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Coaching Doctors: First Show Them the Evidence

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During our coaching engagement, he grilled me at every step—what was the data? Where was it published? Without the proof of peer-reviewed articles, he seemed unenthusiastic and minimally engaged. A turning point came when I mentioned that Coursera offered a free online course in emotional intelligence, taught by Dr. Richard Boyatzis, an excellent and brilliant teacher with a world-class academic pedigree. Four weeks into the course my client said to me, “I didn’t realize there was so much science, such a body of literature, in motivation and leadership.”

And so our coaching continued, as did his questioning, with a difference. Now he had become deeply interested in the process. He met with each of his direct reports, apologized for his behavior and asked all for their suggestions on the future of the department. He began asking “what” questions and then listening for a maximum of three minutes before commenting. He learned to solicit opinions without appearing to attack the offerer. Eventually, and with the help of carefully chosen Harvard Business Review and medical journal articles, he learned to modulate his style to fit the organization and the importance of relationships.

Behavioral Science is Different from Chemistry

I tell this story to illustrate the importance of evidence and of research to those who are schooled in hard science. Behavioral science is different from, say, chemistry, at least at the beginning levels. Variables in “soft sciences” are often measured in a more qualitative, or descriptive manner—measuring behavior, which is open to interpretation. In the “hard sciences” in which physicians train, variables are more amenable to a quantitative, or yes/no, manner of measuring things.

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