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Coaching Doctors: First Show Them the Evidence

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A quantitative conclusion is more concrete and often not open to interpretation. For example, “The elements combined to make a compound weighing 20 grams” compared with “When the subject was confronted with x he did y and the explanation is z.” There are 20g whether you measure in ounces or kilograms; there are 20g whether you use a digital scale or a balance. On the other hand, the explanation of behavior has a lot to do with who explains it—what their training and assumptions are. The explanation is subject to variability depending on the observer, just like coaching, and that is what causes the physician to hesitate, to overthink. Just as they don’t want to risk someone’s life on untested treatments, they are trained to be deeply skeptical of interpretations that are not thoroughly understood.

To get physicians, and other clients, to invest in coaching, I often have to explain the theory and research behind the practice. It is not enough to point to the results and say “It works!” I have to show why they want to see the data and the interpretation. Doctors want to know the difference coaching can make in their success as leaders.

We know from research that client buy-in and readiness to change is essential for coaching to be successful. As individual coaches, how can we support physicians and other “hard-science-oriented” clients? As an executive coach for physicians, I typically start with 360 interviews to learn others’ perceptions. Throughout our coaching engagement, I share articles and books—the evidence.

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