One Approach to Problem Solving

I appreciate receiving daily delivery of The Washington Post newspaper. When the paper’s delivery became irregular, I felt disappointed. I figured we had gotten a different carrier. This new person on the job was proving to be a departure from the former prompt and faithful delivery person.

But when the paper didn’t arrive three days in a row, I wanted the replacement carrier to be informed and corrected. I felt tempted to complain or make a snarky remark on The Post’s form they ask customers to fill out when there’s an issue.

I decided to leave it be. After all, the delivery manager can count as well as I.

Within minutes, I received a call from my carrier’s supervisor. “No, you don’t have a new carrier. I may sound crazy, but maybe a fox is taking the paper to use it for a nest.”

His theory didn’t sound ridiculous at all since nearby neighbors had reported this phenomenon. We’ll never know for certain, but the manager solved the problem by installing a delivery box.

I’m glad I didn’t use my frustration over a First World problem to give me an excuse to throw irritation at a “safe” target, especially since my hypothesis about a new carrier wasn’t correct. Granted, had I vented, the situation was low risk for me. The supervisor would think I’m pleasant or grumpy, but a paying customer will receive a paper regardless of temperament. Still, I’m glad I ended up on the “pleasant” side and didn’t use negative words to contribute to someone else having a bad day. Instead, I was thrilled to express to my carrier’s supervisor how much I have appreciated exemplary and flawless service for many years.

Not all complaining ends well. Some dreadful endings happen in publishing. As Steve Laube often says, “The copyeditor you yell at today may be the CEO in ten years.”

Are you agitated? Before approaching the offender, consider:

  1. Is my grievance legitimate, or am I just out of sorts or upset about something unrelated?
  2. If my complaint is valid, what happens if I “win” or “lose” the argument? If the person in charge doesn’t respond well, what are my options? Am I willing to take those? If the person in charge agrees with me, how do I want the problem to be solved? I recommend being clear on your answers to all of these questions before embarking on having any issue addressed.
  3. Is the outcome high-stakes enough for me to risk some “niceness” points by speaking? If so, how will I word my complaint? I recommend keeping criticisms in writing so you have a record of what is said and why. Writing versus talking on the phone also keeps the conversation in check, so emotion doesn’t trigger an outburst on either side.
  4. Regardless, take the opportunity to say something positive.

How we handle problems tells us a lot about others, and ourselves. May all your troubles be minor.

6 Responses to One Approach to Problem Solving

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 4, 2021 at 4:34 am #

    The world’s beset with troubles
    and agitated chatter
    ’bout everybody’s bursting bubbles,
    but does it really matter,
    or are these mostly points of pride
    and grasping for attention?
    Do we feed demons inside,
    or may we seek prevention
    of this sad debasing walk
    by going to the Great White Throne,
    and sitting there, have a talk
    ’bout each contested bone,
    and finding in that gracious Presence
    freedom from vexation’s sentence?

  2. Damon J. Gray November 4, 2021 at 5:49 am #

    Something similar happened to me just yesterday, Tamela.

    We buy our eggs in two-layer cartons of five dozen. They are mechanically loaded, stacked, and shrink-wrapped. Something went wrong with the process in the stack we bought earlier in the week and two eggs were crushed mid-center of the top layer, making a total (moldy) mess and “gluing five other eggs to the carton.

    We used the other fifty-three eggs, as they were fine. I returned to Safeway with the mess of seven and politely asked if we could get a pack of a half-dozen to replace the broken and stuck ones.

    The service woman at the counter said, “Oh no. That’s awful and I’m so sorry for this, but it does happen. I’d rather replace the entire five-dozen.” And she did.

    Kindness is rewarded. “The measure you use will be measured back to you.”

  3. Virginia Sue Graham November 4, 2021 at 6:19 am #

    Tamela, what delightful alternatives for presenting our grievances. My granddaughter, Emma, loves everything ‘foxes’ and I’m forwarding your blog post to her. She may not fully apply the approach to problem solving, but who knows!

  4. Roberta Sarver November 4, 2021 at 7:40 am #

    Tamela, the same approach worked well for friends of ours who had a plane flight delayed a long time ago. After other people stormed the desk and angrily demanded immediate reparation, our friend Mel quietly approached and softly asked if they could get rescheduled. The attendant was so relieved at his kind, humble approach that she put them in first class seating, with no extra charge.

  5. Kristen Joy Wilks November 4, 2021 at 1:45 pm #

    Wow! A fox? So interesting. And yes, responding well and kindly is so very important. Thanks for the reminder, Tamela!

  6. Pam Halter November 5, 2021 at 3:26 am #

    It’s never wrong to be kind. Sure, it may not always work, but ultimately, we’ll feel better if we don’t blow our stack.

    As for the fox using newspaper to line his nest? I think there’s a children’s book in that. haha! Love it.

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