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Playing Well in the Sandbox

Posted By Brandi Deats, Friday, July 6, 2012
Updated: Friday, July 6, 2012

Dear Diary,

Let’s talk today about something that, until about a year and a half ago, I had little experience with:

Playing WELL in the Sandbox.

(an example of what NOT to do)


Oh and don’t get me wrong here. I’m still learning and still struggle with this "concept” from time to time.

So lets start from the middle: post-high school, pre-career, in that wonderful place called college. Some of us started college, or completed it, without going through the entire course of the Biomedical Photography program at RIT. What I’m not so subtly getting at here is some of us have gone through the pleasure of sitting through a critique where there was a more brutal back and forth between you, your teachers, and your peers. Sitting there trying to defend your art against a brutal onslaught of critics whom are either responsible for your grade or competing against you sometimes can be a bit rough.

(mad max thunderdome.jpg - )

This breeds a competitive nature which I believe to be exactly the OPPOSITE mentality of what it takes to "play well in the sandbox”. I say this because I may be slightly competitive [understatement of the day] and I have struggled to put my compulsion for personal conquest on the wayside in order to work well to enrich both my and others’ lives.

That struggle did not begin until I "finished” college and began my first job. Until then I was happy to add more proverbial achievement notches to my belt and watch the others flounder around me. I took part in two co-ops and had three amazing teachers who helped mold me and teach me the way around a fundus camera [A special thanks to: Christye Sisson, Leslie Barressi, and Jaclyn Pisano]. When I started my career I was delusionally convinced I knew it all; how wrong I was.

The not so funny thing was that I was about to be given the opportunity for an attitude adjustment of a lifetime; and thank goodness for that. I needed to reign in my mercurial personality and adapt to life as an adult, with a career. The first thing I learned was that this is a team effort so I needed to stow my ego and assimilate to being part of the team.

The first thing I had to work on was communication. It was not often what I said but how I said it that needed a little buffing. Learning to communicate with coworkers, patients and physicians can be tricky at times. Masking any sort of frustration, stress, impatience, irritation etc, although difficult, is extremely important. There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to imaging patients and the happier the patient the more fluidly administering the test will go. It’s especially important to be cognisant of your tone when working with patients. Usually when I’m with them I’m in a dark room so it’s mostly a verbal interaction. As for co-workers and physicians, this is where you need to really pay attention to the non-verbal stuff. Not only do you have to watch your tone, you need to be aware of any facial expressions, gestures, body language, eye contact, and even posture. It’s enough to make your head spin!


So let’s talk for a moment about what you should [and perhaps should not] be doing while attempting to communicate with another human being.

1.       Maintain eye contact. Nothing is more annoying than talking to someone while they are looking all around instead of at you. By maintaining eye contact you not only let people know you are focused on listening to what they have to say, you also seem more sincere in what you say when speaking to them.

2.       Facial expressions: they happen whether you’d like them to or not. This is the nonverbal part of communication I struggle with the most. My face seems to have a direct connection to my thoughts and feelings and has no filter what-so-ever between the two. Makes it a bit hard to effectively communicate when sometimes what you say and how you feel are different. Also it’s important to be able to pick up on others’ expressions. When someone is looking at you like they’re burning a hole in your forehead it’s time to evaluate what you’re saying and if you’re digging a hole, stop.

3.       Watch your body language. Consider how you perceive people when they’re slouching, constantly checking the time, picking at their nails, stoking their chin, not facing you while they’re talking to you, hands on their hips, behind their head, standing too close to you, etc. The way you carry yourself communicates a wealth of information to those around you. Be aware of how you’re presenting yourself.

4.       Voice: how you use it is important. Changing your tone, timing or inflection can be the difference between a pleasant conversation and one that will go downhill quickly. Be aware that it’s not always what you say but how you say it that people will remember. Frankly, people are much more apt to listen to you when you’re not being a condescending jerk towards them.

5.       LISTEN: Listening to others is essential for communication to be effective. You need to be able to absorb, understand, and consider what is being said to you. Take criticism without being defensive about it. You don’t have to debate every point. Like my boss has reminded me, you have two ears and one mouth, listen twice as much as you speak.

Everyone has to learn to communicate. Where I work it’s especially important to learn how to do that within our group. We have a small group of people who do diagnostic testing and for the most part we run as a pretty well oiled machine. The only way this continues to work is truly if everyone is willing to be, for the lack of a better term: a team player.

With growth or expansion or frankly just life that group dynamic can change. It’s important to remind everyone of what it takes to work as a team. I’ve covered communication, that’s the hard one. Other ones are pretty simple.

Be consistent, reliable and respectful. Don’t sit passively on the sidelines as your coworkers do the lion's share of the work. Even if you have a different way of going about things, put that aside and help things get done. Be an active participant in what’s going on around you, and if you don’t have anything to do-ask. Take the initiative and start a dialogue. You can learn something new and make yourself more marketable in the future. Every single person you meet, including your coworkers, can teach you something new. Learn!

When I started working I would aggressively attack my workload. I would get study protocols and make write ups for what was needed in order to get certified. I put a lot of work into them and I didn’t want to share with others, because they were mine ALL MINE!!! I figured if I could do it, they should be doing it too. This brings me to my next point, something we all were supposed to learn when we were children: share.  Sharing information with the team keeps everyone in the loop, and helps the well-oiled machine move forward.

And people, things change. People move, life happens, new policies are enacted. You gotta roll with the punches, and adapt. Compromise. Remember you still have a lot to offer, try to figure out how to do it. It might be hard, it might be stressful, problems may arise. Try to solve those problems, don’t dwell on it, avoid it, or blame it on others. If you do, guess what? The problem is still there. As problems pile up, things get stressful.


Stress. Stress. Stress.

One of the things that can really negatively affect communication and small group skills is stress. I haven’t learned how to completely control it, or deal with it. I’m working on it because that one little tooth that is off-kilter due to stress can make the whole thing fall apart. That’s pretty much the last thing that you want, cause guess what it will cause: more STRESS. If you have any suggestions on how to effectively deal with stress, please feel free to share.

Working with a group can be pleasant and advantageous, or ineffective and wretched. We have all experienced this in either our schooling or careers. The fact that I have to constantly remind myself of while working with others is that, while I only have control over my own thoughts and actions, I have to find ways to make my personal opinions work for the group and scrap the ones that are self-serving. Knowing and doing your part coupled with effective communication is the only way to get things done.

Brandi Deats, B.S., CRA, OCT-C,  has been working for the University of Rochester, Flaum Eye Institute in Rochester, New York for just over 2 years. A fledgeling adult and relatively newly married she enjoys cooking, eating, traveling, and the endless struggle of trying to get her husband to try something other than Labatt Blue.

Tags:  blog  cute  education  funny  Ice Breakers  Interactive  Meaningful Use  New Life  PDC  school 

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Permalink | Comments (2)

Comments on this post...

Rachel A. Hollar CRA OCT-C says...
Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2012
This was witty and informative - an ongoing struggle this, playing well in the sandbox... welcome!

Permalink to this Comment }

James Soque CRA OCT-C COA FOPS says...
Posted Friday, August 3, 2012
Well written Brandi !!
Very intuitive of you to bring all of these facets of office interactions, to light...
Welcoma Aboard, and Thank You, from all of us in the OPS community!
Permalink to this Comment }

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