Article Date: 6/1/2013

Lessons Learned
lessons learned

The Fred Stivers Lessons

How to gain wisdom, taste and judgement without saying a word.



On my very first day in practice many moons ago, I learned a lesson as valuable as any I had learned in school.

It was a cold day in January, 1948. (I told you it was many moons.) I had graduated from Southern College mid-term, and my wife and I packed up our old 1936 Chrysler Royal with Free Wheeling we had purchased for 200 bucks a few months earlier. The “Free Wheeling” was an apt part of the name, since it had a distressing tendency for the brakes not to work.

Lonely out there

We headed for Rome, Ga., where I was going into practice with Dr. Dave Williams. Since he was wintering in Florida, I knew not a single soul in town, and was of course anxious to begin meeting prospective patients. I was kind of like the new optometrist in town who wanted to appear to have a busy practice, so when a man walked in the door, he picked up the phone and said, “No, I’m very busy. I can’t possibly work you in before next Thursday.”

“Can I help you?” he asked the man as he hung up the phone.

“Yes,” he replied. “I’m from the phone company and I’ve come to connect your phone.”

That first day

Anyway, my first day in practice I went to the Busy Bee Café for lunch, and was seated next to Fred Stivers. I discovered he was the manager of Southeastern Mills, the millers of “Stivers Best Flour.”

“Aha!” I said to myself. “Here is a leading citizen of Rome, and a captive audience. I’ll impress him with my great education and modern skills in eyecare, so that he may become a patient and will use his influence in referring patients to me.” I figured it wouldn’t be too smart to just jump in with this braggadocio, so I first asked him about his business. I figured I could then slyly shift the conversation over to me and my practice.


But I got so interested in his description of flour milling, that I found myself asking further questions. And all of a sudden lunch hour had ended.

“You idiot!” I said to myself as we left the restaurant (seems I did a lot of talking to myself, doesn’t it?). “You really screwed up on this one. You asked him so durned many questions you never got around to talking about yourself.”

Accidentally smart

A few days later Stivers’ secretary called to make an appointment for him and his wife. It dawned on me that once again I had been a whole lot smarter by accident than I am on purpose. He was much more impressed with me because I took an interest in him, than he would have been if I had tried to interest him in me. For example:

You can spend 30 minutes telling me about all the great things you’ve accomplished and I’m probably not too impressed. If instead you spend 30 seconds telling me you think my columns are great, I am extremely impressed with your wisdom, literary taste, and superior judgement.

“You can make more friends in a minute by taking an interest in others, than you can in an hour trying to get others interested in you,” is the way Dale Carnegie put it. A pretty obvious principle, but one we often forget. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: June 2013, page(s): 81