We are all human, and as a consequence -we make mistakes. As dentists and dental team members, some mistakes happen in the office while we are attempting to serve others. And to make matters worse, many of our mistakes go unnoticed- even by ourselves.
Psychologist Robert Gordon PhD tells us that seventy percent of our brain’s functioning occurs outside of our awareness, and consequently, most of our mistakes – as perceived by others- occur outside the realm of our awareness as well.
In short, the very design of our neurobiology is skewed in the direction of our being unable to perceive how we impact others – even those whom we deeply care about.
To overcome this inherent behavioral shortcoming, particularly in the middle of a busy work day full of distractions, takes conscious commitment and work. But even then, we will still fall short on occasion. Even then, we will occasionally disappoint, inadvertently cause others to feel diminished or unheard, or even make a technical mistake which creates an undesired outcome.
Such is life. So what are we to do, as the seemingly admirable pursuit of perfection in relationships and actions is more of a pathway to neurosis than personal health?
Answer: Pursue excellence – not perfection, and learn how to apologize meaningfully, and from the heart.
Repairing a damaged or broken relationship takes work, commitment, desire, and growth. The Jewish faith calls this process ‘teshuvah,’ or “repair”, “repentance”, or “atonement” and it represents a key moral theme from which we all can learn and grow as heath care professionals.
Today, let’s look at the four parts of a healthy apology:
1. Acknowledgement: Being able to sincerely see how our actions negatively impacted another person is key – and is only possible through a sensitive heart. Consequently, acknowledgement must start with “I” – “I am sorry I am behind schedule”, “I am sorry for having been in such a hurry that I made you feel like I wasn’t interested in hearing what you were trying to tell me.”
2. Remorse: Remorse is authentically feeling bad for what you have done – it’s a physical and emotional response only possible through empathy. Empathy represents a sincere attempt to see and feel things the way the other person perceives them to be…”Beth, I am so sorry that this has happened, I know that you have had a lot of emotional trauma associated with going to other dentists in the past, and I feel terrible about this – we were really attempting everything we could think of to keep you comfortable, and I had promised you that this would not happen.”
3. Restitution: This means taking action to make up for the transgression, “Beth, I am going to discount / waive your fee today because of what happened. Will that be acceptable to you as an apology?”
4. Act differently the next time a similar situation arises. Demonstrate through your actions that you have learned something from the experience, and that your apology was therefore sincere.
Attempting to repair the outcome of a mistake or apologizing for insensitive behavior is always an option, no matter the situation. The responsibility lies in our hands; the work of repair requires effort but is not impossible and has a value in and of itself, because it helps to demonstrate how much we really care.
Paul A Henny, DDS
Thought Experiments LLC, ©2017
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