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When is it okay to share a secret?


It is inevitable that your staff will develop secrets and gossip, so you must be aware of how to manage it and when you should step away because of ramifications from knowing what was said.



It is inevitable that your staff will develop secrets and gossip, so you must be aware of how to manage it and when you should step away because of ramifications from knowing what was said.



Dianna GravesPutting It In View By Dianna E. Graves, COMT, BS Ed

American novelist E.W. Howe once said: “A man who can keep a secret may be wise, but not half as wise as the man with no secrets to keep.” My mother also told me: “If two people know a secret-then it isn’t a secret anymore!”

As my staff size continues to grow, the times I am burdened with being told a secret increase exponentially. It may involve:

·      Third-party scuttlebutt regarding someone thinking about looking at another practice for a career change.

·      Someone having issues with another staff member and the OK Corral will be re-enacted Friday at high noon, otherwise known as a catfight in the lunchroom.

·      Or, in the worst case, there’s the secret that is actually more serious, and may have consequences to all involved, especially the secret teller.

I keep reminding my staff that managers and administrators are really just people deep down inside. We like to laugh, have fun, and be part of the gang, and being part of the gang means being entrusted with secrets from time to time. But safekeeping a secret is a burdensome task-and quite frankly, is no real favor, or fun, for anyone.

So let’s look at the dynamics of what a secret really is, and the potential ramifications of each.

Secret as gossip

In most cases, the predominance of secrets passing around the clinic at any given time are actually better described as gossip, or smack, as it is called today.

Someone talking smack about another often ruffles many feathers. Most of the time the comments are unfounded, but they still are hurtful to the recipient nonetheless.

When I hear it, I try to stop them quickly by gently chiding the gossiper with, “Oh, I thought you had something really good.”

Why listen at all? Because sometimes behind all the smoke, there’s a little something to it and I need to be aware of the repercussions that will eventually come, such as re-directed smack and/or a low-simmering war of words between two people.

Though these secrets are irritating at best, they need to be watched and downplayed to prevent future issues. I look at them as necessary evils, but only as irritating information.

Secret as warning

The person directly involved in the gossip usually tells these “warning bell” secrets to you.

For example, Patti comes into your office and announces that she and her husband are thinking of opening a business and are probably going to do it at the first of the year-if all goes right. She really doesn’t want to leave, and actually after the business opens, she is planning to come back part-time. If that doesn’t work, she will need to find someplace willing to let her work on her terms.

“Please don’t tell anyone, I want to do that when the time is right, but wanted you to know up front,” Patti said.

Ten minutes into the conversation Patti informs you she has only told two doctors and two other technicians that she trusts. Oh, and let’s not forget her recent posting on Facebook last night.

These are more serious secrets.

First, Patti is leveraging this gossip as an ultimatum to get something down the line in her favor. Second, she’s literally told you-without resigning-that she is probably leaving, thereby throwing you in a staff-seeking/planning mode. She is sharing a secret, while already leaking it to others and the social media, so when it becomes part of the gossip mill, it looks like it is you who has betrayed her trust!

Lastly, when the time comes to leave, you are the bad guy because you won’t fight for her and allow her back part-time.

These are dangerous to mortal secrets because no matter what, you lose. Guard them well. Don’t play into them, but heed them alertly!

Remember who you are talking to

Though we all want to be confided in, some secrets should not be shared with your manager.

I had a staff member awhile back come into the office asking if she could talk with me, something was bothering her.

Donna’s face looked like she had swallowed six lemons.

Before she sat down, I said, “Sure, but before you begin, remember who you are talking to.”

I wanted her to share, and obviously by looking at her she needed to, but I couldn’t really promise to do nothing without knowing what the problem was. There are some secrets that need to be acted on. After listening to half of the story, this one needed to be acted on drastically.

Donna had been given a secret to keep by Pam, and was told not to tell anyone. They both knew it was wrong not to tell. Keeping the secret was making both of them feel guilty and as complicit as the one who had done the initial deed.

Because of the secret pact and rules, they were now both caught in something they needed help getting out of.

The problem? They didn’t want to die in the aftermath! By being tattletales, they would probably be ostracized by others for sharing the secret. In essence, by doing the right thing, they would probably be hurt in the aftermath.

Now I had a problem. As a manager, I had to act on the information, but I needed to protect them from the consequences.

After a long weekend of thinking, I finally figured out a relatively simple way of keeping Donna and Pam out of the loop while still initiating changes that would prevent this from happening again. When changes occur, they will affect the wrongdoers and it should be slightly obvious to those involved that something has happened, but the secret sharers will be protected.

These types of secrets-while far and few apart-are nerve wracking and dilemma full. They are secrets to beware of at all costs, because not only do they affect the staff, but they now also affect you as well. By telling you, they have now made you duplicit!

So, the next time someone wants to share a secret with you-whether it’s the true shade of someone’s hair color or his or her real age-gently place your hands firmly over both ears and run down the hall to your office and lock the door!


Dianna E. Graves, COMT, BS Ed, is clinical services manager at St. Paul Eye Clinic PA, in Woodbury, MN. Graves is a graduate of the School of Ophthalmic Medical Technology, St. Paul, MN, and has been a member of its teaching faculty since 1983. She can be reached at dgraves@stpauleye.com.


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