People who whine about injustices rarely receive positive results because they are too busy complaining. But if you explain your position and suggest a solution, you’re more likely to get what you want. I’ll illustrate the process with a personal example by using the case of “The Disappearing Tree.”

My wife and I were excited to sponsor a tree to be planted in the Village Pond Park near our new home as part of the city’s “Expand the Forest” program. But a year after our Floss Silk tree was rooted, commemorating our wedding anniversary, I drove by the mini lake and was astonished – our sapling had vanished and was replaced by a metal monolith.

There was no phone call, no letter, no notification of any kind informing us our tree was going to be outsourced. While I was sure the lamp post would improve illumination for evening strollers and our feathered friends’ noturnal activities, I couldn’t help but feel angry, depressed, and jipped. I had to do something.

I wanted to complain. I needed to act upon those strong emotions (it’s only human) and get to the bottom of this foliage fiasco. Who took out our tree and why?

But if I started screaming obcenities at the city’s employees, from the secretary to the manager of the program, I’d only irritate them. They’d shut down and do as little as possible before calling me a whack job and hanging up the phone. And if by some minor miracle I didn’t completely alienate them and they were still willing to help me, they’d ask the all important question: “What do you want?”

I want a replacement tree.

I started my phone call with a succint explanantion of the situation (I paid for a tree and now it’s gone) and my disposition (I’m unhappy) then offered a possible resolution to my problem (I want a new tree). To elicit assistance and get me out of jeopardy, I phrased the last sentence in the form of a question. “Instead of a refund, can you help me determine what happened, and plant a new tree?” I essentially empowered the city employee to flex his authority and set him up as the “good guy.” Everyone wants to be a hero. Here was an opportunity to swoop in to save the day and the environment, too.

He put me on hold to check out my story. When the program manager came back on the line, he confirmed that we had in fact purchased a tree but wanted a maintenance crew to verify my claim of the disappearing tree. He apologized for my inconvenience – a feel-good bonus for me – and promised to call me back within two days with an action plan.

Less than an hour later my phone rang. A member of the city’s landscaping team was at the “Duck Pond” and after a few radio calls, he corroborated my story. The answer was more simple than sinister. There was an existing powerline next to our tree which was ideal for erecting a lakeside lamppost and our timber was to be replaced but the paperwork had been delayed.

My wife and I now have a new magnolia to call our own.

So whether you’re calling in a complaint or writing about your woes, communicate clearly. Summarize the setback, briefly share your feelings on the matter and then offer a mutually beneficial solution. More often than not, you’ll get what you ask for.

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