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by Phyllis Pollack
March 2012

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

As a mediator, I am trained not to assume, and to ask questions. Sometimes, when I am acting as me (and not as a mediator), that training goes out the window; sometimes, it does not. Sometimes, I catch myself in time and reinforce a valuable lesson: never assume.

How did this start? With my anterior tibialis on my right leg. This is the big muscle between the knee and ankle on the outside of the leg. Over the last 2-3 years, it has ached, if not downright hurt, when I walk for a long distance. I finally got frustrated enough to see a sports doctor. In two minutes, he diagnosed it as tight calves and perhaps a little tendonitis (i.e., overuse: I admit that I am an overachiever!). He prescribed physical therapy for twelve sessions.

So, last week, I went to my first and second sessions. Each session was an hour, and the therapist (I will call her “Jane”) spent the whole hour with me. Things seemed to be going okay.

This morning, I went to my third session. Midway through the session while Jane had me doing a certain exercise, Jane walked away from me and into her office. A few moments later, she walked out towards another patient. At the same time, “John” came over to me, told me his name was “John” and that he was taking over for the rest of the session. I was taken aback by this and so after a moment, I asked “what about Jane?” “John” told me she was with another patient. “But”, I said, “I am her patient, and she was with me.” He responded that she had another patient. He then gave me a couple more exercises to do which I did. When he went to get the ice pack to put on my anterior tibialis (since it worked so hard for the past hour), I put my shoes on and grabbed my jacket to leave. I asked to talk to him privately as I was upset at having therapists switched on me in midsession without any explanation. Quietly, I told him that I thought that what had just occurred was extremely rude. He apologized and tried to explain to me that the facility books the therapist in 30 minute increments. I responded that this was my third time, and “Jane” had never gotten up and left before and if, indeed, this was the procedure of the facility, it should be explained to new patients. I further commented that if “Jane” no longer wanted to work with me, she should say so! I then left.

Later that day, I decided to call the owner to determine if what I was told was true. After explaining what happened, the owner confirmed that, indeed, the physical therapist does book in 30 minute increments, and then oversees an assistant (i.e., “John”) who manages the exercise portion of the session. The owner explained that in those situations where the therapist is not booked elsewhere for 30 minutes after my session begins, she will, indeed, stay with me. The owner explained that all of the patients know this. I respond by stating I am a new patient, and no one ever explained it to me. When “Jane” left, she spoke not one word to me of what was about to occur nor did “John” explain his role to me.

The owner understood and agreed that some explanation needed to be given to new patients. I told her an adage my father in law always used to say: “To a butcher, it is just another set of lamb chops, but to the poor soul who hasn’t eaten in days, it is the greatest meal of her life.” The owner acknowledged that an error occurred, and she would talk with “Jane” about it.

As you can see, this story is full of assumptions due to a failure to communicate. (This is, indeed, how most litigation starts; due to either a lack of communication or a miscommunication and a lot of assumptions filling in the empty spots!) When I first walked into therapy for the very first time, the facility assumed that I knew I would be working first with a therapist and then with an assistant. Because I worked the whole hour with the therapist during my first visit, I assumed that she would be working with me the whole time for each session. Indeed, this is what happened at my second session; she worked with me the whole time. As I have never had any sort of therapy before, I did not know anything differently.

Then came my third visit this morning; when the therapist had another patient beginning 30 minutes after my session started, she assumed I knew the routine. When she suddenly disappeared and “John” appeared out of nowhere and without explanation, I assumed that “Jane” did not want to work with me anymore and was simply palming me off onto another therapist (I knew nothing about “assistants”); even though “John” told me she had another patient and this was the way the office proceeded, I did not believe him and left abruptly. I assumed he was not telling me the “truth” but “covering” for “Jane”. When I left abruptly, “John” probably assumed I had an “attitude”, was way out of line, rude, crazy, et cetera. He probably never wanted to see me again!

At this point, and based on all of these assumptions, several different scenarios were possible; Feeling mistreated, I could have cancelled all of my future appointments and sought therapy elsewhere (there are plenty of physical therapy places to choose from!); I could have put off any decision and simply gone back to my next session to see what if anything happened – if “Jane” ignored the situation or attempted to give me an explanation and then based on what happened, make a decision what to do next; I could have called the owner to find out more or I could have ignored the whole thing and done nothing. Or, the therapy facility could have “fired” me as a client, asking me to take my business elsewhere, or it, too, could have called me to discuss it or waited to see what I would do at the next session or it, too, could have ignored the whole thing!

I decided to call the owner to learn more, not to complain, but to figure out if perhaps I misread the situation. (This is where the mediation training kicked in!) Rather than accusing the staff of mistreating me, I started the conversation off by saying that perhaps I “misread” the situation. I explained what happened. After listening to me, the owner, indeed, confirmed that the therapist is, indeed, booked for 30 minutes sessions and then an assistant takes over under the supervision of the therapist; while the therapist will spend the whole time with a patient during the first session, I was lucky that she spent the whole hour with me during the second session. And, “yes” someone should have explained this procedure to me.

So… with a little bit of communication with the owner to check some facts, rather than taking my assumptions and running wild with them, I stopped myself from getting all caught up and upset over a “misread” situation. I nipped my own anger in the bud by using communication to see that this whole incident arose due to a lack of communication and assumptions.

What more can I say?……never assume and always communicate to make sure you are reading the situation correctly!

Just something to think about…..!


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 well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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