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I Found A Lump, Now What? A Creative Way to Resolve Conflict With Breast Cancer Patients

My Position

I believe that healing is an integration of all that you are, heart, body, mind, spirit and soul. I believe that cancer is in fact two diseases, one of health and one of emotion. I believe that a woman’s body, free of cancer and the physical scars it leaves, resembles a Renoir painting or the simplicity of the Degas’ dancer, beauty, elegant and full of grace. After personal reflection, I would describe a woman enduring the emotional and physical scars that breast cancer brings resembles a Salvador Dali print, full of abstract, confusion and disillusionment. Had I known the tumultuous road that lie ahead after diagnosis, I may have changed my mind about treatments that I agreed to and underwent, searching for that cure.

When searching for a leader, a person looks for characteristics that strive for vision, ambition and organization. In a physician, organization and ambition fall behind a demand for competence, high ethical standards and a proven approach to success. A medical team and an individual all look for good communication skills, adequate access to resources, a capacity to inspire others and to be inspired. Keeping an open mind, maintaining control in an emotional situation, analyzing mountains of data and the process of information are all components of my three step process in reducing conflict in a health care setting. Whereby incorporating these steps will serve to increase satisfaction, productivity, and commitment.

My Three-Step System Approach

By educating employees on your expectations; and adding the training of all staff in the resolution of conflict and the offering of information to all patients and receivers of care, would enable a facility that specializes in the treatment of breast cancer to reduce the conflicts associated with identity/role, power, communication and interests.

Step 1: Employee Handbook

By educating a new employee, or by re-educating an existing employee, in the expectations that the facility has for them should not only meet the expectations of the external customer in terms of exemplary delivery of services but that will EXCEED customer expectations by going the extra mile.

The same goes for the internal customer. A facility should have a strong commitment to exceed their own expectations, especially in the competitive market for providing health care. The idea or concept is to place value on every employee regardless of his/her position. You will most likely be profoundly affected on a personal level by what cancer can and cannot do. For each of us, that impact will be different. It should be the commitment of any administration that as a Team, they strive to become the kind of people and facility they want to be. By offering a commitment to contribute to a better world, increase human interaction and appreciate differences, employees will be armed with the knowledge and skills for preventing conflict and in the processes for de-escalation of potential conflict. It is my hope that a proactive environment, one that serves to prevent conflict, is better prepared to react, thus resolve conflict.

The second step in my proposed process is educating the staff.

Step II: Staff Development

Through understanding the life cycle of a conflict, individual patterns of conflict, learning steps in dealing with conflict, being able to identify positive and negative impacts conflict has on individuals, groups and teams could only serve to enhance the productivity of staff. A facility that orients its employees to their goals, vision and mission, sets the standard for improved communication, improved group dynamics and is positioned for success.

By recognizing each employee to be a respected asset, the goal should be to provide every employee with a positive, supportive workplace, free of conflict. It is my belief that an environment that provides for access, equity, flexibility and value allows its employees to achieve their maximum potential.

A Facility serves to monitor ongoing health facility performance and staff productivity. By taking ownership of ones actions, you are placing a vested interest in maintaining your employment through good customer service. When a neutral environment exists, an employee may take a more proactive approach to resolving their own disputes more effectively and more efficiently. The creation of a development office should assist employees, students and volunteers to become well-informed, imaginative and effective decision-makers, capable of working independently or collaboratively to create workable solutions to conflict. They should encourage staff members to act in a caring and compassionate manner. In order to obtain these goals, they should engage staff members in activities which will challenge them to identify creative ways to resolve conflict.

Training in conflict resolution results in the development of a facility wide community that promotes identity, teambuilding, trustworthiness and credibility. Identity in part is co-created with those around you; teambuilding increases levels of trust and comfort within a group; trustworthiness is placing trust in those around you and being able to rely on the information they hold and/or share; credibility is offering and holding validation, strength and power to collaborate and make decisions in a group environment with positive results.

By developing workshops that encourage discussion through interaction, feedback and process, several solutions for conflict resolution can be discovered. With verbal communication amounting to only 10-40% of contact, it is imperative that we recognize conflicts before they escalate. When building a learning community it is critical to acknowledge people’s presence and give them individualized attention as much as possible. Here, by incorporating an agenda for small groups using exercises and discussion, one might find common ground to sustain dialog after the training is over. Finally, one should commit to resolving conflict with its care receivers. By engaging in a process of needs assessment and evaluation, both management and staff will be aware of policies and procedures that need renewal, replacement or repair.

Step III: Patient Handbook

After being confronted with breast cancer at the age of 38, I found myself seeking answers to commonly asked questions with regard to diagnosis, prognosis and recovery. Unfortunately, there was no resource for my questions that I found personally and emotionally conflicted with. By providing all patients with a handbook or guidebook where they can keep track of questions, concerns, appointments, etc. it is my hope that this resource will reduce their daily conflicts and allow one to focus on treatments. It is my goal to ease this information overload and organize it here. Allowing one to slow down, think through their options and make informed decisions would assist in organizing all the activities of life in one area.

Let’s face it, women are living longer, as survivors. There is a demand for organization and simplicity. As mothers, daughters, sisters and friends, we owe it to ourselves to live our best life, with as little conflict as possible.


Connectivity, Community & Coherence

It is my opinion that a tri-focus of connectivity, community and coherence represent the pieces of the pie I feel should be the focus of health care in order to reduce conflict. Connectivity is a process where a connection or relationship within a circle or group is established, and these associations or connections serve to strengthen human bonds and collaborative problem solving policies, rather than isolating individuals from one another. By realizing that all parties have influence and power through connection, and by associating with one another, the problem solving process can only be enhanced. Community, often defined as a specific location or group, have a shared interests between care givers and care receivers, which is eradication of the disease. By uniting and establishing that interconnection, cohesion is developed. Cohesion serves to support each other in meaningful ways. The right hand should know what the left hand is doing, understand why and have the process fit together and make sense. By decreasing interference or noise, a feeling of common purpose is established, leaving one committed to the community they are seen as a part of.

Keeping in mind the mission of a facility, it is my belief that by initiating a dedication towards balance, integration, flexibility and values, a maximization of resources can be obtained. It has always been my position that collaboration across lines of authority and leadership serve to promote a healing environment. With a struggle for resources within the health care environment, and ever increasing burdens placed on the administrators to meet training, safety and other requirements, it seems a natural progression is not always to look for new skills, but rather to bring awareness to the ones we have. By increasing the capacity we have for helping others, we instill an environment of advocacy and respect, which will decrease conflict.


Pamela K. Embury

Pamela K. Brigham-Embury is the Executive Director for the Breast Cancer Network of Western New York. She is Educated in Crisis Intervention, Suicide Prevention and has held positions as an International Mediator and has served as a Family and Community Mediator and Arbitrator for the 8th Judicial District in Buffalo,… MORE >

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