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If anything, the recent pandemic – which we are still very much in the depths of – has shown us how irrational human beings can be. 

With Covid-19 being a completely new phenomenon, we didn’t have accurate statistics to rely on from the start, which have led to a barrage of sensational stories. From speculative remedies to Covid conspiracies, lots of us don’t know what to believe anymore.

Lacking solid, statistical information has meant we rely much more on emotions when making decisions during this uncertain time. However, emotional decision making is not specific to the pandemic. 

We are swayed by our emotions (consciously and unconsciously) all the time. These emotions often result in knee-jerk, not totally rational, decisions. This can be especially true for veterinarians.

You are likely very compassionate and emotionally tied to patients. Sometimes quick decisions need to be made. Learning how to make rational decisions as a veterinarian can be difficult, as often you have very little time to think.

So how can you learn to respond – not react – as a vet? 

In the following, we share our four key tips which you can utilize to make rational decisions as a veterinarian. 

Be Aware of Confirmation Bias

You may have come across confirmation bias in the context of diagnosis.

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias whereby an individual is more likely to notice evidence that confirms their beliefs, rather than contradicts it. 

An example of this in a practice setting could be assuming a clients pet has a certain disease without examining the evidence in full. By doing so, the veterinarian might miss the problem entirely, misdiagnosing the animal. 

The same can happen during everyday interactions with colleagues and clients. For example, during a performance review, you may only extract the positive feedback, and make excuses for constructive criticism, all in order to confirm the belief that you are a superstar vet.

However, this selective approach actually holds you back from seeing the bigger picture and improving. 

Once you become aware of circumstances where you are liable to confirmation bias, you can begin to take a more balanced, and less emotional, approach –  aware of your potential blind spots.

Respond, don’t React

Part of building a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ) is recognising when you feel certain emotions. 

Behaving in a rational manner is not about becoming a cold, hard, information processor, but just taking the necessary time to recognise and process our emotions before reacting. 

If your boss or colleague does something you don’t agree with, take the time to notice how you are feeling and why you could be feeling this way. 

Ask yourself, ‘Am I feeling angry? Resentful? Why do I feel this way and what can I do to resolve these feelings?’.

You might even take a five minute break to take a short walk or to do a quick breathing exercise. 

Building this emotional buffer zone allows you time to respond after thinking things through. Beware the sweeping tide of strong emotions!

Communicating with Clients

Understanding how emotions can impact the decision-making process can help you to interact with clients more effectively

Consider how you wish your clients to feel when they enter your consultation room: Calm? Attentive? Curious? 

Now, consider how you can make them feel this way. You may greet them with warmth, like a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and deliver the diagnosis in a clear and concise way so they do not become confused.

Because emotions do play a role in decision making, one decision being whether or not a client follows your recommendation, you should use this to your advantage. Assess how a client is feeling and what you can do to help them make the best decision for their pet.

Check your Expertise

Research has shown that irrational decision making can particularly impact experts, such as veterinarians. Experts in the field are more able to muster reasons to believe whatever they wish to believe, making them more set in their convictions. 

Another name for this tendency is called ‘motivated reasoning.’ This means that a situation is always thought through with the aim, intention or end goal in mind (consciously or unconsciously). 

Ultimately, you are a highly skilled individual, but it pays to check in that you are not drinking too much of your own Kool Aid!

If the Dunning-Kruger effect teaches us anything, it’s this. No one knows it all, including you. There is still so much to learn, so remain open-minded and take the chance to learn from your colleagues when you can. 

Pursue mastery, remain curious, and never give up in the pursuit of knowledge. Being mindful of this fact will help you to keep growing and making better decisions.

Final Thoughts 

Take a moment to acknowledge when you are reacting with your emotions. Not only will this help you to make more rational decisions, but it will also improve your interactions with your clients.

Begin integrating these tips into your practice life today – and you’ll be much more able to make rational decisions as a veterinarian in the future.

Just beginning to navigate the intricacies of veterinary life? As a fully qualified vet, you’ll not just have to make rational decisions as a clinician, but also as an individual.

Starting to explore what you want for your future (and your career as a whole) can seem daunting, but is key for your personal growth.

Check out our complimentary Career Road Map, a downloadable guide that outlines everything you need to know about becoming the best veterinarian you can be. 

What are you waiting for? Download it here. 

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