DAUK in the BMJ: how do I tell a colleague they have made a mistake?

How do I tell a colleague they have made a mistake?

“Be kind. Don’t blame”

Yasotha Browne, GP lead at the Doctors Association UK, says, “Keeping each other accountable is a tricky task and there are many variables. Assuming you are colleagues of equal footing, with a trusting relationship, and you noticed a minor error, it’s important that you can approach them without blame.

“It’s therefore essential to have a no blame culture in place before you need to have a conversation about error. This means cultivating a culture where everyone understands that errors should be reported to help identify stresses in the system and the working environment, not as a mechanism for apportioning blame. A good way to do this is by being forthcoming about your own mistakes.

“We know that more mistakes happen when people are tired and stressed and, with already high rates of burnout among doctors, I would fully expect us to be seeing an increase in incident reports over the next five years.

“When approaching any discussion about an error, therefore, I would consider the context of that person’s working environment, the access they have to education and training, and, if privy to the situation, what is going on at home. Remember that marginalised groups, such as black and minority ethnic doctors, may be more fearful of being reprimanded.

“Finally, be kind. Don’t be judgmental about the error as a way of promoting your own practice. I have observed this in many colleagues—stress and competitive environments can make us default to the worst of what we are.

“Morale among doctors is low and we need to do our best to build each other up. This includes a compassionate and safe attitude to discussing and managing error.”