This is such a story.
For Christmas, my son got an Anki Overdrive - the only thing he really wanted. (It's a race car thing where you control the cars through an app). When he opened it and set it up, one of the cars didn't work. You can image what that's like on Christmas morning. Ugh.
We bought it from Amazon (and yes, we do have Prime), so we returned it. It took a while to get our replacement. Over the weekend, we got the new set, my son set it up, and...
Neither car worked.
And it came with the wrong track pieces.
Plus there were tears.
I know this is a very first-world problem. I know that it's not the end of the world, and I know I should have kept my cool when I talked to Amazon Dan.
But I didn't.
I didn't because Amazon Dan was rude and wouldn't give me my money back. To be fair, I refused to return the item that didn't work because my son wanted to keep the working parts of the track (we bought ANOTHER Anki Overdrive system - it came yesterday, and it works - praise Jesus!). What I was asking for was a $25 credit from Amazon for my time and trouble so that I could buy a working car for my son to use. I didn't think that was beyond the realm of possibility, so when Amazon Dan kept saying, "I can't do that because we need you to return the original item," over and over again, I got...let's call it frustrated (because certifiably-insane sounds really bad).
When I look back on yesterday's conversation (yes, this is fresh), the thing that upset me the most was that Amazon Dan wasn't listening to me. He ignored my frustration, my disappointment, and my desperation. Instead, he stuck to the script, the rules put in place. He didn't offer any creative solutions; he didn't engage me in problem solving. He firmly planted his feet and crossed his arms.
I also imagine a scowl coming into play, but that's pure speculation on my part.
When our interaction reached its climax, I not-so-politely told him that he left me no choice but to leave scathing reviews every possible place it could. Which I did. I left a terrible review for the product, for the seller, and for the exchange with Amazon Dan.
And do you know what happened?
The seller contacted me within 10 minutes of me leaving the review and refunded all my money WITHOUT me having to return the product. And about four hours later, I received a refund from Amazon in the amount of $25.36 (why the 36 cents?).
Yeah me, right? Yeah for being the squeaky wheel. After all, the moral of this story is that if you complain loudly and angrily enough, if you bully others, you get what you want...and then some.
The Rub - Part II
Even though I got what I wanted...more than what I wanted, actually, the whole thing felt yucky. Why couldn't I have been directed to the seller to begin with? Why didn't Amazon Dan have more options at his disposal? Why didn't he hand me over to a manager who had the authority to work things out? Why didn't I ask for something else?
We got so locked in to our single-option point-of-view, that we failed to solve the problem in a way that felt mutually agreeable.
A Better Way
Too often - at work, in the classroom, at home - conflict becomes a contact sport. There must be a clear winner and a clear loser, both participants fighting to the death for their side. My experience with Amazon really opened my eyes to how often I dig in my heels.
I know there has to be a better way.
Thinking about yesterday's experience, I've come up with three simple things - elements clearly missing in my Amazon interaction - that could help avoid conflict and lead to a more peaceful solution. Are they foolproof? No. Will they work for every kid or person in every situation? Probably not. Are they better than getting into a screaming match and worth at least trying? Most definitely.
1. Make Time: The first part of this that feels critical to me, is to make time for conflict resolution. During my Amazon call, I felt like just another number. "Let's get this lady off the line because I have 100 other calls waiting." Resolving disagreement takes time and effort - either in the moment or at another point. But it does take time. Either stop what you're doing to begin addressing the problem or make a concerted effort to set up another time to meet and discuss what's going on - whether at home, at school, or at work.
2. Listen Without Judgement: I'll admit it. Yesterday, I imagined Amazon Dan thinking, "This lady probably has a working race car set and is just trying to get something from Amazon." I think it's really important to listen intently to what someone is saying AND reserve judgement. Instead ask questions to get to the root of the issue or clarify the actual problem. Passing judgement - even if it's in your own mind - escalates the issue and leads to further division or misunderstanding.
3. Get Creative: In reality, I would have been happy with ANYTHING yesterday. I wanted some kind of positive response to my frustration and disappointment. Once you start talking in a conflict, problem-solving is a great way to "get on the same side." Try something like, "I really want to help solve this problem in a way that feels good to both of us. What can we do?" Start brainstorming solutions and ideas, and then be willing to accept one. Consider compromising on a hard-and-fast rule in order to restore relationship. Think about what kind of solution best fits the problem. For example, I wasn't actually asking for a full refund, just a partial, good-faith gesture. Was that so bad? Working together with your "opponent" brings peace back into a tense situation.
These three simple steps can lead to solutions that everyone can live with. They may prevent an explosive conflict, saving time and hurt from happening. Even more, they foster relationship, communication, and restoration when conflict does arise.
Maybe I should send a copy of this post to Amazon Dan...?