John A. Hovanesian, MD, FACS, focuses his blog on new technologies and innovations and how ophthalmic practices can best incorporate them to benefit patients.

BLOG: Four principles for partnership harmony

Raymond Hall once said, “All marriages are happy. It’s the living together afterward that causes all the trouble.”

And it was my now-retired partner, Roger Ohanesian, who also famously said, “Partnership is just like marriage, except don’t ever screw your partner.”

So it is that we face the same interpersonal challenges with our partners in medical practice that we do with our spouses in marriage. As we explore in the cover story of this issue of Ocular Surgery News, our partners are the people we spend all our daytimes with, sharing the space we live in at work and sharing our income.

And it was Johnny Carson who said, “There’s nothing better than a good marriage. There’s nothing worse than a bad marriage.”

So what makes a successful marriage of partners in an office environment?

Here are four tried and true principles from our successful practice of 16 doctors and six partners in Laguna Hills, California. They applied equally well to our practice when we were just two partners (before my time).

1. Spend time. Long ago I noticed that I had my best relationship with the doctors with whom I shared office space in our three-office practice. With those whom I saw rarely, I had more frequent disagreement and conflict when it came to practice-wide decisions. I realized that simply spending time together allowed us to understand each other’s perspectives and recognize common ground. For that reason, our practice meets regularly, allowing all doctors to exchange ideas and information and simply to enjoy each other’s company. I also seek outside contact (getting together for drinks or having coffee) to share thoughts with partners whom I most rarely see. There’s simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction boosting a relationship.

2. Shared duties. Some of my partners can’t stand to look at financial statements but have great skills when it comes to operations and training staff. Others understand the softer side of resolving interpersonal conflict in the office. We try to put these complementary talents to use for the practice. A few years ago, we had every partner complete a “strengths finder” survey, and we shared the findings to understand what makes us tick. It was really illuminating seeing how my partners think, and it helped us assign oversight responsibilities where the best talents of each partner lie. Dividing these responsibilities rather than having a single managing partner allows everyone to understand the complexities of running an office, and we appreciate each other’s contributions.

3. Practice emotional intelligence. Why is it we can get angry with our partners (as with our spouses) over small disagreements that are bound to come up? The excellent book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry explores this topic in detail and suggests a valuable solution: Each of us first should recognize when we’re having an emotional reaction to information presented to us and then try to understand why. By recognizing our mounting emotions and understanding their cause, we can control our emotional reaction to a topic brought up in a board meeting or a disagreement between partners, and we can reason out a solution most rationally.

4. Let data talk. When any of us has to make a decision, we sometimes are burdened with preconceived notions about the right answer. Conflict arises when these closely held beliefs disagree between co-workers. Usually, though, there are objective data that can be pulled from our practice finance records, EHR or industry benchmarks that will give us a less tainted view of the subject. When this is presented first, many of our preconceived notions either vanish or are confirmed. Faced with the same information, my partners and I almost always come to the same conclusions, and decision-making becomes much easier.

One last quote, this one from Catherine Zeta-Jones: “For marriage to be a success, every woman and every man should have her and his own bathroom. The end.”

Like marriage, partnership can certainly become complex. We do best when we agree to put the practice above our individual desires. Keeping this overriding priority front and center has made it a pleasure to share workspace, income and my professional career with partners whom I admire greatly and look forward to growing old together.


Disclosure: Hovanesian reports no relevant financial disclosures.