Treating Friends and Neighbors

I used to practice in the same town in which I lived and it was awesome…sometimes. I loved helping those around me and it was such a joy making a difference in the lives of those whom I cared about. But, if you asked my wife what it was like at a local bar or restaurant on a Saturday as we tried to make our way to a table, she might have disagreed with my assessment. The many “hey docs” and “we love your practice” were great to hear, but often took 20 minutes of conversation until we could actually get to our table. Great for the ego, not as great for our date night.
It became pretty easy to eventually learn how to make my wife the central theme for the night and move past the longer unexpected conversations, and when I moved to Seattle and lived 20 minutes from my practice, an altogether different set of issues arose. You see, most of our friends decided that they wanted me to become their dentist. I was a younger doc and wanted to help my friends out, so I would often give discounts to them, even when they offered to gladly pay in full. I can’t tell you why I did this, but it just felt right.  My team didn’t mind the first few times I did it, but it grew and grew and it was clearly a mistake made by my inexperienced self.
I also found that the casualness of the relationship often crept into our business relationship and it was tough for me to take my friends and especially their spouses to task for showing up late to appointments or dealing with an overdue balance.
When I went through management training at the Schuster Center almost 20 years ago, I was taught an easy way to deal with the issues of friends and family. At the first consult, I was taught to sit them down, eye to eye, knee to knee and tell them that while I was going to treat them as if they were a part of my own family, this new business relationship that THEY had sought was separate from our personal one. It was important for them to know that above all else I valued their friendship and that I would never want this professional relationship to get in the way of our friendship, so we needed to keep the two with the respect that they each deserved. It was some of the best advise given to me while I went through that program. It allowed me to always harken back to that conversation and ask that rare friend who was chronically late if they really wanted to continue the professional relationship.
I’ve learned so much more about this dynamic in the last 25 years and for those younger docs out there it can be a tough road to navigate but listen to those around you who have been through this, do what feels right in your heart and always treat everyone-close friend or not-with the same dignity and kindness you would expect.
Best wishes,
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