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Dispute Resolution 101!

PGP Mediation
by Phyllis G. Pollack

My husband’s stay in the hospital has taught me a very basic lesson:  knowing how to resolve disputes is a necessary tool in every aspect of life, especially in stressful situations such as hospital stays. This may get back to the notion discussed in an earlier blog, that some medical professionals forget that they are not dealing with just another “case”, but with a real live human being who is most probably quite scared at being in a “foreign” place where she does not know the language and is not in control of her life.

It all started innocently enough; a lab technician came in to draw blood to determine if the antibiotic being given was too strong of a dose. Unfortunately, the technician mumbled and neither enunciated nor explained why she was there other than to draw blood. Not getting a satisfactory or even any real explanation, my husband declined.

A few minutes later a second lab technician came in, spoke clearly and explained exactly why the blood was being drawn in response to our questions. The blood was drawn without incident.

Moments later, the lead nurse came into the room with a security guard in tow.  She asked me to leave the room and then proceeded to accuse and attack my husband of being disrespectful to the first lab technician. Unlike any person trained in dispute resolution, she did not first ask him for his side of the story or how he perceived the events as they unfolded but rather took her lab technician’s version as the only version of what happened and proceeded to admonish him about his “behavior”. (Talk about being disrespectful.)  As we all learned, even though we humans have evolved, we still have the primordial “fight or flight” response. So, when the lead nurse started attacking my husband especially with the security guard standing nearby (i.e., show of threatened force), my husband attacked back, standing his ground, especially since he was tethered to the bed via various wires monitoring his vital signs. (That is, he could not engage in “flight” which made it all the more ludicrous why the security guard was even there.)

Needless to say, the confrontation ended in an impasse. Being a lawyer who fights with the Government for a living, my husband was not about to back down. And the lead nurse, not really interested in his perception of what had happened, did not know how to find the middle ground. And the security guard standing nearby and in sight of my husband did not help matters but only escalated the tensions.

Afterwards I spoke to the nurse caring for my husband and learned that the nurses are given only a passing acquaintance with conflict resolution: a PowerPoint presentation once a year.

Someone once said to me that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen more than to talk. This is what the charge nurse should have done.  This is what we all should do:  listen more than talk.  And … to never forget that the person on the other side of the dispute is not just another file, not just another “case”, not just another plaintiff or defendant, but a real live human being full of fear and fright and scared of the unknown legal world into which she has often involuntarily stumbled and most importantly- totally no longer in control of her own fate. The lack of control is perhaps the most important fear driving all of us when facing the unknown.

…Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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