Saturday, October 21, 2006

the bathroom lady comes over

I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago when I contacted a company to come out and give me a quote on installing a shower in my bathroom. The person on the phone called me to get directions to my house, which is totally understandable as I live next to nowhere. I explained all the twists and turn, starting with…when you get to a split in the road, keep to the left. The lady called me back fifteen minutes later, saying that she had turned right at the split as the way left just didn’t seem right to her and now she was lost. That was a bit odd, but I instructed her to turn around and take the appropriate exit and then told her which street to turn onto from there. She called back in ten minutes, at a crossroads, not sure what to do next. I explained which street she should be on and after telling me I had spelled it wrong which was why she could not find it, she seemed to be okay. Five minutes later, the phone rang again. She was getting annoyed at this point, calling my neighbourhood retarded and letting me know she was going in circles. I reiterated which turns to take and pointed out some landmarks she should be seeing. She said there were no such landmarks that she could see, so I tried another tactic and stayed on the phone as she drove. She panicked when she saw a cul-de-sac sign and was telling me this could not be right when I assured her that it was right and I would get her to my house. Finally, after nearly an hour, she arrived at my front door, flustered and irritated at the city planners and probably me as well. I tried to be gracious and told her all that mattered was that she was here now.

Things didn’t change much as we walked into the bathroom and I told her what I wanted done. Her first response was, “Why?“ Taken aback a bit, I explained what I was going after, the limited space we had, and how I envisioned the bathroom being used. She again asked, “Why would you do that?“ I could hardly believe what I was hearing, but I said I was open to suggestions. Without so much as checking the plumbing (I had opened up a back wall to let workmen see where everything was) or much of anything else, she proceeded to tell me what she would do instead and that any bathroom would cost $4500, in fact I could spend up to $100,000 if I wanted to! I asked when this work could be done and she reassured me they could find time before Christmas (within 3 months), which was not soon enough for me, but I kept listening. However, at the point that she misunderstood where I wanted the fixtures and I had to act it out for her to illustrate that putting the vanity in the corner the way she suggested would only leave 4 inches for anyone to stand in front of it…I had made my mind up that this woman would not be getting my business, despite the fine reputation of her company. I thanked her for her time and let her out. However, one idea she had suggested about configuring the room stuck with me as very viable and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing than my original plan. In the end, I decided to go the new plan inspired by the non-listening lady and together with a local contractor, finalised the design details.

My encounter with this woman had a real impact on me as it highlighted several important lessons I need to learn:

1. LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN. It was most frustrating being with someone who did not listen. I know sometimes I can get so stuck on my own agenda or way of thinking that I am not the best listener. Listening is how you build trust. I must learn to listen better and not always assume I know better.

2. Don’t dismiss something simply because of a negative or obnoxious presentation. So often there are riches concealed in less than desirable packages. In the midst of useless blather, there was a geniunely brilliant idea from this lady. Let me be someone who can look past the way something is offered, and recognise truth no what form it takes.

3. Being gracious is a good thing, but I did that lady no favours by not kindly pointing out that her lack of listening was not a very positive selling point for her company. I never gave her a chance to learn and improve, and that was wrong. She deserved to know this and to have it presented to her in an accessible, non-judgemental way. Simply avoiding the conflict was cowardice on my part. I must learn to tell the truth in love.

Bathrooms are a good place to listen and learn things.

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