Think Before You Speak: Good for Kids & Practice Staff

February 7, 2011

As a mother of two young children, I very often find myself using lines from the “Handbook of Motherhood,” subtitled “because I said so." This week, I felt like using a couple such lines at work - “I don’t care who started it” and “think before you speak.”

As a mother of two young children, I very often find myself using lines from the “Handbook of Motherhood,” subtitled “because I said so." Classic lines, like “look with your eyes, not with your hands,” “that behavior is unacceptable," and “if you slam that door again, I am taking it off." This week, I felt like using a couple such lines at work - “I don’t care who started it” and “think before you speak.”

It all started a week ago. My associate’s second-to-last patient, who had been late for her last two or three appointments, was late…again. Because the staff knew that she was always late, they told her that her appointment time was 15 minutes earlier than it actually was. And she was still late by a good 15 minutes. Now we do have a late arrival policy that states that if a patient is late that he or she MAY need to be rescheduled, but that they may be accommodated or asked to wait depending on the day’s schedule.

As it turned out, my associate’s last patient hadn’t shown up yet (in the end, she didn’t show up at all), so my associate decided she would see Little Miss Late Comer. My receptionist said she was a push-over or something to that effect. A few minutes later, my receptionist told my associate that she would have to put her patient in a room herself because the medical assistant was on the phone scheduling a patient. My associate was not pleased, felt the receptionist should have taken the phone call, but took her patient in. While she was seeing the patient, my receptionist and MA left for the day as per their schedule. My associate came out with her patient and let her check out with our other secretary. And once the patient was gone, she vented. She was mad at the patient for being late. She was mad at the receptionist. She was mad at the MA.

Where was I? For the first half of the events, I was in with a patient. And I left before the second half. So for an entire weekend, I was blissfully unaware.

Come Monday, my associate tells me that she thinks the staff is mad at her. At that point my understanding was that she reprimanded them for giving her a hard time about seeing the patient and for not bringing her in. I told her to forget about it, to let it go; it will pass. But there was a palpable tension all day. No happy banter. No small talk. At the end of the day, I overheard her talking to our MA, and at the end, it seemed they were OK. Tuesday, I could still feel the tension between my associate and our receptionist. She asked me if she should talk to her, and I (foolishly, as I would discover later) told her to just give her space.

Well, on Wednesday, the volcano erupted. My associate asked my receptionist what the other secretary had said. And here is where it got ugly. My receptionist said that the other secretary said that my associate called them (the receptionist and MA) liars; that they don’t do their jobs. That the MA only puts in the patients when she feels like it.

My associate denied saying any of that. My receptionist countered, well, why would the other girl just make that up? My associate said she must have misunderstood. My receptionist said that she shouldn’t have gotten the other girl involved at all, that if she had a problem with her that she should have told her to her face. My associate said that she would have, IF she had a problem with her.

Wow. Now this conversation took place in the absence of the other two staff members. And although my associate wanted to discuss it with all present, my receptionist was done. She said, “Fine (which, as all men should know, never really means ‘fine’), if you say you didn’t say all that, so be it. It’s done. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to put the other girl in the middle of this any more.”

I talked privately with my associate. She swore that wasn’t what she said. She was in tears. She was so upset. Part of the reason she loves our office is the camaraderie. And she was sorry that she ruined it.

Later, I talked to my receptionist. I told her that my associate was genuinely sorry. She said she would get over it, but she needed time.

The next day was very uncomfortable. Work went on normally, but unless there was business to discuss, there was an uncomfortable silence between them. I tried to be my happy, joking self. I tried to pretend all was well. It was quite the performance, I think. This morning, the ice seemed to have melted (indoors, but the wicked winter weather still makes our landscaping look like the frozen tundra). At the end of the day, when secretary number 2 and I were alone, I asked her for her version of last week’s events.

Apparently, after my associate’s rant, she called our MA, told her that the doc was mad, and, of her own accord, suggested that they do a better job. Unfortunately, that is not how it came across. And the rest is history. She said she tried to tell my receptionist the whole truth, but she was still in the “I don’t want to talk about it” mode.

I hope life can go back to normal. I hope we can put all this behind us. I hate walking on eggshells. If only they had all thought before they spoke.