How to Improve Trust With One Word

If you have ever visited a new doctor, dentist or other medical professional, you might find yourself in the exam room wondering:

  • Will they respect me or talk down to me?
  • Will we have enough time or will they seem hurried?
  • Will we have the same values?

I'm thinking about a recent experience. I realize now my underlying question is, “Am I going to be treated like a human being or just another case in a folder?” Trust in being seen and heard is paramount for a strong, collaborative relationship.

People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. – Theodore Roosevelt

Recently my long-time, favorite veterinarian retired. For those who are close to your pets, you know your relationship with your vet can be as important as your relationship with your own personal physician.

I had just seen my former vet six weeks ago about some periodontal issues with my kitty, Sydney. Now there was a new issue. I saw a new vet in the same practice. He addressed the issue. Then he examined Syd's mouth and proclaimed she would need a teeth cleaning under anesthesia, X-rays, and perhaps several teeth pulled.

I was dumbfounded. My vet of 17 years suggested only weeks ago that I use treats that eliminated plaque. I asked the new vet what changed so radically in 6 weeks. He said that different vets were going to have different opinions.

He voiced what were a number of inconsistencies in diagnosis and care, based on my experience. I inquired about these inconsistencies. Nothing fazed him. I went so far as to tell him that I expected my vet to care about my pets, and me, and I was not feeling that from him. Then I was silent. He was silent.

I asked him his reaction to what I just said. I’ll give him points for being able to repeat back what I just said.

He started making arrangement as if we were proceeding with the teeth cleaning. I had to remind him I had not agreed to that yet. We completed the appointment and I left.

I looked up recent reviews of that practice and found others reflecting the same experience. I thought back on times when that practice had gone above and beyond. One day my cat, Mac, had a seizure out of the blue. They did everything they could to get him examined that day, by my favorite vet.

There had been a lot of turnover there lately. I realized I needed to feel supported by the entire practice. That confidence was no longer there. I wanted a practice that would take seriously my concerns, urgent and otherwise.

All it took was a little sincere empathy

I asked around among my group of friends, particularly those who had similar expectations of their vets. I found one and visited within days. They looked at Sydney’s mouth and went on to explain what was happening. Nearly immediately I heard, “Unfortunately, she is probably going to need all of her teeth pulled.”

Why was I able to hear this news from this vet, when I could not hear it from the other? In fact, this news was even worse. The other had mentioned a few extractions, but not all of her teeth.

This vet started with the word, “unfortunately.” The vet’s manner and one word, expressed with sincerity, allowed me to hear the recommendation and move forward.

This vet also started sentences with things like, “I’m afraid that…” and “She will still be able to…” showing me she knew what was going on in my mind.

We tell people who we are with every breath we breathe. - Unknown.

No matter what role you are in, keep in mind that those looking to you for leadership are wondering too:

  • Will they respect me or talk down to me?
  • Will they have enough time for my concerns?
  • Will they relate to my values?

Your ability to meet people where they are and understand their concerns impacts your ability to influence and lead. This is called empathy. You can't fake it. When others know you understand them, this builds trust and an effective relationship.

Where is your heart and mind on the trust scale with those you serve? You, like my new vet, can move in the right direction starting with one sincere word.

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