Honesty vs Competence

If you are in need of medical help, which doctor would you prefer: one who is honest or one who is competent?

Years ago I attended a presentation by a well-known author of business books, Steven Covey, and he raised this question. This came to mind recently because my wife is in need of knee surgery following a skiing accident. We were asking her doctor which surgeon she recommended. Fortunately, it was not a choice between an honest surgeon and a competent one!

But suppose you were faced with that choice. Which would you choose?

When Steven Covey raised that question to his audience filled with business people, his point was that a professional needs to be both honest and competent. However, there was one novel answer to the question proposed in the event you can't find both in one person... First visit the honest doctor to find out what treatment is really needed; then go to the competent doctor to get it done!

When advising someone else on any matter, it is important to be open and honest about the goal that the advice is intended to achieve. If a person visits a doctor, the unsaid goal is for the patient to be healthy. If that isn't the goal, then it's pretty important for it to be identified explicitly and honestly!

In the scenario of the "dishonest but competent" doctor, we worry that the doctor might maximize his wealth rather than maximize the patient's health, by prescribing an unnecessary medical procedure! However, dishonesty can also be the opposite of that too. Sometimes the patient doesn't want to face the reality that they need surgery. In that case, the "easy way" to please the patient is to tell them that everything is fine, even when it is not. But that could result in some very serious long term harm! For the "best interest" of the client, honesty is necessary even when it isn't welcome.

For a few more thoughts about honesty in other situations, click here.

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