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A breach of faith.

There are parts of myself that I am not proud of and for which I prefer a small audience. I'm about to share one of them--not to boast, but because the lessons are important.

My mother had a sofa re-upholstered about a year ago. To our horror, we saw when it was delivered that its legs had been sawed off by about four inches. Two months and 20 phone calls later, the upholsterer replaced the legs.

By the time the third person sat on the sofa with its new legs screwed in, braceless, the thing was beginning to wiggle, and by the time the seventh person sat down, it collapsed altogether.

So ... we began the phone calls again--now four months, one Thanksgiving and Christmas, one new baby, one 50th wedding anniversary, and 8,123 pounds of junk mail later. This time we were told that unless we had the exact receipt for the original work performed, the company could not be responsible.

With considerable personal magnetism and the promise of another chair to quote on, we finally got the two principals of this two-man business to come to our house to see the pitiful state of the capsized couch--virtually like new but with four broken legs.

The senior of these two craftspeople took one look at the couch and said, "Not my problem," I said sweetly, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, it's not your problem?" He said, "When you buy a car, you don't get it fixed by the salesperson." I said sweetly, "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?"

After a considerable period of head wagging and chin stroking, the man turned back to me and said, "Okay, we'll fix it." He collected the broken legs, set the sofa smack on its bottom in the middle of the living room, and headed out the door.

"WAIT A MINUTE!" I said. "WHEN WILL YOU COME BACK TO PUT THE FIXED LEGS ON THE SOFA?"

His response was pure Boris Karloff, sending chills up my spine and raising evil spirits in me. "When I get around to it," he said.

I won't bore you with the continuing dialogue between us as I groped to pin him down to some absolute deadline--sometime, say, in this century, and in which he evaded my efforts, backing down my driveway into his car.

But when he and his partner tucked their sample cases into the van, climbed into the front, and closed the doors, I ceased to be in control of my destiny. "I'll see you in small claims court," I shrieked. I saw him laugh derisively through the window.

I reached up, opened the back of the van, removed his sample case, ran back to the front steps, and sat down in front of it.

"YOU STOLE THAT FROM ME," he said, emerging from the van. As my friend Bill says, I have a secret talent for pushing negotiation to the brink of unreconcilable ultimatum.

After another 20-minute volley of conversation, the upholsterer agreed to come out next week to fix the sofa, and I agreed to return the sample case. I went back into the house and told my mother I had handled everything: She could be sure now the upholsterer would never be back to fix the sofa.

There. That little soul-baring was painful, but it brings me to the lessons:

* There is a good reason why people like the upholsterer and me should not carry handguns.

* When you negotiate, you know what you can afford to concede. If you are going to stand firm on fairness, you may be left standing alone on that principle.

* Business relationships are sacred beyond the measure that most people accord them. A breach of faith--even on something as mundane as the leg of a sofa--can bring an otherwise normal person to do strange things. You cannot prevent some from breaking the faith with you--but choose your business partners very, very carefully. Getting the sofa fixed elsewhere is not a devastating outcome. Losing your temper could be. All things being equal, it's better to buy something from someone you know than from a stranger, because business relationships are no less connected to our essential selves than are love or family ones.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Myers, Elissa Matulis
Publication:Association Management
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:702
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