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Ask Pet Owners: “Why?”

There is a great article in the New Yorker about Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. One particularly interesting notion was presented: When people were asked to explain – in detail – their position on something about which they felt strongly, their position weakened once they realized they didn’t have a lot of basis for the opinion.

As consumerism continues to run rampant among pet owners and veterinarian struggle more often with externally-influenced, highly-opinionated clients, new tools and techniques are required to successfully influence people to make the “right” choices for their pets. One such tool could simply be asking a very basic question: “Why?”

Asking “Why?”

Veterinarians stand to gain a lot from asking “Why?” to clients who seem stubbornly focused on something that isn’t aligned with the doctor’s thinking.

  • To begin with, per the New Yorker article, there’s a strong likelihood that if a client is asked to explain his/her perspective it will invoke a thought process that may ultimately result in a tempering of the opinion. It’s much easier to have a client self-actualize and come around to the doctor’s point of view than it is to argue.

  • Another possibility also exists: the client might actually have a valid perspective. At the same time the doctor asks the client “why?”, the doctor should ask him/herself the same question. The most likely result is that the doctor will have substantiated his/her perspective and can explain it with greater clarity to the client. It’s also possible, however, that after thinking it through, the doctor could conceivably change his/her perspective to align with the client.

Using “Why?” To Start a Conversation, Not a Confrontation

It would be dangerously easy to turn “Why?” into a challenge where there’s a winner and a loser. The New Yorker article addresses the human propensity to want to win. So the spirit of the “Why?” question and the intended result must be clear – and genuine – to the doctor before asking it. A good start: “Let’s talk through this to make sure we’re both aligned in our thinking about how to help your pet. How did you arrive at the conclusion you’re sharing with me?” Not so good: “Where did you hear that? Why would you think what you said is true?” An honest-to-goodness desire on the part of the veterinarian to work with the client instead of against him/her will be evident in tone of voice, body language, choice of words, and more.


About Pet Cause Media

Headquartered in Central Massachusetts, Pet Cause Media is the national leader for improving veterinary practice outcomes using data. Smart Outcomes™ is a portfolio of integrated client outreach technologies for veterinary offices that focus on just-in-time messaging. Veterinary staff are made aware of products, procedures and best practices to discuss with management, trainers and product reps. Pet owners, while in a “pet frame of mind”, are presented with contextually-relevant information to discuss with veterinary staff. Benefits include increased compliance, improved pet health outcomes, and elevated practice revenues. Visit for more details. Follow Pet Cause Media on Facebook and Twitter.


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