You are an expert and high performer in your organization, and senior leaders have asked you to share your best practices, your secrets to success. How should you approach the fulfillment of this request. With caution! Why? It turns out that preaching what you practice can backfire. At Stanford, researchers Benoît Monin and Lauren Howe have studied physician and patient behavior. What happens, for instance, when a doctor shares information regarding his or her own healthy lifestyle with a patient who may be living in an unhealthy manner? Here's what they found:
Doctors who emphasize their fitness seem like they may be more critical of patients who don’t live up to the same high standards. And it’s not that doctors actually devalue patients; it’s something overweight patients fear might happen to them when seeking out a new doctor, especially a doctor who touts his or her own exemplary health habits in their literature or online. This is called anticipated devaluation, and it can make overweight patients shy away from doctors who emphasize that they practice what they preach. Moreover, the researchers note, when patients feel devalued, they may seek care elsewhere or delay seeking it altogether to the detriment of their long-term health.
We should not be surprised by these results. For me, the takeaway is that we must demonstrate empathy when we preach what we practice. We have to step into the other person's shoes. Moreover, we have to acknowledge our own fallibility. Talking about our mistakes, and the hurdles we have had to surmount, can help others listen to our ideas and recommendations.