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Reading Time: 2:17

I am a night owl and often catch bits and pieces of a lot of the late-night shows. One show in particular, made quite an impression on me.

On May 12, 2016, one of Jimmy Fallon’s guests was Meghan Trainor. She sang at the end of the show and what he did at the conclusion of the song impressed me so much. It was an unscripted demonstration of empathy for another individual. I never saw anything quite like that on television.

If you would like to see the clip, here is the link:

At the end of the song, and after performing some complicated choreography, Meghan falls. Jimmy’s response could have been to just help her up and show concern, or even make a joke about her falling. But, his unexpected response diffused a moment that could have been very embarrassing for Meghan. He just laid down on the floor beside her. It was a warm, human, and caring demonstration. I couldn’t think of a better response for the situation.

That action exemplifies empathy. The definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is showing a person that you are there for them and to let them know they are not alone. It is listening with kindness and compassion.

When dealing with others, empathy is an undervalued trait. Empathy drives connection. And connection is vital to a successful practice and a meaningful life. Being empathic is a worthwhile skill to develop if you don’t already possess it.

When patients are afraid or difficult, empathy can calm them. Telling a patient that you have had similar feelings, and even giving an example, can create a bond and connection between you and the patient. This allows them to feel better and not so overwhelmed and self-conscious.

If a patient or staff member is describing a personal crisis (illness, divorce, death in the family, etc.), demonstrating empathy means you listen, recognize what they are feeling and show that you care. You can’t fix the problem, but by acknowledging their pain and suffering, you let them know that they are not alone.

When a staff member has made a mistake, or is not performing up to standards, empathy allows you to demonstrate your concern and desire for them to improve and succeed.

Still not convinced, consider the alternatives. Trying to ignore an awkward or uncomfortable situation definitely doesn’t work. In fact, it may even escalate the underlying problem. Telling someone who is anxious or stressed what you think they should do or feel is a disaster. They already feel embarrassed or like a failure, and you expressing your opinion will only upset them more.

Expressing sympathy won’t work either. Neither will judging someone, showing disappointment, or acknowledging that the shame and discomfort are deserved. When trying to decide how to react when you encounter these types of situations, think about the response you would want from someone if you were the one in the difficult situation and act accordingly.

The best, and only, answer is empathy. You don’t have to lay down on the floor with them like Jimmy Fallon. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Just listen and care. Be genuine. Don’t try to fix it for them, because you can’t, but support them instead. Tell them you are there for them. Let them know they are not alone.

Do you have any examples of how empathy helped you through an awkward moment? Share your comments below.

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Reading time: 3:00

I took my mom to an oral surgeon’s office. We walked into the office and the front desk staff all welcomed us with a smile. They looked at us as soon as we walked in, even if they were on the phone. After greeting us, the staff completed the requisite paperwork quickly. But, what impressed me even more was the nice, easy camaraderie between members of the staff. It was immediately evident.

I could tell that they enjoyed their work and that they worked well together. I saw staff members volunteer help to a colleague. They treated each other with respect and assisted each other. No one acted upset or as if they were inconvenienced by co-workers or patients. The staff was warm and responsive in all their communications with us and with each other. We never felt neglected or as if we were interfering with their work. Instead, we felt like we were the most important part of their job.

There was nothing particularly different in the office set-up. Yet, our experience in this office stood out as exceptional from the start. What they did was standard operating procedure for most offices. But, what stood out was the way it was done. The staff were kind, considerate and caring. They were attentive to us, but also to their co-workers. They made us feel like we were special and our needs were important to them. We never felt like we were one of the many nameless number of patients that had passed through their office that day, that week, that month. We felt like we mattered.

Contrast that experience to a blog written by my sister, Susan Stang. She is an industrial psychologist and the blog is titled “Your culture speaks volumes”. I quote her blog here.

“I was at the doctor’s office the other day waiting to pay. I waited for over 40 minutes and while I waited, I noticed. I noticed that the employees were painfully polite with each other. Rarely interacting, never smiling, careful not to step on each other’s’ toes. There was little interaction between them, and none with me. Although I was standing at the counter, no one suggested I take a seat, no one told me that I was in for a wait, no one explained the delay, no one reassured me that the payment would be processed soon. It was quiet, oddly so.

Yesterday, I went to a colleague’s office to coordinate work on a joint project. Unexpectedly, he was not available, and so I met with two of his staff instead. Two people I had never met before. They were friendly, warm, enthusiastic, and open with each other and with me- exceptionally so.

These events got me thinking about corporate culture. Clearly the two offices, similar in size, had very different cultures…and very different effects on me. One I will, if possible, never visit again while the other I will be happy to return to. What does your company casually convey to others? It is a message well worth considering and not easily forgotten.”

I am embarrassed to admit that the doctor’s office she described was one in which I worked. I know that she did not exaggerate since I saw this scenario play out time and time again on a daily basis. I had no control over it and the owner was unwilling to even listen to suggestions from any of the staff on how to improve the office and flow of patients.

I also know that the staff involved were good people who knew their jobs, but were beaten down by a negative work environment. It was an oppressive, toxic environment. I heard similar unsolicited comments from patients on many occasions. I felt helpless to explain to patients or tell them that it would change. There was nothing I could say that would justify the negative attitudes or the treatment they received. Don’t think for a moment that patients don’t pick up on a negative energy from you and your staff. They see and sense that staff is not happy and the environment is tense.

Take a close look at your office with unbiased eyes. Do your staff interact with each other in a positive way? Do they help each other or are they always looking for other’s mistakes and faults? Do they blame each other or take responsibility when something goes wrong? And perhaps the hardest question of all- do you contribute to the energy of the office and in a good or bad way? These are tough questions, but so important to your success and the impression you create for your patients.

It’s hard to admit that the culture of your office is less than ideal. But, if you don’t recognize it, you can’t fix it. A team effort is required, but the benefits to you, your staff and your patients are immeasurable.

Look for future blogs with ideas on how to positively affect your office culture. Visit our Facebook page for other ideas as well.

Leave your comments below on how you have dealt with problems in your office culture. We look forward to hearing your ideas or solutions for problems you have encountered.

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Reading time: 2:41

Why did I decide to write a blog? I have always valued sharing experiences and clinical pearls with fellow optometrists. I have learned so much from these casual conversations. Some information has had major impacts on my practice, but many ideas were small simple things that made my life a little easier. Why not share what I have learned? I wanted to create a forum for other optometrists to share some of the lessons they have learned. There are many blogs and websites that do similar things, but I think my approach is a little different.

If you are looking for blogs that keep you informed of the latest in technological advances or how to increase profits and the bottom line, then this is not for you. That is not my forte. My expertise is in personal observations that improve care and allow you to make better connections with your staff and patients. I will try not to bore you and I will honor your time by keeping all the blogs short. In fact, I will post the reading time at the beginning so you know how much time you will spend.

With more than forty years in practice, I can still say that I love what I do. I have practiced in many different settings. I have learned something from every place I have worked. Some lessons were positive, but some fall into the category of “things I don’t ever want to do”. Some of those insights were easy, but others acquired after considerable struggles and pain. I figured why not spare others that pain if I can? My inspiration is in part from my practice, but also from my experiences and observations in daily encounters with people.

Those forty plus years have seen some major changes in optometry. So many changes in fact, that every day I feel like a magician trying to balance new technology with classic values. Daily, I juggle responding to the increasing demands of insurances and governmental regulations against trying to preserve the best parts of optometry.

I hope this blog will be a forum to exchange ideas, encourage growth and challenge the status quo. I have always tackled things from a different perspective than many of my peers. Neither way is better, just different. I want to present you food for thought. I want to challenge doctors to find a way to incorporate new (or old) ideas into their practices. I want to encourage doctors to create a practice that they love and that fulfills them. And I want to continue learning from you too.

Education and communication have always been important to me. Not only do I love creating “a-ha” moments for my patients, but I realize first hand that taking a few moments to talk with my patients has forged a valuable connection between us. That connection builds loyalty and promotes practice growth. It also increases patient compliance and ensures a better clinical result. Best of all, that connection has allowed me to practice in a way that I find fulfilling. I’m not saying that it has all been sunshine and roses. I have lost my way many times, but somehow always found my way back.

A lot of the changes in health care have been good, but many have been negative. This is a trend seen in business as well. Yet, some large corporations are also bucking the system by challenging the rules and showing us that change is possible. I am encouraged by that wherever I see it. If they can do it on such a large scale, then we can do it in our individual practices.

Putting out a positive message and caring about our staff and patients is not only possible, but also can make a difference in the world. We can either be part of the problem or we can be an example of a solution. Small changes can and do make a difference.

Please leave your comments below. I look forward to hearing about your personal experiences. Connect with us on social media for additional ideas on changes that can help you and your practice grow.  Visit our Resources section for free tools to help you with your practice.