How to disagree with a client

The challenge of such conflicts is to guide the client to understand your recommendation without offending.

Jake Geis, DVM

October 27, 2017

4 Min Read
How to disagree with a client
Author says the goal of disagreement with clients is to come to agreement, not come to blows.antonbrand-iStock-Thinkstock

We’ve all been in this scenario—you’re trying to talk to a client about using a certain management system or therapy and the client is insistent on doing something different.

You scratch your head and think, “Where did he get this idea? Was it in some magazine or from talking to a salesman?” And then the old prejudice returns where the blame falls on that darned nutritionist.

Wherever the notion came from, you’re now faced with having a disagreement with a client. The challenge here is to guide the client to understand your recommendation without offending the client in the process. Working through this requires taking three steps:

1. Active listening.

2. Explanation while getting feedback.

3. Coming up with a mutually acceptable plan.

Active Listening

A natural inclination for people (myself included) when they hear opinions they disagree with is to voice that disagreement. However, that action impedes active listening. Active listening is giving the speaker your undivided, non-judgmental attention so you can better understand the speaker. This definition is part of what the U.S. State Department uses to train diplomats to listen. By interrupting your client to “correct” his opinions, your client will realize that further speaking with you will only lead to an argument.

This doesn’t mean you stand silently through the discussion. Rather, when listening to his point of view make sure to ask why he has those opinions. This helps you understand his concerns. In addition, throughout the listening process ask if you can summarize what your client is saying. Give your client the opportunity to agree or disagree with your assessment. This makes it apparent to your client you are listening to what he is saying, as well as allowing for an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions that might have occurred in the conversation.

While listening, you’ll discover two or three key factors that are important to your client. If you still feel your first recommendation is the best course of action, you’ll need to meet these factors for your client in order to win him over to your recommendation.

Explain while getting feedback

Armed with a new-found knowledge of what is most important to your client, explain to him why you are making your recommendation. Giving evidence for your opinion is critical, as most cattlemen are facts-and-figures types. The evidence you give needs to address the factors your client gave you as you were listening.

Once you’ve stated your case, ask your client for feedback to help you see if the client understands you. You might receive critiques of your opinion, which may challenge some of your points. These should be accepted graciously and noted verbally by you, without pride getting in the way.

However, in this feedback, you’ll hear some of your key points coming from the client. Restate how those points back your conclusion. Taking into account both parts will allow your client to see his input as part of the solution.

Create a mutually acceptable plan

Based upon this conversation, together you can come up with an action plan. If you’ve stated your case well and your client is somewhat open-minded, then the plan will probably look a lot like your original plan. It should include timeframes in which you expect results, with a contingency plan on what to do if desired results to do not occur.

Try to avoid a plan that the client accepts with the caveat, “We’ll try this, Doc, but if it doesn’t work (insert negative consequence here).”

If your client isn’t confident enough in the plan and he says that, the plan isn’t mutually accepted. Repeat the process to develop a better plan.

In some situations you’ll have to decide if you want to deal with adding an ineffective treatment a client insists upon using. This situation assumes the treatment does not constitute a food safety issue and is consistent with judicious use of a product. The positive aspect of using this treatment is this keeps the client happy, which is a big positive when working with the difficult clients that seem to insist on doing things their way.

The disadvantage is that the client may attribute the positive outcome of your treatment to their non-essential treatment. This will become a factor the next time you two have a disagreement, where their preferred treatment may be counter-productive.

In any disagreement, remember the primary goals are the animal’s health, food safety and retaining the client. Exhibiting your veterinary prowess does not help achieve those goals. It is better to listen to your client, give evidence and ask for and utilize their feedback to develop a plan together. Then if that plan doesn’t work, you can blame the nutritionist.

About the Author(s)

Jake Geis


Jake Geis practices veterinary medicine at Sioux Nation Ag Center in Freeman, S.D., and raises cattle with his wife, Carolyn, also a veterinarian, in northeast Nebraska. He can be reached at [email protected].

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