Speaking of doctors in white coats, one has identified an attribute that may not rub off onto you when you don your own white coat.  According to Peter Ubel, a physician and behavioral scientist at Duke University, Starbucks employees have better training and are more effective in acting emotionally intelligent than doctors are. In his book Critical Decisions, Ubel discusses "how patients and doctors can learn to become partners, and work together to make the right choices."  One of the "hidden dynamics in the doctor/patient relationship that keep us, and our loved ones, from making the best medical choices," according to Ubel, is the failure of doctors to act in an emotionally intelligent way.  "Key to sharing decisions is for doctors and patients to communicate effectively with each other.  But how can people hold an effective conversation when one of them—the expert in the white coat—is oblivious to the other one’s emotions?"

Ubel contrasts the typical medical attitude with how Starbucks employees are taught to recognize and respond to customer needs, as described in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.  In order to recognize negative emotions and, more importantly, address them in positive ways, would-be baristas learn what the company calls the” Latte Method” of responding to unpleasant situations: 

  • Listen to the customer,
  • Acknowledge their complaint,
  • Take action by solving the problem,
  • Thank them, and then
  • Explain why the problem occurred.

There is hope, of course, for the medical profession, because emotional intelligence can be taught, and emotionally intelligent behaviors can be easily learned. As we have noted, some medical schools are adding emotional intelligence classes to their cirricula and the University of South Florida Medical School has even identified a special cohort of medical students with high emotional intelligence to groom for industry leadership.

So what about lawyers? We are also in a service industry where we need to make decisions in collaboration with our clients, who are often driven by emotional as well as other types of objectives.  As we have pointed out, sometimes an apology is the best legal medicine, and more state are allowing apologies without later prejudice at trial. 

Are we practioners able to recognize when that solution is appropriate for our client?  Are we listening for emotions?