Persuasion in a Last Ditch Effort
Didn’t expect to use the art of persuasion so soon after vacation.
The entire trip home was fairly effortless, in spite of forecasts predicting the absolute worst weather imaginable. It took two flights to get to Portland from Mexico. A night in a hotel, a visit with my Mom-in-law, then a five hour drive home with a stop along the way to pick up our god-daughter in Eugene. Snow everywhere, but we had sun shining on us for just about the entire drive.
Well, we almost made it all the way home. A block and a half from our house, our journey ended in someone else’s driveway. We were heading up the final hill, and the ice sheet made it impossible. Half way to the top we stopped going forward and started sliding backwards. It seemed prudent to veer off the road rather than continue in the wrong direction. A driveway presented itself and we aimed for it. Made it to, but it was on a hill. The result, we were faced down into a driveway, our front wheel drive van, laden with suitcases and groceries, about 2 feet from the front grill of a car facing outward.
The owner of the home came out, and told us we really needed to leave her driveway, as she was scheduled for surgery the next morning, and had to get out of her driveway by 5:30am. She had a four wheel drive vehicle, it was aiming out, and she had just enough salt and a snow shovel to fulfill her plan. Now we were blocking her way.
She invited us in to call AAA. That’s a call we haven’t had to make very often over the years. I’ve been a member since 1983, and maybe called 5 times in all that time because of a battery or a flat tire. My wife made the call, the person on the other end of the line seemed married to the idea of NOT helping us, as she kept telling her what they couldn’t do, what wasn’t in the policy, what wasn’t their policy, what they didn’t do, why they didn’t do it, and what our membership didn’t mean. At some point, my wife said, “Talk to my husband,” and handed me the phone.
I had been standing nearby, wanting to get involved, ever since I heard her say “We have AAA Plus.” That’s because a friend of mine tells a funny AAA story that has the line in it, “What does the plus stand for? Inconvenience?” Yet when she handed me the phone, my ability to be rational took over and pushed my childish and playful side aside.
“Hi, you know I’ve listened to this entire conversation between you and my wife, and it occurs to me that our problem isn’t about the car, it isn’t about our AAA membership, and it isn’t about your policies.” The woman on the other end said, “It isn’t?” And I said, “No, I think our problem is that you aren’t the right person to talk to because you already have decided not to help. I’m curious, are you the only one there right now? ” “No sir,” she said politely. I’m in a room full of people answering calls. We’re very busy as you might imagine, what with all the snow and ice around the state. Would you like to speak to my supervisor?” “Yes, thank you, that would be wonderful and much appreciated.”
The supervisor got on the line, a fellow named Dave, and before he could get in the habit of saying no, I interrupted him and said, “Dave, thanks for coming on the line to help. Here’s the thing. I’ve already been educated by the person who handed you the phone about what is covered in our membership and what your policies are. So we don’t need to go over any of that again. Here’s what I think is important for you to know. I’ve been a member since 1983. I have AAA plus. I’ve used your service only a handful of times. Now I need your help. Our van is stuck in someone else’s driveway, and we’re blocking a very nice lady’s car, a lady who has surgery scheduled in the morning early, and needs us to get out of her way. If you send a truck here to tow us out of this driveway, she makes her surgery. If you don’t, she’s stuck, we’re stuck, and I’m stuck telling a bad story about this particular night when I found out the value of my membership in your organization. I’d like to have a happy ending here. I know I’m asking you to go out of your way. But I’m asking for your help. Will you do the right thing and help us out?”
Then I got quiet, and Dave said, “Would you mind holding a few minutes?” I said no, I didn’t mind at all. I was hoping he was going to have a little conversation with his conscience. Two minutes later, Dave came back and said, “Because you’re AAA Plus, have been with us so many years,…” etc., and proceeded to say back all the key points of what I told him, “I’m going to make a one time exception. The soonest we’ll have a truck to you is in two hours.” I thanked him, and told him I’d call him immediately if were able to extricate ourselves without their help. And that was the end of the call.
For the next three and a half hours, my wife and I walked back and forth from the van to our house a block and a half away, carrying loads of groceries, computers,anything we didn’t want to freeze, and bringing back snow shovels, salt and warmer clothing. We dug, scraped and salted. We essentially cleared that lady’s driveway. And eventually we got the car out, just 10 minutes before the truck dispatched by AAA was set to arrive. We know this because we called and cancelled as we finally got back out on the road, and then passed the tow truck as we headed down into town to buy more salt for our own driveway .
It was a fun adventure. We got it done. We made it home. And the time spent shoveling snow inoculated us for the wintry weather ahead, instead of the typically painful re-entry into local weather systems after weeks in the tropics.
As a result of Dave’s taking initiative, I’ll continue my AAA membership, albeit with a better understanding of the privileges and services afforded me by that membership. It was fun to see what a little persuasion could do.
Got any good persuasion stories of your own from this holiday season? I’d love to hear them, and your comments are always welcome.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.