Chapter 1: Communication essentials


The grief expert says
Dr. Chris MacKinnon discusses correcting missteps and the value of an apology to families. (3:22)Video transcript

Given all the variables, pressures and unknowns in this work, it’s inevitable that you’ll make missteps on occasion. All health care providers remember encounters with patients or families that make them cringe. When it happens to you, remember that making mistakes has nothing to do with being smart or professional. This professional awareness develops through on-the-job training and learning from mistakes.

Offering an apology

When making an apology, don’t include any justification or excuse. This is likely to make you seem defensive, which will anger or annoy the family. Keep to a simple statement that expresses the facts and conveys your intention to provide the best care possible.

Most patients and families respond well to a sincere apology. By acknowledging your mistake, you’re showing the family that you’re attuned to their feelings and willing to take responsibility for your actions. This helps to build their trust and confidence in you, and gives you an opportunity to gain a better understanding of them.

Conversation Prompts

I’m sorry for mispronouncing your name. Have I got it right now? 

I’m sorry that I called you Jeff’s sister. You’re his girlfriend, aren’t you?

I’m sorry. From the look on your face, I’m guessing I may have said something wrong. Can we start over?