledging that even though their conclusions might be incorrect, they’re out there asking questions because they love their pet, and want to do right by them.

When someone asks me if Milk Bones really cause cancer, I bite my tongue while silently cursing the goofy websites that post things like that because they get lots of clicks, and then sit down to have a discussion about their concern. It’s very important to separate how wrong a purported fact is from the idea that a person is wrong for believing it. Because fear of cancer is legitimate, and I want my clients to know that I will do everything in my power to help minimize its impact on their lives.

We discuss obesity and preventive care and screening lumps and all those things we know make a difference; if they still want to skip a certain dog treat, so be it, but I know I have shared information that I know is truly important. It starts with acknowledging the underlying concern and demonstrating that you see it, and want to help.

Build your relationships and the facts will follow.

Our country is facing a lot of fear and uncertainty, and when we vote, we gravitate towards those who we feel empower us to do something about it. Our clients are the same way. Empower them, don’t bludgeon them. Facts are less important than trust, yes, but when we do it correctly, we can be the source for both. And you can take that to the voting booth.

 

Dr. Jessica VogelsangWhen she’s not busy watching debates and reading fact check sites, Editorial Director Jessica Vogelsang is a San Diego veterinarian with Paws into Grace and the creator of the popular website pawcurious.com. Her writing is regularly featured on outlets such as dvm360, Vetstreet, and petmd. Her debut memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin is available in bookstores, online, and as an ebook from all major book retailers. For more information about the book and Dr. Vogelsang, visit drjessicavogelsang.com.

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