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Is Indirect Communication Wrecking Your Office Culture?

Dr. Fishbein (far left as you are looking at the photo) with members of her practice team on a road trip. Dr. Fishbein says that a good practice culture makes going to work a joy.

Dr. Fishbein (far left as you are looking at the photo) with members of her practice team on a road trip to an educational event. Dr. Fishbein says that a good practice culture makes going to work a joy.

An essential change to how you & your team communicate.

I know everyone will enjoy reading Dr. Bethany Fishbein’s article about one of the many aspects of creating good culture. She has helped me many times with this over the years… enjoy!!! — ROB Professional Editor Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO.

By Bethany Fishbein, OD

March 13, 2024

Office culture is a powerful force in how an OD feels about heading into their practice each morning.

The Difference Made By Good Vs. Bad Culture

In an office with a strong team and a great culture, the OD wakes up excited to get to work and start their day. The team is excited by new challenges, and ready to reach their goals together. Laughter punctuates the day, and patients notice, saying things like, “Everyone’s always happy here!”

When the culture is poor, the OD can dread even walking in. Bad culture creates an uncomfortable work environment for everyone in the practice regardless of their position. It creates high turnover (where the people leaving never seem to be the ones you wish would leave), makes goals feel impossible to achieve, or makes integrating new technology impossible instead of exciting.

What Causes a Poor Office Culture?

There can be many causes of poor culture, but one of the biggest culprits I see in my work as a practice management consultant (and occasionally as a practice owner, if I’m being honest here) is lack of direct communication.

Indirect communication goes something like this:

Employee A has a problem with something Employee B is doing. Instead of talking to Employee B about it, Employee A talks to another co-worker. We’ll call them (predictably) Employee C, who listens, commiserates, maybe consoles Employee A… but no one ever tells B there was a problem.

B (having no idea they’ve upset anyone) keeps doing whatever they did in the first place, which upsets A and/or C, who continue to bond by commiserating about how annoying or awful B is with this thing they “keep doing” — which never gets better because B doesn’t even know they’re doing it!

The Problem Could Be You

As an optometrist or practice owner, you could be any of the employees in this scenario. If you’ve complained to your fellow associates or commiserated with a manager about an employee’s behavior, and neither of you told the employee, you’re guilty.

If you have created an environment where you’re unavailable, unwilling, or unable, to take feedback, leaving employees to commiserate with each other about you, you’re suffering here as well.

In my own office, we realized that the practice leaders were sometimes spending far more time talking to each other about how to handle employee issues than we were spending talking to the employees to fix the issues!

If this is the case in your practice, it’s critical to recognize the pattern and change it quickly.

Correcting Cultural Problems Caused By Indirect Communication

Ask yourself how you’d want someone else to handle the situation if they had a problem with something you were doing. Most people, when asked this, say they’d absolutely like to be told — but are much less likely to tell someone else, because of fear of hurting people’s feelings, concern that the issue isn’t “important enough” to bring up, or general discomfort with confrontation.

If you have concerns about something an employee is doing, make sure the employee knows it. Tell them kindly and directly, and as close to immediately as you can (but never in front of co-workers or patients!). This gives them the opportunity to change or fix the problem while it’s small.

Ask for feedback from your co-workers and employees to give them the opportunity to tell you if there’s something you do that really bothers them! And if an employee vents to you about another one, ask: “Have you talked to them about this?” Or: “How did you handle that with them?”

In most cases, making this simple adjustment creates an impactful improvement in culture very quickly, and builds a stronger and more trusting team.

Bethany Fishbein, OD, is an optometrist, practice owner, practice management consultant and certified executive coach. To reach her:



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