April 20th 2022

Opticians Are Human Too

Spoiler alert. Opticians are human too.

It is the human condition to be fallible sometimes. This includes opticians, their  staff and mediators. Fallibility takes many forms, but a key cause is communication and, more importantly, miscommunication.

Unclear communication, whether spoken or written, and the perception of inappropriate communication, can sow the seeds of discontent in the client/optician relationship. With the not always helpful interactions on social media, how we say something is increasingly under scrutiny and open to genuine or wilful misinterpretation.

Not saying something can sometimes be worse.

Wires getting crossed are a regular cause of dispute and complaint. Many of these are being resolved through the facilitated communication of mediation.  To nip potential issues in the bud is the key to prevent escalation. Asking a few open questions (Why? What? How?) and genuinely listening to the answer can be a game changer in effective client/vet interactions. Indeed, understanding where the other person is coming from can make a huge difference in determining the outcome to an example scenario.

As an example based on common occurrences, mediation may involve a client who the practice finds difficult to deal with. The example client’s behaviour and language directed towards staff can be perceived as inappropriate. The client in turn may feel victimised and bullied by the practice yet desperate to be reinstated as a client with them. This seems contradictory at first glance.

Exploring the situation with both parties allows them to appreciate the other side’s intention behind their words. This process reveals that the practice felt a duty of care to their staff to protect them from abusive behaviour.  The optician, who had seen the client, may been extremely upset.  For example, if we imagine that the optician is a senior clinician, the practice may be concerned about how their less experienced staff would cope under similar circumstances. The client, however, is unaware that he had upset the practitioner as they maintain a professional demeanour throughout.

Through the mediation conversation, and unknown to the practice, the client revealed they are suffering from a condition that impacted his emotional intelligence and coordination. This  results in his driving licence being revoked. He therefore needed to use this optician for his needs as it is within walking distance of his home.

When clearer understanding of the other side’s position is made available, the facilitative function of mediation is able to progress the matter to a mutually agreeable solution. This can include an apology on both sides, and reinstatement of the client under a strict standards of behaviour agreement signed by both parties. Now aware of the client’s health issues, the practice felt a duty of care to them, having first secured the agreement of the staff member he had upset.

Not listening is the other half of the communication circle. It may be the most important part. Hearing and listening are two different processes. Listening takes proactive concentration and focus. If clients listen to their opticians and vice versa, this is a powerful tool in the kit that can prevent disagreements or reduce their intensity and duration.  Taking time to listen may feel like a dream or luxury for opticians with large caseloads, but time taken to develop the optician/client relationship is an investment in the future. The time taken to address complaints, mediation, GOC or the courts will cost the practice and the individual optician significantly more in time/money and emotional energy.

The take home message? Listen, listen, listen and don’t make things worse.

Have you been affected by any of the issues in this blog? Our independent mediation service can be contacted on 0345 040 5834 or via enquiries@vetmediation.co.uk

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