By Linda Conlin, Pro to Pro Managing Editor

My nephew called the other night. Mark is a 36-year-old bachelor in a demanding profession, so I don’t hear from him often, and understandably so. This time he had an “eye question.” He’d just been to the eye doctor and got a mild minus prescription for night driving. “I think the salesperson was trying to upsell me,” he said. “He told me I needed some kind of trifocal lens for the computer, but I don’t need the glasses for the computer. The salesperson sounded like he was reading from a script and told me about blue blockers. Do I need blue blockers at night? I don’t think he knew what he was doing.” Mark left without purchasing glasses.

I asked him to read the prescription to me. (“What do all those numbers mean?”) Sure enough, it was a mild minus, distance only prescription with .25 correction for astigmatism. I explained, without mentioning approaching presbyopia, that if he were to use the glasses for the computer, a lens that took some of the strain off at near with a blue light filter would better prevent eye strain and he’d be more comfortable. Mark reiterated that the glasses were only for night driving and possibly a concert or sporting event. I told him for that purpose, glasses for distance with an antireflective coating should be fine. Mark agreed that the antireflective coating made sense.

Not one to throw a fellow ECP under the bus, I went on to explain that, as professionals, we have an obligation to present and explain options to our patients to help them make the best decision for their eyewear. That said, I wondered to myself if the ECP had listened to how Mark would use the glasses, or if he made the decision about what was needed solely from the prescription. What Mark noted about the presentation sounding scripted was disconcerting. While the ECP most surely understood the product he recommended, sounding like he rehearsed led to doubt on his patient’s part and (temporarily) cost him a sale. (Mark will go back for his night driving glasses because the office is convenient and they take his insurance.)

According to the Harvard Business Review, “immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk, he remembers only about half of what he has heard—no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.” The article, “Listening to People,” identifies a large part of the problem as the difference between the average speed of speech (125 words a minute) and the speed of brain processing (infinitely faster). That gap gives us time to become distracted, so we don’t listen to every word.

The article gave four ways to fill that time difference and improve listening skills:

  1. Think ahead of the speaker. Where is the statement leading?
  2. Consider the validity of the speaker’s statements
  3. Review and summarize the speaker’s points
  4. “Listen between the lines” by observing nonverbal cues and if there is significance to what isn’t spoken
So turn down the talking and tune up the listening skills. It will make a difference in how you take care of your patients. For tips on how to create a smooth discussion with patients, see our CE, “Scripts for Selling,” at