Where Logic Meets Love

5 Ways to Act Confident: Lessons from an Awkward Vet Visit

Sunday, February 12, 2012

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5 Ways to Act Confident: Lessons from an Awkward Vet Visit | Faith Permeating Life

Yesterday, I took our pet rats to the vet for the first time. (They're fine; it was just a check-up.) There's only one place in our area that sees rats, so that's where we went and got assigned to a random veterinarian.

Given that I've had some issues with my own doctors previously, I was a little nervous that the vet was going to be the overbearing type who would interrogate me about the rats' diet, their cage space, how often we let them out to play, whether we gave them enough vegetables, etc., and then lecture me about everything we were doing wrong.

My visit was the exact opposite of that. The vet was, shall we say, underwhelming. She seemed completely unsure of herself and hesitant, even though she clearly knew what she was doing when she held the rats and talked to me about them. She seemed to be about my age, so I'm going to guess she hasn't been practicing that long, but even so, she could have presented herself a lot more confidently.

However, it's one thing to say, "Be confident!" and another to actually explain what that means. With that in mind, I thought I'd break down my vet visit into some tips for exactly how to act confident and professional.

1. Introduce yourself confidently and shake my hand
When the doctor arrived, she sort of leaned into the room and softly said who she was, then walked over to the counter where I'd set the rats' cage. I replied, "Hi, it's nice to meet you," which seemed to clue her in that she should interact with me so she held out her hand and let me shake it. Yup, it was a dead fish handshake. She wasn't shaking my hand, she was just holding hers there for a moment for me to shake it. Not a great first impression.

2. Make eye contact
The next thing she did was to ask me some questions about how old the rats were, where we got them from, and what we fed them. As far as I can remember, she didn't actually look at me while she was asking me questions, she just read them off the computer and typed in the answers. I felt uncomfortable not getting any kind of reaction to my answers. One thing I appreciate about my primary physician is that he looks at me when I'm talking, even just to look up occasionally while he's writing, and then he'll respond in some way to what I've said, so I know at least whether the information I'm giving is what he's looking for.

3. If you have a question, ASK!
After she'd typed a bunch of things into the computer, she looked at the rats and said (to me? to herself?), "One of them's drinking right now... I don't know one it is..." I said, "Oh, this one here in Bert, he has the stripe on his back; Ernie has the big spots." I didn't know if she actually needed to tell them apart at that moment to record something, or she was just curious, or she was just strangely thinking aloud. But she could have simply asked, "Now, which one is which?" instead of passively and quietly stating that she didn't know which rat it was.

4. Don't ramble
This was probably what made her seem the least confident and made me feel the most awkward. She took each rat out of the cage to check their ears and eyes and then feel their body for lumps. Rats are prone to tumors, which I knew, but after telling me this she went on and on about how they're usually benign but sometimes they get really big and sometimes they have to do surgery anyway because it can be bad if they're really big like for example there was this one rat who had this giant tumor it was like this big and so it was kind of walking like this, like kind of sideways and had trouble walking so we wanted to remove that even though it was benign and so it wasn't like cancerous it was just growing and so it was causing problems. AND rats are most susceptible to mammary tumors, even the males, although you don't see that as often in the male rats, usually the females, like you'd expect, but sometimes you do see it in the males, and even though they're mammary tumors they aren't necessary on the front, like sometimes they can even be on the back, like here, but yeah, the mammary tumors are what you see a lot.

Are you tired after reading that? Yeah. It wasn't like, "I should tell you these specific things to look out for," it was just, "Here's everything that comes to mind when I think about rats and tumors."

5. Tell me what will happen next
I put Ernie on my shoulder after she did his exam, and then she examined Bert and put him back in the cage. I put Ernie back in the cage because I thought we were done, but then she said, "OK, now the last thing is to weigh them," so I went, oh, and took Ernie out again. It wasn't until I was halfway through trying to grab Bert that she said, "Well... I was just gonna take the cage back there." So I said OK and put both of them back in. She picked up the cage and I followed her out into the hallway, where she typed a code into a door with an "Employees Only" sign and went in, letting the door shut in my face. Would it have been that hard to give me a heads up? To say, "OK, I'm going to take the cage into a back room and weigh them, and I'll be right back." Don't let me drive the action -- I don't know what's going on!

I get that some people may go into working with animals because they're more comfortable with them than with people. But there are few professions where you don't have to work with people in some way. These are a few small behavioral changes you can make that will make you seem much more confident to other people. Introduce yourself and shake their hand firmly, make regular eye contact, speak up with any questions you have, and clearly outline what they need to know and what you're planning to do next.

What other tips do you have for appearing confident? Do you have a story about working with a professional who seemed totally unsure of himself/herself?


  1. This is very helpful & encouraging, thank you! :)

    Also I love that your rats are called Bert & Ernie :D

  2. @Just me
    Thanks! We spent a few days trying to come up with a good pair of names for two males, and that one seemed the best :)

  3. I love rats! They're so clever and sweet.

    And I would have found that very frustrating also - especially the rambling. Unless people realise they're doing it, I think it must be very hard to stop it if it's due to nerves. I want to tell someone I know that I find their rambling very difficult, however since I suspect it is out of nervousness, telling them that might make them more nervous!

  4. Oh dear, I have a tendency to ramble when I'm nervous! Thankfully I don't do this at work, as I man the reception desk and therefore I have to appear confident. It used to take me a lot of effort to appear confident but working in pubs behind the bar definitely took me out of my comfort zone - I had no choice but to be confident then, and it's set me up well for all my other jobs. I have to interact with so many different people all through the day that I guess I've grown confident professionally without really noticing it! I do still struggle a little though.
    Hopefully the vet will overcome any nerves or shyness she has with pet owners the more she has to interact with them. Often when people are doing something they love they 'come into their own', but I guess that takes some more time than others.
    Also agree that Bert and Ernie are fab names for your rats!

  5. @Lozzz123
    If someone's already rambling out of nervousness, I don't think it would necessarily make it worse for them to be made aware of it. When I taught employment interviewing I would videotape each of the mock interviews the students did, and a lot of them said that it made them aware of things they should practice in their everyday life so they're less likely to fall into bad habits when they're nervous. And it's better to have a trusted friend point it out to you, I think. In the book An Abundance of Katherines, the narrator is a little bit socially awkward and his best friend will interject with "Not interesting!" when the narrator starts rambling about boring topics, which helps him learn which topics other people find interesting and which they don't (since he finds everything interesting).

  6. @Fire Fairy
    That's great that you've developed confidence through your job. I do believe in "acting the way you want to feel" (as Gretchen Rubin says) or to "fake it 'til you make it." Right or wrong, people often will gauge how knowledgeable you are about your job by how confident you act. Of course, you don't want to act overly confident--to the point of being arrogant--because that's equally annoying!


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