Staff Management

Reading Staff Strengths & Coaching for Improvement

By Maria Sampalis, OD

March 27, 2019, 

All people, including your staff, come with unique personalities. Understanding those personalities, and which are best with which patients, is essential to providing a topnotch office experience. Here’s how I work to understand my employees’ personalities, and then work with them to improve care and service for my patients.

Match Patient Needs with Employee
I’ve learned the interests, and personality tendencies of each of my employees. All of my opticians may be extroverts, who enjoy chatting with patients, but I know, for instance, that a patient seeking a style opinion on their eyewear may be best served by sending him to a particular optician, who enjoys talking in depth about fashion, while a patient who mostly likes to talk about sports, would be better served by another optician, who is an avid sportsman.

Similarly, I can tell in the exam-room exchanges I have with patients whether they would do better with the kind of optician who is voluble, and enjoys giving heavier-handed direction, or if they would be put off by that kind of personality, and would do better with an optician who would take a gentler, subtler approach.

When talking to patients, note whether they like seeking, and taking in, your opinion, or whether they prefer to talk themselves, and how assertive they are in telling you what they want. That may give you a tip-off on whether they would do better with a more authoritative optician, or one who takes a softer approach in guiding the patient.

Not All Patients Want Speed
Practice owners have been conditioned to create the most thorough, yet efficient, exam possible. But what happens when a patient doesn’t want speed, but quality time with the doctor?

When necessary, I’ve learned to slow down my exam to provide in-depth conversation that goes beyond patients’ eyewear needs, and extends to their families and wide-ranging interests. These conversations bond the patient to me and the practice.

Just as I’ve learned to alter the level, and character, of conversation with patients when I see that’s what the patient wants, I have learned to match patients with employees who are more likely to give them a slower, conversation-laden experience, and how to match those interested in speed with opticians who tend to be less chatty and more down-to-business.

Optimize Staff Strengths & Weaknesses
Once you learn to read staff personalities, and understand the types of patients those personalities align best with, you can take the next step and help staff make the most of their strengths.

For example, an optician great at working with gentler patients who bristle at heavy-handed, authoritative people, may sometimes have trouble asserting themselves when necessary. You could review techniques with that optician for being more assertive when necessary, such as when explaining to a reluctant patient why a lens treatment prescribed by the doctor is a good idea, or when talking to the patient about why putting their old lenses in a new frame year after year is not the best idea.

On the other hand, an optician who enjoys providing strong direction, may need coaching on how not to alienate patients who don’t want strong leadership. They could be taught soft-sales techniques in which the patient is eased into a conversation about the products that would work best for them, rather than instructed.

Doctor Should Also Seek Improvement
Coaching works two ways. As doctor I always seek feedback from staff on what they’re hearing from patients, and observing themselves, about my interactions with patients.

For instance, I want to know if a patient has many questions, which they felt they were not able to ask in the exam room. That would tell me that I’m rushing the exam process, and not drawing out questions from the patient well enough. On the other hand, if a patient is irritable and rushed when they get to the optical, and complain that the exam was too long, I want to know, so I can become more efficient.

Patients may express dissatisfaction to support staff before they do to the doctor–especially when the doctor is the practice owner–so it’s important to let staff know that you want that feedback.

Make Coaching a Part of Every Staff Meeting
My staff and I meet at least once a week to discuss practice performance from the previous week, and to set goals for the coming week. We also set time aside to discuss how individual patients were served. If we got a strong review online from a particular patient, I might call out the support staff who worked with that patient, and give them a congratulations.

I also would review exactly what they did to get such rave reviews. If they spent significant time educating the patient about lens upgrades, I would want the other employees to know how they did that, and how much time it took. Often, it takes less time than employees think to go the extra mile.

I never would never embarrass an employee by publicly calling out poor job performance, or poor service to a patient, but without naming names, I might reference a negative review, and discuss at large how we can do better next time.

For example, I might note the patient’s dissatisfaction with the product they ended up with, and how both I, and the opticians, could have better explained the eyewear the patient was going to end up with, and if there is an adjustment period, such as with progressive glasses, how we could have better prepared the patient for the adjustment.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. The key is knowing which person in your practice is best for any given situation, and then how to use each team member’s strengths to give every patient an experience they will want to return to, and refer others to experience.


Maria Sampalis, OD, practices at Sampalis Eye Care in Warwick RI. She is also the founder of Corporate Optometry on Facebook. Dr. Sampalis is also founder of the new job site and She is available for practice management  consulting. To contact:




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