By Larry Teren
A famous television actress wrote in her autobiography that she learned the best way to get what she wanted was to lean in on someone, talk in a calm voice and act vulnerable. She then proceeded to give a sketchy example of one time when it worked to her benefit.
She did say that until she got that advice, she would usually come on like a female bull (if that was possible) in a china shop. Sometimes it would work out but she would be in such an aggravated condition she would not enjoy her victory. I’d be the first person to admit that I have too often used the “take no prisoners” method to get the outcome I hoped for.
Dad used to preach to us that you could catch more bees with honey. My siblings and I used to scratch our heads on that because we thought a bee gave away honey, that it didn’t take any. What Dad was trying to tell us was to think like the opposition to take away their advantage. What were their options in getting the result they were expecting? More often in confrontation the opposition expected their opponent to be belligerent and/or condescending while making ‘no can do’ demands. Dad was telling us to disarm them with charm.
Dad was a pro at being nice to people when he was looking for retribution or conflict resolution. He also was the only guy I knew who could use a toilet seat for three days and return it because it just didn’t fit right and not because it was damaged and get his money back.
Toward the end of Dad’s six year, nine month stay at a nursing home, his doctor came to do an ominous examination. The doctor started to speak mumbo jumbo about Dad’s condition, being very vague about saying anything positive. I jumped all over the doctor like a reporter at a press conference looking for direct answers instead of the runaround. I got a little nasty and jumped on one of the doctor’s explanations. Dad interjected and looked at me and said, “quiet!”. He then turned to the doctor and said, “let him talk.” It was one of the last times Dad tried to use the good cop approach hoping to hear something pleasant in return from the doctor. It wasn’t to be.
The first time I tried Dad’s approach was during a lunch break in my senior year of high school, I shattered a second floor school building window by hitting a 16 inch softball through it. It wasn’t done on purpose nor was I supposed to be hitting a large ball in that direction either. As soon as it happened, my playmates congratulated me on the spectacular shot and at the same time told me it was nice knowing me.
I did that slow dead man walking bit to the indoor side of the crime scene where the assistant principal was waiting for anyone to who felt like joining him in looking at the broken shards. I ‘fessed up and very contritely apologized and asked how much it cost to replace the window and that I would bring the money the next day. He took one look at me and said, “first, that was some shot. Second, forget about it. Our insurance will cover it.”
You can be sure that if I had taken a defiant tone glibly stating that accidents happen without offering to pay, he would have devised some type of appropriate punishment. You can also be sure that it was the last time I played softball in the back of the school during lunch.
More recently, I brought my car in on a Sunday to the repair shop because the ‘check engine’ light was on since Friday. The shop owner lives in my building and we are good friends. I gave him advance warning that I would be coming by. I asked him what time he opened. He said at 8am. I told him I’d be there then. He said that he himself would not be there until 9am but that his son would be in early if he was not preoccupied with shoveling snow.
I got there at 7:45am and the office/waiting area was lit up and open so I went in. The service writer was sitting at the front desk doing paper work. He asked what the problem with the car was. I told him about the ‘check engine’ light. He said, “uh uh. Come back tomorrow. I can’t guarantee that we can get parts.” Instead of grabbing him by his shirt collar and telling him that his boss said it was okay to bring it in, I calmly said, “well, you can still put it on the lift and at least let me know if it will have to wait until Monday. I’ll wait.” I gave him my key, sat down in the waiting area and proceeded to start reading the book I brought with.
The son came in about twenty minutes later. He did not tell me that it was impossible to work on my car that day. The father came in at 9am, as advertised. He said hello and went about his business. My car was repaired. It needed a new rear oxygen switch- like cars breathe? I was behind the steering wheel two hours later and my blood pressure never went up a notch that morning.
I’ve had exasperating run-ins with customer service people whom I felt were showing no flexibility in how they solved my needs. I’ve gone back and forth with the good cop, bad cop approach. Sometimes the good cop approach works if I’m dealing with an intelligent person capable of making decisions on his or her own. When it doesn’t, spilling a plastic bottle of honey on their head helps a long way to ease the frustration. Just saying….