Great Leadership: Just as the most effective leadership is based on mutual respect and trust, not on a power or knowledge imbalance, the same applies to the best medical treatment.
From Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink - The Power of Thinking without Thinking:
"Medical researcher Wendy Levinson recorded hundreds of conversations between a group of physicians and their patients.
Roughly half of the doctors had never been sued. The other half had been sued at least twice.
Levinson found that just on the basis of those conversations, she could find clear differences between the two groups.
The surgeons who had never been sued spent more than three minutes longer with each patient than those who had been sued did (18.3 minutes versus 15 minutes). They were more likely to make “orienting” comments, such as “First I’ll examine you, and then we will talk the problem over” or “I will leave time for your questions” – which help patients get a sense of what the visit is supposed to accomplish and when they ought to ask questions. They were more likely to engage in active listening, saying things such as “Go on, tell me more about that,” and they were far more likely to laugh and be funny during the visit.
There was no difference in the amount or quality of information they gave their patients.
They didn’t provide more details about medication or the patient’s condition. The difference was entirely in how they talked to their patients."
Respect, Power and Trust
Powerful leadership lessons here in empathy and listening.
Some leaders assume their role is as an authority imparting information, instruction and wisdom. Listening clearly needs to come first.
Great Leadership is Largely Non-Verbal
The solution is certainly not to create a list of 'bad phrases' to avoid.
Humans are good at picking up emotional signals. So good, in fact, that when the conversations were garbled until the words were unrecognisable, judges were still able to tell warmth versus hostility just on intonation.
Although the research in Gladwell's book is particularly about who gets sued and who doesn't, the wider leadership lesson for all of us, medical and non-medical staff alike, is obviously to listen with empathy and genuine focus of attention on whoever is talking with us, whether colleague, patient, volunteer, direct report, family members of patients and so on. And show respect, trust and empathy at all times.
The old idea that a leader instructs or tells and is in charge simply doesn't work today. Great leaders listen.