Listening Skills: Three Minutes Can Ward Off a Lawsuit

Do patients sue physicians because they make mistakes? Maybe not.

Dr. Wendy Levinson is an international expert in the field of physician-patient relationships.  Amid the rising number of malpractice suits, Levinson looked at why some doctors who make mistakes get sued and others don’t. She found that patients sued doctors they didn’t like, and didn’t sue doctors they liked—even if the doctor they liked made a mistake.

Doctors who spend more time with patients are sued less often

Here’s the real question:  What drives patients to like or dislike their doctors?

Levinson found that physicians who don’t get sued take a little more time—on average, three minutes more—than doctors who get sued.  In addition it was the quality of conversation that patients enjoyed with their doctors, and the tone of voice doctors used with their patients that made the difference.

Doctors who listen are sued less often

Patients like doctors who ask about symptoms, really listen and answer questions thoroughly.  They dislike physicians who use a dominant tone of voice and rush through the appointment.

Physicians experience the pressure of impossible schedules, an environment of over-management and overwhelming expectations. They rush because they have 20 more patients to see before the day is out. Yet it only takes an average of three more minutes to listen.

The physicians who listen for longer than three minutes are delivering authentic care and treatment, since patients want to want to be seen, heard, understood, valued and respected.  Personally I have been the recipient of authentic care from brilliant physicians who are full of heart.

What does this mean in business and personal relationships?

So what can Levinson teach you about your business and personal relationships?  If you don’t really listen, people will pick up on that. They will not trust you. They will feel no loyalty to you. And, when you make a mistake, they will leave. They might even sue.

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Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.