Article Date: 3/1/2012

Understand the Question?
lessons learned

Understand the Question?

Unfortunately, some communications problems are for the birds.

Jack Runninger, O.D.

“Would you care for some lunch?” a flight attendant asked an airline passenger.

“What are my choices?”he asked.

“Yes or no.”

In order for you to give a sensible answer, it sure helps to understand the question.

“Just exactly what is astigmatism?” a patient once asked me. Since he was a college graduate with an engineering degree, I spent five minutes giving him a scientific explanation.

“I’m sort of sorry I asked,” he said with a wry grin when I finished. “I really didn’t want to know that much about it.”

Reading glasses

Another need is to fully understand what your patient is asking for, in order to solve his/her problem. Dr. Mel Schrier, New York, N.Y., had an experience proving this.

“At a local Rotary meeting I met a curmudgeon, who when he found out I was an optometrist growled, ‘You guys are lousy doctors. I haven’t had a decent pair of reading glasses yet.’ I told him I bet I could prescribe a pair that would solve his problem. Surprisingly he agreed to make an appointment.

“I asked him to show me how he reads. He scattered a newspaper on the floor and read it as he walked around. You betcha I didn’t prescribe an Rx for a 16-inch reading distance for him!”


For effective communication, you also need to know who you’re talking to. Dr. Michael Silverman, Coral Springs, Fla., tells of the time he walked into a tropical fish store, and heard someone ask, “Can I help you?” The only person he saw was an old lady sweeping at the rear of the store, with her back to him.

“Do you have any suckermouth catfish?” he asked her.

“Can I help you?” she repeated without looking up from her task. He figured she must be hard of hearing, so walked to where she was sweeping to repeat the question. And discovered he had been carrying on a conversation with a parrot.

Best be careful

And if you’re not careful, you can leave yourself open for an embarrassing comeback in arguing a point. Men and women don’t look at things the same way. After my first wife died, I had lived a somewhat slovenly, but efficient life while living alone. For example, I kept the cereal box on the table rather than keeping it in a cupboard. I figured it saved about 30 seconds to not have to get it out and put it back each morning. Over a year’s time, this computes to having saved a total of three hours of my valuable time.

When I remarried to a neat (in both senses of the word) lady, she was not impressed with this type efficiency.

“Why don’t you ever close drawers and cupboard doors?” she asked me. Rather than admit it was probably due to laziness, old age , and forgetfulness, I explained, “I guess I figure I’ll be coming back to the cupboard or drawer sometime during the day, so why close them when I’ll just have to open them again.”

“Okay, I get your point about not closing them when you may need to open them later in the day,” she conceded. “But could you do me a favor and at least make an exception for your zipper?” OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: March 2012, page(s): 20