Today, I want to share a small victory.
Like all humans, I have flaws. One of mine is that I hate confrontation. It’s a family thing. I’m not sure why, but none of us like conflict. Sure, this trait has some upsides. My brothers and I don’t get into a lot of arguments and fights with our family and friends. And when we do have conflict, we do our best to resolve things quickly.
But this conflict avoidance has some enormous downsides. When trying to make peace, for instance, we’re likely to give far too much in an effort to reach compromise quickly. Plus, we don’t like to negotiate. Negotiation is, inherently, conflict. No thanks!
In my life, this is especially problematic in circumstances where I need to stand up for myself. Let me give you an example.
Recently, the roof of our home developed a small leak. After making an initial assessment, I decided it was too much for me to handle one my own. I called a local roofing contractor.
“We can be out tomorrow,” said the man who answered the phone. “But there’s a $250 minimum charge for the trip. That $250 can be applied to the first hour of labor, then each additional hour is $150. Plus, we’ll charge you for materials, of course.”
“Sounds fine,” I said.
The roofing company called me at 8:16 the next morning to let me know they were on their way. They showed up about ten minutes later.
I crawled into the attic with one of the roofers to show them the problem. “That’s not so bad,” he said. “We can fix that quickly.” And they did. At 9:06, the roofers waved good-bye and told me the office would send an invoice. Because they’d been on site less than an hour, I figured the bill would be maybe $400 or $500.
Yes, I noted the time when I was interacting with the roofers. I always try to do this when working with contractors who charge by the hour. And, as you’ll see, it’s smart that I do so.
“What’s wrong?” Kim asked. She could see that I was silently fuming at the piece of paper in my hand.
“The roofing company charged me about twice what I was expecting to fix that leak,” I said.
“Uh oh,” she said. After a decade together, Kim knew the root problem right away: I was going to have to engage in conflict. If I didn’t want to pay $850, I would have to challenge the invoice. “You’re going to have to call them, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I am.”
I hated every second of it, but I did call the roofing company.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m trying to figure out this invoice you sent. I know your guys were here less than an hour, so this charge can’t be for time. Did they really use $600 in materials to repair our roof?” I was calm. I was polite. I was confused.
“Let me check on that for you,” the office manager said. “I’ll call you back.”
The next day, the guy called me back. “I apologize,” he said. “That’s our mistake. You’re right. We were less than an hour and we used very little to fix your roof. Ignore that invoice. We’ll send you a new one for $275. I’m sorry this happened.”
I know this might sound very, very basic to most of you, but I was proud of myself in this moment. For me, this was a small victory. Despite dreading the conflict inherent in asking about the problem, I did so anyhow. And in doing so, I saved myself $575!
While this has by no means cured my conflict avoidant nature, the experience has demonstrated that it can sometimes pay to stand up for yourself when you know you’re right. A couple of minutes of discomfort yielded a $575 profit. That’s a pretty damn fine rate of return. Now I simply need to remember this result the next time I’m faced with the prospect of another uncomfortable call…