5 steps to an effective hospital CEO apology

Hospital chief executive officers, take note: If you ever need to apologize for corporate wrongdoing, it's best you look sad while you say you're sorry, according to a new study published in the September 2015 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

The study looked at how apologizers' expressed emotions, such as facial expressions, affected investors' perceptions of the organization. Experimental data revealed that third parties interpreted "deviant affect (smiling) as a signal of insincerity, which reduced their confidence in these representatives' organizations," according to the study abstract.

The study's authors, Leanne ten Brink and Gabrielle S. Adams, recommend that organizations "carefully consider the nonverbal behavior of apologetic representatives in the wake of transgressions."

The corporate apology, once relatively rare, has become a normal part of business, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. The article points to the study in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and another study, from the August 2015 issue of the Journal of Corporate Finance, on what makes some apologies effective while others backfire.

Research indicates an effective and complete apology has five key aspects, according to HBR: 

  • An explicit "I'm sorry."
  • An offer of repair to make it up to someone. 
  • An explanation of how the mistakes happened.
  • Take responsibility. Without this, an explanation sounds like an excuse.
  • A promise of forbearance. For example, "I promise it won't happen again."

A program at Massachusetts hospitals makes the post-medical error apology process more transparent, FierceHealthcare reported last year. Traditionally, Bay State hospitals have responded to errors--the third-leading cause of death in the United States--with the "deny and defend" strategy. But that strategy rarely gives patients or doctors closure or improves patient safety, said Evan Benjamin, M.D., who oversees patient safety at Springfield's Baystate Medical Center.

To learn more:
- here's the first study abstract
- read the second study abstract 
- check out the Harvard Business Review article

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