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How Changing the Way Doctors Apologize Can Make a Difference

Dec 15, 2020 | Blog, Communication Skills for Doctors, Medical Education

On a recent teleconference, an invited physician leader was abrasive and unprofessional in sharing her opinions. Two other leaders gave her feedback on her approach and she changed her tune somewhat, then gave the standard non-apology: “I’m sorry if I was perceived as abrasive.” In so doing she perpetuated the negative stereotypes of physician leaders as belligerent and ego-oriented.

She may have had any number of reasons to explain her behaviour, but ultimately what was needed was for her to take a deep breath and reply with sincerity: “I’m sorry for my behaviour. I’ll do better.”

She never apologized.

This act of vulnerability would not only have repaired the damage, but demonstrated authentic leadership. There’s an opportunity in groups to utilize conflict to move to even more effective function than before, if it’s handled correctly. Conflict, the anxiety state we all tend to avoid, can counterintuitively bring us closer together.

I recommend reading the work of Dr. Brené Brown, particularly her book Dare to Lead which effectively breaks down the myths of stoicism and perfectionism that seep through medical leadership. “Inspired leadership requires vulnerability,” she writes. Do we have the courage to show up, be seen, take risks, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from failure, lean into joy, and can we support the people around us in doing the same?”

Check out her books, Ted Talk and Netflix special.

[ Photo credit: Randal Ford ]

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