Thursday, December 07, 2006

Being assertive: The postman and Direct Communication

When we last heard about Mr. Smith (not his real name) it was because I didn't get my mail one year, several years ago, for an entire week. I posted about that because when I was on vacation I had miraculous service in downtown Los Angeles and the comparison spoke to me.

The L.A. postal service mailed a paper to Milwaukee, Wisconsin SAME DAY, without any special postage or services or anything. And the lady was very nice.

When Mr. Smith went on vacation about five years ago, the Chicago post office (or perhaps Mr. Smith) forgot to arrange for a replacement to deliver the mail in my building.
So I told the story.

Readers gave me the feedback that I was not assertive enough, that I should have raised the roof at the local office at the very least, at most gone Downtown to see whomever it was who supervised union stewards. That was the other variable. Mr. Smith was a union steward. Union stewards are untouchable on the local level.

As unwilling as I was to file a formal complaint for fear of NEVER seeing my mail (or other repercussions) my neighborhood branch did get the message and installed a scanner in our building. Smith had to "clock-in" around noon.

An officious US postal service person stopped in and queried me, too. Did you complain about the time of your mail delivery?

Heck no, I said.

I could have, of course, because it came between 5 and 7 p.m. or not at all. Most of us were either gone by the time it got here.

I was afraid if they knew it was me that I'd NEVER see my mail again.

Knowing when to fold 'em is in the TherapyDoc world view, ala' the Kenny Rogers song about poker, I think it's The Gambler. You have to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when the counting's good, know when to run).

So although I encourage assertiveness aggressively on this blog, I'll never tell you to be assertive with someone who appears to be ready to beat the living daylights out of you. A postal carrier probably wouldn’t do that though, right?

On the other hand the expression, going postal, has real meaning to those of us who recall the true story about a mail carrier’s psychotic rage and violent episode several years ago.

There IS a Jewish adage, by the way, not to speak to a person when he is angry. Although this may not yet be empirically validated anywhere in the anger management literature (help me here, psychology students, I don’t have time right now, it makes sense on many levels, especially that of self-preservation.)

So Smith got back to work after vacation and we had the following conversation. See, I WAS trying to be assertive at the first level of intervention, DIRECT COMMUNICATION.

Direct communication is speaking directly with the person with whom you have an issue. Angry at your boss? Talk to him, don't come home and yell at your wife (partner) and kids or slam the door.

Me: Hey, Mr. Smith, how ya' doing? Beautiful day.

Mr. Smith: Sure is, Doc.

Me: Nice day to be delivering mail.

Mr. Smith: Uh, huh. (not looking up, sorting mail, putting envelopes into boxes).

Me: You can just hand me my mail. You don't have to put it in the box. I always like to see it as soon as it gets here, like to see what's in there.

Mr. Smith silently passes me an envelope, never looks up.

Me: I don't get any junk mail, it seems. Only bills or money.

Mr. Smith: (not a word).

Me: So a lot of times you must come in the evening, huh? Cuz I don't see you during the day.

I can see whoever walks into the building from my chair while I'm with patients. My chair faces the mail boxes that are set up perpendicular to the huge glass picture windows framing the door. I get a great view of the park across the street, too.

Mr. Smith: Uh, huh.

Me: So you come in after 6:30 sometimes, right? I know because I'm here that late quite often.

Mr. Smith: You're the last stop on my route.

Me: My, you work late.

Mr. Smith: (nothing).

Me: Most business people could use their mail earlier in the day. Is it possible to change our time?

Mr. Smith: No.

Me: You're sure.

Mr. Smith: That's the way it's set up.

Me: Of course. Well what about Saturdays? Why is it I don't seem to get any mail on Saturdays?

Mr. Smith: Sometimes this building is locked. I can't deliver the mail if the building is locked.

Me: Funny, I know there are therapists working here in the morning, at least until one. You must come a little late.

Mr. Smith: (nothing).

Me: Well, it's been great seeing you. Have a wonderful Xmas Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith: You, too.

So nothing changed immediately. I certainly wasn’t going to complain. Instead of being assertive I had my third party payers (insurance companies) mail my payments to my other office. That worked quite nicely, except in those cases where the clerical people working in those companies just couldn’t pull it off.

But we think that because there are new tenants in the building who got together and complained that

I now get the mail between 3 and 4:30!

Using an entire system is an intervention that I always recommend. An assertive GROUP of people is much more powerful than as assertive individual. I hadn’t arranged this intervention because I was so busy catching up on my mail. And who can organize any kind of formal complaint during the holiday season? It's just not right.

But somehow it seems to have happened, four years later. I knew you'd be happy to hear about it.

Thanks Mr. Smith, if you're out there. You know it was never anything personal. I understand that the wheels of change, like the wheels of justice, work slowly.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc

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