“I hate it! I absolutely hate it. I just don’t know why he would do it that way. Now when my garage door is open I have to make sure my child doesn’t wander into the alley and get hit by a car. It’s just not safe now. I feel so exposed. I don’t know why you didn’t consult with me about it. I have no privacy now. It’s totally ruined my back yard.”
I wish that were the entire diatribe but it wasn’t. It went on and on. I tried to patiently let her finish but I eventually felt my frustration rise and interrupted with “I thought you were only going to use it to store a boat – I didn’t realize your daughter would be playing in the garage every day.”
Which just caused the above sentiments to be repeated with more detail as to what the garage would now be used for in addition to storing the boat.
I realized I was letting my emotions get in the way of this conversation and forced myself to shut up and take a deep breath.
What had happened was our tenant had moved into a home of ours that had a garage off the back lane way that was fenced off. When she moved in we acknowledged that if she wanted to use the garage for something other than just a workshop (which is what it had been used for to date) we would put a gate in the backyard for her.
Turns out creating a gate was not going to be as simple as we thought. The driveway was upward slanting toward the garage (making inward opening of a gate challenging), the fence was not a good size to be easily hinged and turned into a gate, and there were posts in all the wrong places. It was basically going to require a rebuild of the back fence to make it work and the purchase of a gate. If you’re going to go to all that trouble, to me, you should put in something that will be easy to use not something you have to get out of your car and drag open manually whenever you want to go in and out. And, we weren’t going to spend the thousands and thousands of dollars that it would cost to do that.
After looking at what other folks on the lane had done, I decided to simply move the fence to open up the garage.
The whole thing took our carpenter half a day to do and less than $100 in materials. And I thought it looked great.
Our tenant, however, did not.
But by the end of the conversation she had calmed down and was thanking me for getting her access to the garage so quickly and she apologized for freaking out.
So how did that happen?
I have to thank some precious advice I took from Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People“.
In his book he says “I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument – and that is to avoid it.”
So how do you avoid an argument?
It’s not easy – believe me – every bone in my body was getting defensive, my temperature was rising and I was feeling myself change from a calm state to an agitated one. And, like I said, I actually did have an uncontrolled outburst but I quickly got myself under control and remembered the lessons I’ve been learning from Dale Carnegie, Brian Tracy and Robert B. Cialdini and others. I bit my tongue and let her speak.
In a calmer mindset I realized how shocking it probably was for her to come out to her yard and discover the fence had moved. It was not what she expected to happen. I also realized that I should have consulted her about what we were going to do even though I likely would have made the same decision.
When she was done I said in the calmest voice I could pull together, “I am so sorry. I made the decision to move the fence– not the carpenter. It turned out it was actually rather complicated to put a hinge on the fence when we thought that would be simple. It would have cost thousands and resulted in a big gate you’d have to lug open every time you wanted in and out of the garage. I thought this would be so much better and it was easy to do.”
She had more to say but she was nicer about it now. And she started to apologize for being so angry. She said “I just don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t this. I just wish you would have asked me. Maybe I could have helped solve the problem.”
After a few more minutes of discussion our tenant then said to me “You know, I am sure in five minutes I will be used to it. I just wasn’t used to it. Thank you for fixing my fence so fast.”
Carnegie also says:
“You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong. That will stop all argument and inspire your opponent to be just as fair and open and broadminded as you are. It will make him want to admit that he, too, may be wrong.”
And that is just what happened.
So next time you find yourself faced with an angry person- tenant, spouse, relative or neighbour give these tips a try and maybe the result will be better than you could imagine. So far it’s working for me!
- No matter how hard it is –do not get involved in an argument. Even when you know the other person is wrong, avoid saying so. Instead, ask yourself “What is to be gained by proving them wrong?”.Usually the answer is your own sense of pride – which really isn’t that important. What is almost always more important is that relationship.
- When you are wrong – even in the slightest way – admit it wholeheartedly and quickly. “Any fool can try to defend his or her mistakes – and most fools do – but it raises one above the herd and gives one a feeling of nobility and exultation to admit one’s mistakes” (Dale Carnegie).
- Let the other person talk more than you do and listen. Really listen and try to see how you would feel in their shoes. Consider their view point, be sympathetic even, and you’ll usually have a much easier time staying calm and listening to the other person when you do this and the other person will feel truly heard – which 9 times out of 10 solves the problem anyway.
I never offered to fix the fence or do anything further. I simply listened. And when I was done listening, I acknowledged my responsibility in the situation, apologized for what I had done, and let her know that I could see where she is coming from.
I wonder how many times in the past I could have used this and saved myself energy arguing, time fighting with the tenant and money spent fixing things that didn’t have to be fixed only to make problems go away that could have been solved with some simple alterations to how I handled the initial conversation?
Published August 25th, 2010