Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ebay and Conflict Resolution

Every day, if we stay awake, we learn lessons in all kinds of ways. As in, people are people, no matter where we meet them. But if it feels like a duck. . .Not that people are ducks, but their behaviors can be predictable if you trust your instincts about them.

Ebay, like most other websites,  lets users know what’s going on with their sales by email. It can be annoying, but constant notices are one way to inform sellers and buyers about inquiries, things that might matter or not, and possible fraud. 

When my father passed away a few years ago, he left me a few things that weren't worth all that much. Out out of respect, because he was a business man and he liked to make deals, I made a few myself, sold a few of the items left over from his gift shop on Ebay, that flea market in the sky. It was great fun, in its way, taking pics of the merchandise, listing items to sell, packaging and mailing them off. I got pretty good at it and met a bunch of people. Almost everyone values, to one degree or another, what they buy and sell on Ebay. 

Nowhere close to the end of the inventory, the game got old. My mother needed help moving and adjusting to her new residence, and my job never lets up. When the last of the auctions ended, I didn't notice. The whole chapter was over without fanfare. In retrospect we called it a grief exercise, holding the things he bought but never sold, and selling them. 

When Mom passed away it seemed a good time to pick it up again, if only for a little while. She was in the business, too. So I half-halfheartedly put a few things up for auction, even sold one or two of them, sent well-packaged merchandise to the right addresses and promptly forgot about it all. 
Then last week, well after I thought the game had ended, I received an Ebay notice. The signature Ebay colors, red, blue, orange and green, announced a copy of a past buyer's message, the beginning of a stressful correspondence.  

Let's make JustHondle my Ebay name (to hondle is to bargain, in Yiddish), and the buyer's store name Rick3456711. In conversation I become "Lee," and the fictional buyer, "Richard Smith." Richard ostensibly bought a Pentax camera with two lenses, but there is no Pentax camera and in reality, no "Richard Smith" ever corresponded with me on Ebay or anywhere else.

Ebay email starts things off. Had I logged into my Ebay account that day, it would have been a "message".
Subject: From Rick3456711 about your Pentax camera, two lenses #99988888777
Dear JustHondle,
Hello. On December 20, 2013, the post office left a notice at my door to pick up a package. I missed the delivery. When I got there they couldn't find the package you sent me. Did you send with a signature request ?
Sincerely, Richard Smith - Rick3456711
This means that I have to check my files, because I don't really remember much about this. Data in hand I write back:
Dear Richard,
Yes I sent the camera with a signature request. Attached are photos of the tracking info and the signature confirmation. Are you sure you didn't get the camera? I assumed you did since it has been six weeks, no word to the contrary. Most buyers would have complained by now!

Lee at - JustHondle 
Richard is very specific about this and is flipping the problem back to me in no uncertain terms. He doesn't have a systems grasp, that it takes two to tango.
Dear Lee at JustHondle,

I have not received the camera or the lenses, and I paid for them on PayPal. You have the money, but I have no goods. I checked at the Post Office and am told they tried to deliver it, but I wasn’t home and you required a signature. Attempts at Post Office to retrieve the package were negative and the people there suggested it may have been returned to you. Time has gone by! Now you say it was not returned to you. Please take care of this.
Here is the direct contact phone number to the Post Office in MadeUpTown, Iowa 555-999- 5555. I suggest calling early in the morning.
- Rick3456711
A hassle, for sure, but I call as he suggests and have a very good experience. I write him immediately.
Dear  Rick ,

Wow, they are nice over there in Iowa! A representative tells me said that the search is on, they are aware of the situation, and that she, personally, is invested in finding the package. If she does, she will deliver it directly to you. If she doesn't, I am supposed to complain to USPS and then they take it from there. I’m pretty sure I didn’t insure it, unfortunately. It wasn't worth much to me and I was confident it would arrive in one piece. I packed it very nicely. So maybe we’ll get a nice apology from the government.

I'll keep you in the loop,

 at - JustHondle 
He didn't see it quite that way, positive. 
Dear Lee at JustHondle,

Then you're not sending me my money? That's it?!
- Rick3456711 
Before I can reply, Ebay relays information to me that Rick has left negative feedback on my Ebay seller account for the world to see.  JustHondle has been dinged, which is never a good thing, even if a person doesn't make a living off of the sales. Negative feedback is not cool, a no-no in Ebay culture, especially while in the negotiations stage. Feedback is always supposed to be positive and informative. Sellers and buyers are supposed to work things out to make it so.

A quick look at PayPal and I learn that Rick's financial issue is beyond the time frame to make a formal complaint over there. The case is well past the 30 day resolution deadline. This is why he has probably taken to the dark side with negative feedback on Ebay. 

Being a people-pleaser, this turn of events has upset me very much, especially because I take the customer is always right very seriously. But he's got me going now with his cultural impropriety, has hurt my feelings. So I push back.
Dear Rick ,

I'm very disappointed that you would give me negative feedback without first trying to work this out with me. This isn’t how it is supposed to go, not until all efforts to rectify the situation have been tried and failed. Then, when all else fails, maybe. Maybe then, negative feedback.
I sent this camera and the extra lenses well over a month ago, and this is the first I'm hearing about a problem. I would gladly have discussed ways to negotiate a solution, probably would have offered to refund you the money, even if the post office search turned up nothing. But I'm not in that kind of mood anymore because of the aggressive nature of your response. 
In case you are new to Ebay, the fun is not only in the sale for all of us, it is in the relationships. One man’s silver is another man’s gold. We find value in what we have because others see value in it. The stories of how we acquire the merchandise, how it is appraised, etc., are rich, interesting, and the problem solving, even about lost or broken merchandise can be fun, too.We always seem to find ourselves chatting with one another about our lives at some point.
You make it sound as if I intentionally cheated you. (See Rick's feedback below). 

Just so you should know, negative feedback can go both ways.
-  JustHondle 
He is contrite, or at least reconsiders, and is no stranger to negative feedback.
Dear Lee at JustHondle,
You can request feedback revision on Ebay. You have to request it for me to change it.
Sincerely, Richard  - Rick3456711 
It did look as if he would revise his negative review. But then,
Dear JustHondle ,

I don’t want to revise the feedback until I am paid. It is really too bad that the camera means nothing to you. It means a lot to me, and so does the 25 dollars I paid for it. If you don’t have it, it is probably lost. This is a long saga with the Post Office. They searched for quite some time before you even called. So another search isn’t going to be productive.
What I want to know is when you will refund my money. Don’t you think you should? 
Sincerely, Richard Smith - Rick3456711 
Now I am thinking: Who has time for this? And, he is holding my Ebay name hostage. Wanting it to be over I write:
Dear Richard,

This is what I propose. I will call the post office again tomorrow and ask that they send the camera back to me, assuming they find it, that they not deliver it to you.
Then, after they assure me that it will be returned to me and not to you, assuming it is ever found, I'll refund your money whether they find it or not. Sound fair? I honestly don't care about this camera.

 - JustHondle 
He is pleased with this solution. 
 Dear Lee ,
Thank you.  I had really hoped the post office already returned it to you and that you would be sending it back to me. The worst part, though.You know what this means? There’s a thief at my Post Office!    -Rick
A day goes by. I forgot to call the post office. But I hear from Rick again.
Dear  JustHondle ,

I revised the feedback. Don’t refund my money or pursue this anymore. I’m really embarrassed, and with egg on my face, apologize for everything and the inconvenience I may have caused you.
I just found the camera. My memory is slipping lately. I'm really not so young anymore, is the truth. Again I apologize,
Sincerely, Richard Smith
 - Rick3456711 
Well, I'll be.  
Dear Rick,
Wow. Your apology brought tears to my eyes, naturally, everything does, but it is another crazy Ebay story! I'm not so young that I don’t forget things, too, misplace them, think someone broke in and stole the ring, the watch, whatever. Meanwhile, I hide it from myself.

I thought about what my late father would have done under the circumstances, since it was his camera. He sold coins on Ebay well into his late eighties. I wasn't sure if he would just refund your money or not, feeling badly for a fellow camera enthusiast who needed the $25. Or maybe he would want to refund only half the money. He might have returned negative feedback with more negative feedback, which, although I considered it, I probably wouldn't have done. It doesn't matter any more.
I always love a happy ending, don't you? Wipe off the egg and forget about it.
He's not finished. He wants a heads up before I sell anything else on Ebay.
But that's not happening. This conversation is over.
Dear JustHondle,
Rick3456711 has revised your Feedback for Pentax vintage camera, two lenses.
Original Feedback rating (2-February-2014):  Negative Original comment:  Mailed with signature needed, and I wasn't home when the mailman arrived. The post office hasn’t got it, but recorded 0 weight. Really!?  
Revised Feedback rating (4-February-2014):  Positive Revised comment:   Good sellers, honest, great deal. You can trust them!  

If you have an Ebay story, would you share it with me? Or leave it in the comments, that’s fine.


Friday, February 14, 2014


It isn't everyday that Amazon makes you feel your opinion matters. Well, actually it is.

Yesterday's reach out was about a pilot for a new show, Jill Soloway's Transparent. I think because I watched three and a half seasons of past Parenthood within six months, the robots assumed I would like it.

Who wouldn't? The selling points are (a) this is a family in Los Angeles; (b) the family is enmeshed, has terrible boundaries; and (c) there is no (c).

I assumed it would be about transgender issues, a welcome change, no pun intended, and got that right. Had the show lived up to it, and maybe it will in the future, I would have raved. The transgendered people I see in my practice hurt from our cultural lack of understanding, and they have the same needs and wants as everyone else. Feeling accepted is an impossible dream in "ordinary" social circles.

And it is very hard, seriously, to be a woman trapped in a man's body, wanting to shop, wanting to talk girl talk about hair and shoes and make-up. People don't understand, but they should.

But in the pilot, nothing beyond a difficult coming out, which is important, of course. Yet what sticks out? What cheapens the show? The lack of clothing, a transparency. First scene, gratuitous, nudity. Josh (Jay Duplass) wakes up a bit before his wife, or paramour, we're not sure. Feeling frisky, he tickles her breasts with a corner of the sheet. We see all of her lovely chest, a surprise, maybe it shouldn't be. She finds Josh's stinky breath to be stinky, but delightful. Meanwhile we see skin that maybe we didn't want to see, and a lot of it.
Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent

The queen in the closet, Mort (Jeffrey Tambor, brilliant as usual) is Josh's dad. Josh has two sisters: the seemingly "normal" one, Sarah (Amy Landecker), and the depressive, Ali (Gaby Hoffman). This is an engaging ensemble, add to the four the wonderful Judith Light as Mort's ex-wife, ministering to her second husband with Alzheimer's. Those are the types of scenes we're looking for, some of us.

And yet. I'm glad I didn't switch to Netflix (House of Cards is promising, and there's always Freaks and Geeks), a natural inclination for some of us when the camera just can't let go of the flesh. Transparent is a title of multiple meanings, physical and psychological transparency will become thematic, no doubt. Clothes can't hide the man, the woman. Ali, one of the three sibs hates her body and stares at herself nude (naturally) in a full-length mirror. She hires an abusive trainer to help her reach her goals, better arms, for one. Is this necessary, seeing every inch of Gaby Hoffman? We see all of her; she sees flabby arms. Apparently it is.

The coming out process is presented as difficult, as it often is, and handled skillfully. When it \finally happens, we see it coming. We're sure that Mort, in full dress, will walk in on Sarah and an old girlfriend who are kissing in his bedroom. He isn't the only one outed. If only it were that easy.

All of this has great potential, really, if the psychological conflict rises to the top, not the sex. Transparent hints that this will be the case. The group therapy scene in particular is so well done. But as is, there's no way I'll be back any time soon.

Sorry Amazon. Three stars. Should have been five.


Friday, February 07, 2014

Why Can't People Listen?

On Love and Power (the previous post) there's a great comment and I think it deserves a decent answer.

I know that you've written this post in terms of committed, intimate relationships but to me, much of this also applies in work relationships, too, and probably in other settings as well. Though I do understand that in a work setting there is someone who is ultimately accountable and may have a final say (the boss), there are ways that I think even in a work setting a person should be sharing power. I think an individual who is working should have some capacity for self-determination and should, therefore, be able to share power. In theory. 
You wrote the following, "Interestingly, Gottman found that when women expressed anger they could influence their partners, and this predicted happiness in the future. Perhaps it is the only way they are heard in these cases." and what strikes me about this is that I know when I make clear statements about what I need, without anger or drama, mostly what I say tends to get ignored. I don't really understand this, because to me it seems that most people would prefer not to have a lot of drama and would prefer to hear clearly what a person's wants/needs are. 
Yet an awful lot of people don't seem to want to take it seriously or ignore or otherwise refuse to hear what's said. A long time ago, I remember warning, repeatedly, a boyfriend I was in a bad relationship with, that if certain behaviors didn't change (his drug use and his tendency to use me as his verbal punching bag) then I would leave. And when I did as I said, it seemed to be a complete surprise to him. I've had that experience in other situations, too. I'm not sure why people will only hear when a person gets angry, visibly, and maybe even loudly, angry. That makes no sense to me. If I say that I have a need or that something hurts or that I can't tolerate a situation, and I do it without a lot of drama, I still mean it. I haven't made those remarks idly. I really don't understand people.

Why don't people listen to one another? So many reasons, but here's a snapshot.

The ego, primarily, that self that talks to us constantly, but isn't really very obvious about what it wants or why it wants it. That self, which houses what we perceive our identity to be, is threatened by the suggestions of others, often perceived as criticism.

That ego (for all of us) is born an infant and is supposed to mature over time such that we consider the egos of others, important, too. But occasionally the ego is really slow to mature like that, and will only face itself, reconsider its default construction of life and the way it should be, when forced to mature. Parents do this in enumerable ways. We call it the civilizing of the child.

But it can happen as an adult, personal growth, like when someone leaves, sick of a partner's (or a parent's) immaturity. Even then it is a crap shoot, whether or not trauma will inspire growth, consideration of the other's point of view, seeing it as valid and not a threat to one's sense of self-worth. It is easier for the ego to criticize and reject the person who left. This is why there is so much emphasis upon validation in therapy, inundating that other ego with
 You're okay, I totally respect your point of view; you are amazing, I see where you're coming from, I like this about what you said in particular, brilliant, you are such a good  boss, father (whatever), could you take just two minutes, sit down with me, and help me with this problem of mine . . . 
Sometimes that works. Not always.

How does an ego become so sad and reactive? It would be easy to pinpoint it on failure in the past, rejection, learning disabilities, abuse, and all of that doesn't help. But to look at it psychodynamically for a minute (blame the parents), having had parents who didn't listen, who neglected and didn't validate, couldn't have helped a seedling ego grow, and served as a poor listening role model.

If those guardians were controlling or had a children should be seen and not heard world view, that increases the likelihood a person will need to do things  my way. They developed an attitude, my way or the highway, probably because they never had their way when it mattered, when they needed to try out their own ideas, make decisions that would have fostered maturity, self-esteem, self-worth. When we make decisions, for better or worse, at least we're living, having a say.

Why do people respond to anger? It is naturally intimidating, scares us, teleological to attend to it. And also, if parents were angry, if they shouted to intimidate, a good shout, amplification of the volume, turns on a time machine. The shouter becomes the angry parent and gets to have a complacent child, if only for a little while.

Thanks Mound Builder,


Sunday, February 02, 2014

Love and Power

I shlepped the February issue of Psychology Today to Miami in January (we can discuss that trip another time), which is why the pics here are so crumpled.
The Love and Power article will get you CEU's, that's how relevant it is.
There's always something interesting inside, a summation of research, and this time it is about power. Feminists have known all along that having too much can dilute intimacy. Shared power is the ticket to happy and satisfying intimate relationships, and heterosexual couples tend to err on the side of poor distribution.

Control, not power, has been the focus in the archives on intimacy, but power is really a better word. Control implies that the power distribution is intentionally lop-sided. When it comes to power, the latest studies confirm, women yield control far too easily and their partners don't even want them to, necessarily. Then, powerless, no surprise, not having it makes us feel badly, affects the intimacy of our relationship,and not in a good way. Not to blame women, notice. This is a psychological system.

Caveat: this is not the case when a relationship is consciously, mutually, sado-masochistic,and one of the two consistently, voluntarily assumes a subdom role, although it might be in certain contexts. Let's just say that if a partner accommodates and doesn't feel good about it, this is a barrier to intimacy. It is why we say that when you win, you lose. So nice to be validated by the research.
photo by Yasu+Junko

photo by Yasu+Junko

Hara Estroff Marano summarizes the research nicely and interviews the relationship experts while taking us back to the historical roots of intimacy, if not so far back. But we get it that intimacy between marrieds in the past didn't have to surpass the intimacy of other relationships, closeness between girlfriends, cousins, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, the proverbial bf best friend forever. What we have now is the ascent of couple intimacy to the detriment of other relationships,which isn't necessarily a good thing, not if the power in the relationship is what matters, not the sharing.

To ground us here, family therapists have always considered intimacy between partners to be primary, one objective of a couple's therapy. The couple is even labeled the primary dyad. If one partner is more intimate with her mother, or with an office colleague, the other is likely to feel left out. We call it triangled out. Thus we might take issue, those of us trained in this way, even say that good couples have both: primacy and emotionally intimate relationships outside their commitment to one another.

Marano wisely cites social historian Stephanie Coontz that having upped our expectations for the couple in the twentieth century, all of the feelings and expectations of other relationships become piled on top of that dyad, a poor distribution of feelings and expectations. Yes, absolutely, and a shame, explains the popularity of television shows about with girlfriends talking We instantly clamor for more of these, miss it. Let's not do that, a therapist would say, make our partners solely responsible for our intimacy needs.

The real gripe about power is that values and priorities are compromised when one partner gives in too often under relationship pressures. A person loses self, and at some point it feels like there's nothing left, as if identity has merged, someone has lost one. It isn't a good feeling. Thus shared power has to be the new paradigm. It isn't that power is lop-sided, necessarily through manipulation and coercion, but for many there is an unconscious agreement that one has more influence than the other. That agreement has to change; the two need to influence one another. Each must assert, hear and respond, not take automatically take the advantage, not automatically capitulate.

I take away from this that if a couple is codependent, and one of the two usually makes the decisions, then the one who ruled heretofore has to wake up and give it over. Therapists find it isn't all that hard, giving up control, and it feels good for everyone. The group hug.

Lucky for us, the full article, the definitive study about power is online, see Family Process, (Vol 52, Issue 1: Why Power Matters: Creating a Foundation of Mutual Support in Couple Relationships, by Carmen Knudsen-Martin. The author provides examples, too, which is why we don't need them here. Her research group at Loma Linda University is on fire.

We learn that power differentials are maintained because:

(1) once people can get their own way, they don't consciously want to relinquish control,
(2) many of us are attracted to confident people and let them lead, latching onto their confidence. We seek someone to make decisions, gladly accommodate, go with the ideas and proposals of the other, at least initially. The one with the power may not even know this is even happening;
(3) gender-assumed power is unconscious,and even those of us who disagree with that paradigm still fall into interactions that maintain it.

. . . women and men say that they do not use gender to determine roles and responsibilities, but women end up listening to and accommodating their partners much more than the men. A smaller number of couples, which we labeled “postgender,” made conscious efforts to resist stereotypic gender patterns and demonstrated relatively equal accommodation, attending, and status in their relationships.

How to change things?

Direct communication, asking for what we want, the first step (assertiveness). Forget the hints. They don't work.

Validate one another as valuable, this confirms a separate identity, puts the less powerful partner on the map, a beginning). In couple work (see John Gottman, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work), that simple, seemingly obvious step,can be a month's worth of homework.

Influence, influence, influence, it has to be shared. The ability to influence a partner to respond to our needs is what builds trust and relationship resilience. Interestingly, Gottman found that when women expressed anger they could influence their partners, and this predicted happiness in the future. Perhaps it is the only way they are heard in these cases.

Mutual attunement, a word we've not all heard before, but will be hearing again. Consistently working toward an emotional connection, feeling understood, valuable, respected, and heard. When we have that, there is shared responsibility for a balanced, equal relationship. Equality, really is the new paradigm.

In more technical terms, the ideal relational model looks like this:

(1) shared relational responsibility, being accountable to the effects of our actions on our partners (getting out of denial).
(2) mutual vulnerability (sharing emotions is not just for women any more)
(3) mutual attunement: responding, communicating, understanding the other
(4) mutual influence: letting the other influence us, not always easy, but can feel very, very good, especially if it is new.

It's going up on my white board today.