When Doctors Sit Down

An ongoing theme of my work is how effectively we communicate. When we think of it at all, we tend to measure this by monitoring how we talk. We listen to ourselves. Less frequently do we ask what was the effect of what we say on other party or parties involved in the exchange. Ooops.

A great deal of research points to a rather odd conclusion. People rarely hear what the speaker intended to say. They hear what they wanted to hear. This is part of our natural “confirmation bias” problem. We are always looking for confirmation that our beliefs are accurate. And it is uncomfortable to find evidence that they are not.

So let’s take this to an extreme case – the doctor/patient relationship. Doctors are highly educated and speak from that perspective. Patients are usually in fear from whatever  they have experienced. Naturally, doctors will be seeking confirmation of their expertise. Naturally, patients will be seeking confirmation of what they believe about what happened. It is a communication problem waiting to happen. And as Theresa Brown writes for NYT,  it does, every day.

So how can doctors overcome this? Theresa argues that a very simple step helps patients confirm that their doctors care about them —- the doctor should sit down while he or she talks. And how often does that happen? Hmmm … not sure about that one. But from my experience it sounds like a very good idea.

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