How to Talk to a Stonewalling Asshole on the Phone When You Are Vulnerable and Overwhelmed But Still Keeping Your Peace of Mind and Winning
Dedicated to someone who never thanks me when I dedicate writing to her.
Recently I watched someone I care about a lot talking to a stonewalling asshole on the phone. The person I care about was vulnerable and overwhelmed and I could hear that squeaky little rabbit sound in her voice and it cut me to the quick.
God has sent me the kind of life where my path is littered with Don-Quixote-style windmills and all I have to tilt at them is my puny little pen. I've had to talk to a lot of stonewalling assholes on the phone.
I want to share what I've learned about talking to stonewalling assholes on the phone when vulnerable and overwhelmed.
1.) Walk away from the phone & Develop your quiet place.
Yes. You heard me. Now do it.
Listen, I'm a teacher, and I'm going to walk you through this process. Believe me when I tell you: the first thing you have to do when it is time to talk to a stonewalling asshole on the phone is to walk away from the phone.
You are going to feel tempted to skip this step. Do not skip this step. It is the single most important step.
This is what you are going to do: you are going to develop a quiet place.
A quiet place is a set of reactions to stimuli that your body produces on command. You want to be calm, happy, and self-confident. You want to radiate a beneficent conviction that you getting what you want is the best damn thing that ever happened on planet earth. You do not want to feel vulnerable. You do not want to feel overwhelmed.
This is how I develop my quiet place.
I do this when I have time. I don't do this at the last minute.
I provide input to all my senses. I wear clean clothes, I brush my teeth, I sip a cold drink, I put on a favorite perfume, I listen to New Age music like Jonathan Goldman's "Holy Harmony," available on youtube, and I breathe very slowly and focus on each breath. I meditate on Jesus' love for humanity, or waves crashing on shore, or walking off into the forest with Uncle John. I envision predictable things, like a Sacred Heart image, or the path through the rye behind Uncle John's house.
Giving myself all this cues: the smells, the sounds, the sights, the tastes, the feel, teaches my body to assume this relaxed posture the next time I plug in all these stimuli.
Now, I might be walking home through heavy traffic and in a bad neighborhood, and feel a migraine coming on, but just envisioning the path behind Uncle John's house and calling to mind Jonathan Goldman's "Holy Harmony" brings my body into relaxation mode, and the migraine is lessened if not extinguished.
2.) After you've meditated on relaxation and love for fifteen minutes, think about the big picture. The phone call you are going to make is not what life is all about. Life is a learning experience. What you are going to learn from this phone call is how to defeat a certain kind of dragon. The whole point here is not the $49.95 the company owes you for the framistan that malfunctioned while still under warrantee. No one is going to mention that framistan in your obituary. But people might mention, and remember, how solid you are, how good you are at slaying dragons, and how you kept things in proportion.
That's what talking to stonewalling assholes on the phone is all about. It's about learning to slay dragons while maintaining your peace of mind.
3.) Think about your priorities and the people with whom you make deals. Beware of promises. No Nigerian princes. No sexy Asian girls eager to meet nice lonely rich American men. Read between the lines. Be appropriately suspicious before you sign on the dotted line. Ask yourself if your route to happiness really is lined with items purchased on a whim on the home shopping network. Read Yelp and Google and Amazon reviews. Look before you leap. Ask for advice from older, more wizened friends. Don't overextend yourself. Check your credit report. In short, do everything you can to minimize the number of times you have to talk to stonewalling assholes on the phone.
4.) Focus on their vulnerabilities and your strengths. All conflict comes down to vulnerabilities v. strengths, and strategy.
What weapons do you have?
What vulnerabilities does your opponent have?
Example. My building is being renovated. The renovators dumped loads of brick dust in my apartment, two separate times. Did much damage to pretty much everything I own.
I had to buy a vacuum cleaner to clean it up. I deducted this from my rent. My landlord sent me a threatening letter from a lawyer.
I could go to court, but it would take time and energy. I would prefer to avoid court.
I realized that it was the renovator who dumped the brick dust, and that that company would be negatively affected if I were to write an accurate account of what transpired on internet sites devoted to reviews of construction companies. I wrote to the renovator and said I'd write and post just such a review. My strengths: I'm a good writer, too, I had photographs and an audio-recording documenting the company's dumping of brick dust. The company's vulnerability: a negative review would hurt their business.
They did, indeed, pay for the vacuum cleaner.
So, before you get on the phone with an asshole, assess the situation. What weapon do you have that could be used to end things rapidly in your favor; what vulnerability does your opponent have that you can exploit?
5.) Don't pick up the phone if you are already tense. Don't pick up the phone in a tense environment. If someone is bullying you at your end, you have already lost. Tell the person at your end who is bullying you that their bullying is damaging your performance and may lose the case for you. In short, place yourself in a calm environment. Be sure you can hear well. Be sure the person you're going to be talking to can hear you. Call when you are calm and at your best.
6.) Keep a pen and paper at hand. Consider buying a voice recorder or using any recording function your phone has. Let the other person know that you are recording the conversation if you do so.
7.) Record the following: who, what, when, where, why, how. Get names. Write them down. Spell the person's name and ask for confirmation. Record the time and length of the phone call. Record the phone number you called. If you are transferred, ask what the number is they are transferring you to.
8.) State your case briefly, clearly, without any drama or emotion. When you state your case, stick to who, what, when, where, why, how. Don't be mean, don't be pitiable, don't be angry. The person you speak to may attempt to goad you to try to get an emotional response out of you. Resist it. Again, don't be mean, don't be pitiable, don't be angry. The facts, just the facts. If you are being goaded, simply repeat the purpose of your call, and your request. "I am calling about a malfunctioning framistan. It is still under warrantee. I want a replacement. Please send it to this address. Please confirm that you will replace the framistan, as guaranteed in your warrantee."
9.) Constantly keep asking for answers to who, what, when, where, why, how. Ask, "When can I expect a new framistan?" for example. "Please give me the name of your superior who has denied my claim for a new framistan. Please give me his phone number." "How long do I have to send in an appeal to your denial of a framistan?" Write everything down.
10.) Have a backup plan. "Since you will not replace my framistan, I will post complete details of this transaction on the Amazon page for your products. I will post a similar negative review on my blog. I will include your name and a detailed account of this conversation." If you have some talent, harness that. "My friends and I are in a theater troupe and we will post a satire of your poor customer service in a youtube video." If you have friends in high places, make use of that. "My uncle is a buyer for a campus bookstore and he will make sure that from now on, his bookstore will stock only your competitors' framistans."
Remember, at no point in the conversation, never, do you lose your cool. You act cool and calm, and you are cool and calm. You don't feel angry, pitiable, or overwhelmed, and you don't behave as if you are angry, or pitiable, or overwhelmed. Before this conversation began, you went to your quiet place, and you are still there, and you will still be there after the phone call is over. No matter whether you receive the replacement framistan worth $49.95 or a million bazillion dollars or not, you still have "the priceless gift of serenity."
11.) Lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes it takes several phone calls, letters, and in-person visits to get something done. Talk to more than one person. Consider an in-person visit. Constantly reassess your weapons and your opponent's weaknesses. Try new strategies. Read "Rules for Radicals," a really good book about how to get things done without killing people. An example. Alinsky says that Rochester's biggest employer, Eastman-Kodak, did not hire enough black people. To protest, Alinsky threatened to get a bunch of black people to eat beans and attend a concert by the Rochester Philharmonic, a recipient of Eastman-Kodak's donations, and fart all through the performance. There's more than one way to skin a cat!