By Michael W. Miller, DVM
When the students at Hogwarts are taught how to duel, the first spell recommended is the Disarming Spell: Expelliarmus. This seems like a safe way to introduce novice witches and wizards to casting spells on their adversaries. However, throughout the series, Harry Potter continues to make this his go-to spell. It becomes a trademark, which speaks to his character. The first response when someone attacks becomes to disarm the opponent, not to seriously hurt them. This philosophy can also serve us well when dealing with veterinary conflicts.
Veterinary medicine seems to be turning into a dueling competition. We battle pet owners who skeptically question our recommendations. We battle our co-workers when we disagree over any little thing at work. We battle those patients who do not want to cooperate as we try to help them. As we duel, though, we should follow Harry’s lead to avoid the temptation to hurt our counterpart and instead attempt to disarm them.
So, what would this look like in veterinary medicine?
We’ve all had those clients. Those Umbridge-like pet owners who make the scar on the back of our hand tingle when they walk in the building because you know they disagree with you and always want to start a fight. It could be over the vaccine protocol or choice of flea prevention or how gently you place your stethoscope on the pet’s chest. It’s always something. You go into that appointment with your wand at the ready.
What if rather than casting a curse like Sectumsempra that would only injure and infuriate the client, you try disarming them instead?
The instructions for the Veterinary Disarming spell are simple: stay calm, listen, and be nice. I realize it’s difficult to stay calm while you listen to someone rant about their alternate opinions or clear misconceptions, but calmly listening is the first step to disarming. By the mere act of acknowledging their concerns, you can disarm their combative approach and start to redirect.
Most importantly, don’t forget to be nice. Maybe the phrase shouldn’t be ‘Kill them with kindness’ but instead ‘Disarm them with kindness.’ For some people, this can be hard. Just like any other spell, practice helps. For me, when I feel my nice fading, I get out of the room. By taking a break from the duel, I’m able to gather myself and rebuild my kindness that I need to re-attempt my Veterinary Disarming spell.
Finally, counter by using your knowledge to carefully explain why you disagree. Even with some of your best clients utilizing facts to convince your clients to follow your recommendations can be tricky, but this task becomes much more intricate when you are dueling. Choose wisely, and note the effect. Just like a wizard practicing to duel, these conversations can teach you a lot. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t so that you are prepared to do even better in your next duel with a client.
These same techniques can be utilized in a slightly different approach when dueling with your own team members. You do not want to hurt your colleagues, so sometimes you need to disarm them instead of escalating the conflict. Stay calm, listen, and be nice as you explain why you disagree. Similar to dueling with clients, “Expelliarmus” should allow you to have productive discussions instead of injuring each other.
On a different level, the Disarming Charm is a key component of patient handling in veterinary medicine. Our profession has made stellar improvements in Fear Free and low stress interactions with our patients. The same principles apply: stay calm, listen to what the animal is telling you, and redirect. Okay, so maybe instead of smiling at the growling dog, you offer a treat bribe and redirect to get the dog to sit to earn his reward. (Side note: I’ve tried offering treats to upset clients, but it usually doesn’t work as well as it does for dogs.)
Some in the wizarding world perceived Harry’s continual reliance on the disarming charm as a weakness. However, we in veterinary medicine understand very well the importance of disarming our anxious or aggressive patients. These same lessons can be applied to disarming the upset people we interact with every day. By discovering the magic in disarming our adversaries instead of hurting them, we can keep everyone moving toward the same goal of maintaining healthy pets.