Talking to clients about nutrition (Proceedings)
May 01, 2011
Effective nutritional advice depends on obtaining an accurate diet history and successful compliance with recommendations by the pet owner. Effective communication requires us to:
We need to learn who we are talking to because the person who actually feeds the pet can provide the most accurate information on exactly what is being fed, how much and how often. We can only obtain partial or incomplete information when the primary caretaker of the pet is not present; when this happens we recommend sending home a comprehensive diet history form that the primary caretaker can complete and telephone, mail or FAX it back as soon as possible.Once we decide the client is ready and able to provide a history, one should try to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are those that do not result in a yes or no answer. They invite the client to describe what happens to their individual pet in their unique environment. Although using open-ended questions may require more time, it allows the client to provide information by "painting a picture" we might not otherwise be able to see. Asking open-ended questions also avoids the temptation for the client to provide answers they think we may want to hear.
What should we do when our clients remain silent in the examination room? How do we interpret silence as a [verbal] clue? In an effort to prevent long periods of silence, some of us continue talking, thinking that the client hasn't quite grasped our explanation or intention, while others of us abruptly cut the interview short and make a hasty exit. Silence on the part of the client could mean one of three things: they understand what we are saying and they are waiting for us to continue; they do not understand what we've said (and are hesitant to ask any questions); they [simply] require a bit of time to process the information we've just shared and/or formulate their question. It's imperative that we allow clients the necessary time to think before reacting to information their next decision will be based on. Along the same line, how should we interpret one- and two-word responses, such as "okay", "I see", or "I get it"? These types of verbal cues may or may not indicate that the client is following what we're saying and is in agreement with us. For some clients, these phrases represent a non-commitment, and are said just to keep up their end of the interview, while many clinicians and technicians interpret these responses to mean the client understands and will comply.