Why do you get it right but others get it wrong?

As the restrictions of our lockdown begin to ease, YouGov have published some interesting survey results of the general population.

  • Q1: Do you expect that the public will or will not behave responsibly when shops, pubs gardens, and outdoor restaurants re-open? 67% of almost 5,000 respondents stated they believed the answer was probably or definitely not.
  • Q2: Do you expect that you will or will not behave responsibly when shops, pubs and outdoor restaurants re-open? 91% of the same respondents stated that they definitely or probably will.

What’s that got to do with doctors?

In 2018, we published the results of our study in BMJ Leader where we asked doctors to self-assess their behaviours within their teams. A representative group of over 200 doctors took part. This included all grades from foundation years to Medical Directors, locums and a broad range of specialties. Here are a couple of our findings:

  • 92% of participants indicated their personal commitment to team goals but 22% doubted their colleagues’ alignment to the same goals.
  • 93% said they are personally willing to take on tasks to support fellow team members but 26% believe their colleagues are unwilling to do the same in return.

Do you notice a similarity with the results of the YouGov poll? These numbers don’t add up. However they are good examples of the same phenomenon that leads 80% of people to believe they are better than average drivers. That simply cannot be true.

The illusion of superiority

These are all examples of the illusion of superiority. And this illusion is just one of many cognitive biases. Put simply people, and that includes doctors, will often behave in irrational but predictable ways. We tend to judge other people by their actions. We think, “You did this or that in the past so I believe you will act this way in future.” And we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, “I know that went wrong but what I meant to do… what I was trying to do was…”

Modern healthcare is based on teams – hierarchical teams within specialties and multi-disciplinary teams across the board. Teams depend on trust for good, open and honest communication.

Facing into the challenge

These cognitive biases have always been present in human, but are exacerbated by lack of trust. And Edelman have described “a global implosion of trust”. In our study, 20% of Consultant doctors reported they had a lack of trust in their colleagues. If there is a shortfall in trust at leadership level, then it should come as no surprise that such attitudes spread throughout teams. The illusion of superiority, where people believe they do the right thing but others don’t and won’t, grows to the detriment of team interaction and performance. Lack of trust grows and doctors hold back from saying what needs to be said to each other.

So, leaders have responsibility to, first of all, develop their own abilities in having open, honest and challenging conversations, then to foster a culture where members of their team do the same.

What are you doing to develop trust and remove the illusion of superiority within your team?

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director