How Can I Work With This Co-Worker?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a member of her work group that has confronted her about use of her time: Doesn’t know how to deal with this individual about what is expected.

Almost six weeks ago I started a new job. I am a Clinical Medical Assistant to a specialty doctor. The person I was teamed up to work with seemed like a nice person and easy to work with. Well, I found out that is not the case. On Monday she took me aside and said that there was talk (between her and the clinical manager) that they cannot understand why one task takes me so long to complete. I reminded her that if someone does not inform me that there are other things I need to accomplish then I figure that is all that is expected of me that day.

She assured me that there are other things that are expected of me. This is surprising to me as every time I am finished with a task I have to seek her out for something else to do. I also explained to her that I work more productively if I know what is expected of me by the end of the day. Everything seemed fine then. Well, today she assured me she would really be in need of my help. I though great, finally I can stop feeling like I am always bothering her and can help with the workload. There was work for me this morning. I was able to finish in between taking care of the 22 patients that the doctor was seeing today in the office.

Then this afternoon, I had to occupy my own time because she kept assuring me there was nothing for me to do, although I saw a stack of 75 charts that need attention. At one point, I was on the phone working on obtaining authorization from an insurance company, and she was hovering over me. After 10 minutes of this, I said to her that if there was something she needed to do, she could go ahead and go I did not need her. At this, she dropped to her knees, bowed at my feet and said “Thank you for your permission.”

I was stunned and still on the phone (on hold) mind you. I told her that she was taking what I said wrong. In a somewhat sarcastic tone she said, “Oh, okay,” and walked off. We really did not speak after this. The next thing I knew the Office Manager asked me where she is and where something was. I told her I do not know. As it turned out, she had left for the day.This is not the first time that she has left and someone came to me looking for something. Had I been informed, I would not have looked like an idiot. The last time she did this, it was the Practice Manager and the Doctor I work for. I am uncertain whether I should try talking to her again or should I go to the Clinical Manager. I also found out that the girl whom she replaced left because of her. She had worked for the doctor for 4 years and could not take it after working with her for a year. Please, any advice is appreciated.

Signed, Frustrated Fredie

Dear Frustrated Fredie:

From your description, I get the idea that the MD you are working with is insecure and really doesn’t know how to empower you to do what you have to do. You are right, most conflicts are a result of unclear expectations. I gather you are capable of dialog necessary to clarify just what needs to be done. Your doctor clearly doesn’t know how to relate to her staff. I can empathize with you and feel your frustration. Many good doctors would be a lot better if they had learned in medical school how to communicate and resolve conflict.

I suggest that you think of getting my book: Powerful Partnering…with words that I Never Learned in Medical School. There is hope for a possibility that she would read it and be open to the idea that if she wouldn’t walk away and have a good talk with you along with another person that may share your concern. It is a long shot, but you really need to get things straight, rather than live daily in frustration. These things happen all the time in medical offices and you will find more about the solution on my website:

You have a good opportunity to do some good in helping that physician to grow, not walk away. I believe she is struggling with her own ineffectiveness as a leader and boss. You are so right in asking, Thanks. Creating good working relationship often requires initiative, listening, assertiveness, persistence and resilience. Put your faith and action in communication and good will. If you do, you are on the path to powerful partnering. WEGO for that.

Ed Hollenberg, MD, Guest Respondent