Be a Man About It: Get What You Want With Integrity

by Michael on February 10, 2010 · 5 comments

There’s a growing trend of advice aimed at frustrated guys, suggesting that the solution to their frustration is that they need to “be the dick.” Or “the asshole.” Or whatever.

It’s bad, bad advice.

"Well, my watch keeps melting...and I'm not so sure this is really an iPhone." (Photo by misocrazy)

There’s a great book right now that spoofs this phenomenon, called A**holeology: The Science Behind Getting Your Way – and Getting Away with it. But it occurred to me that there isn’t so much advice out there on how to stop being frustrated by simply being a man about it.

Of course, as with most better ways, it’s not necessarily the easy way. Throwing a tantrum is really easy and there’s very little thought involved. You simply visualize what you want and scream about it and how you’re being wronged. To be a man about it is to be above petty tactics, lying or deception.

The best place to start is with the people who most often have to hear and act on our problems: clerks, servers and customer service employees.

Treat People Like People

The most important principle to remember is to treat everyone you deal with like your equal, even if you don’t initially think they are (you might be surprised). Greet clerks and customer service people like you know them. Use their name. Get them on your side before they even know what you want. Listen to what they have to say. It may not be what you want to hear, but it may help you with your next steps.

I used to go to a particular restaurant for lunch 3 or 4 times a week. The service was great but the cooks would frequently miss something—to me that was okay, I’s call the waitress over by name and tell her, “everything’s awesome except the toast got burned.” The response was always “oh, no problem, let me have them re-make the sandwich for you.” One day a co-worker who was sitting across the room with friends saw me laughing with the waitress and called me over.

“Are you dating her?” he asked.

“No, she has a boyfriend.”

He replied, “then why was she so snarky to me when I had a problem with my food”?

At this point, one of his friends told him, “tell him what you said.”

He re-created the scene, stabbing his finger down at what looked like a stray caramelized onion stuck to the outside of his bread. “What’s this?”

“Yeah, she probably thought you were being so sweet you were going to hit on her,” I retorted.

Negotiate or Hold Your Ground?

A man among men knows when to pick his battles. There are times when you will have to accept less, or even nothing.

For example, your credit card just hiked your rate because you were a day late with a payment. This is something that a rational person could expect the company to reverse completely. If you have a balance on that card, you also come from a position of strength: you can move that balance entirely to another card and this company will lose all of the interest they would have normally earned. If they don’t reverse the rate increase, it’s clear they lose.

Remember, though, that being a man means keeping your promises: if they do refuse to reverse the charge, you should have the spine to move your balance and close the account. (You might find that they have a change of heart once they see you’ll go through with it.)

Now let’s say your other cards all carry low rates but you want to keep using this card. Often you’ll call and they’ll lower your rate just because you took the time. Sometimes, though, they’ll tell you that holding the line on your higher rate is “company policy.” This is where you can probably not expect them to match your other cards’ rate, but you might get something else, like zero-percent on a balance transfer, that may financially help more than the lower overall rate.

Or your computer fails one month after the warranty expires. The letter of the agreement you have with the manufacturer says you agree to pay for repairs after the warranty ends. However, there are a number of reasons you may still get free service. A known flaw may be supported indefinitely, or the manufacturer may empower its employees to make judgment calls.  There’s no reason you shouldn’t see if you can get your computer serviced at no charge, but you should also accept that you may have to pay for your repair.

Standing your ground is important when necessary. You may need to (politely) work your way up the management chain, write a letter, even contact the Better Business Bureau or state Attorney General’s office, but every step should be done with care and manners.

You Can’t Have It Your Way Until They See It Your Way

A man among men knows exactly what he wants. When you can visualize success, you’re more likely to get it. What solution will make you happy? What solution will you accept? Be ready to propose this when you present your case.

Make sure that you’re communicating more than just the problem and your desired solution. First, it’s always good to start with what you like about the company or product, and then how the problem affects you. If you’ve been an Apple guy for most of your life, and you’ve never felt this frustrated with a Mac before, say so.  While the process of getting what you want shouldn’t be personal, the problem statement should be.

Let’s say you’ve called customer service and explained your problem and the consequences, but all the rep will say is “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” At this point you want to make sure they understand the problem. “You understand how this is frustrating/preventing me from doing my job/preventing me from using your service in the future, right?” Then ask what next steps you can take. If they aren’t sure, then ask if maybe a manager would have more leeway.

If you ask to be escalated, make sure the rep knows that you won’t be complaining about him. In fact, the best way to start a conversation with a manager is, “I was just speaking with (rep’s name), and she treated me great but she couldn’t help me with this extremely frustrating issue…” (Yes, there are people who should never have been put in a position to deal with the public. If you’ve interacted with someone like that, you should communicate your frustration with it as well.)

Finally, make sure you document every step accurately. If you end up writing a letter to management or filing a complaint with the BBB, you want to accurately portray your problem as well as what you’ve tried to do so far.

You Can’t Have All of the Cookies

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need

– Mick Jagger

No one gets everything. Donald Trump encounters failure. Microsoft couldn’t make tablet computers popular. It’s nice to think you can negotiate anything—and you can negotiate a lot more than you think—but you will occasionally run into a dead end.

The true measure of a man is how you handle things—and people—that don’t go your way. Anyone can swagger when he comes out on top, but it’s hard to be the “alpha dog” on the telephone with customer service. Everyday life is a series of interactions with people of different kinds. Being a man, with integrity, humility and grace, is as important on the phone with “Rosie” from Bangalore as it is with that girl you flirted with at the bar last night.

5 comments… read them below or add one

Alex Kay February 12, 2010 at 3:29 am

You really nail it here Michael. I like this post. It is not uncommon for me to see a guy who’s real good with the ladies, charming and all, but when some guy with ‘perceived lower social status’ comes over to ask something or the like, he turns into an arrogant prick. Another example is if someone spills a drink over this guy (unintentionally)… The faker will almost always become furious, while the real man of integrity will try to help take off some of the man or woman who spilled the drink’s bad consciousness.

Take care!


Michael February 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Thanks Alex. Too true—there are guys who feel they need to show they’re the “alpha male” but don’t get the part where people look up to you. Standing on others’ shoulders gets you higher than stepping on others’ feet. (Maybe I should send that one to Gary Busey.)


Zeke July 5, 2011 at 10:35 am

Simple proverb to CONSISTENTLY follow & you’ll NEVER go wrong –

“Do unto others as you’d want them to do to you.”

The one who gets emotional first usually loses in a REAL negotiation – I’ve seen this repeatedly in both personal & professional life.

My Dad taught me this repeately as a kid. Several times I saw salesclerks, store managers, car dealers, etc. eventually lose their calm, their stance, their position, and eventually give my Dad what he RIGHTFULLY was asking. They knew all along his requests were reasonable and eventually figured out they were being unreasonable in enforcing a position which may or may not be store “policy”.

In the end, 99% of the times I viewed his dealings, my Dad got his way without raising his voice or breaking a sweat. On the other hand, he did NOT pursue more than was fair or appropriate since that would be stealing, and may actually have jeopardized getting what was fair & reasonable to expect.

In the end principle triumphs over pettiness, even if you DON’T get your way. Better to be able to look yourself in the mirror the next day knowing you didn’t violate your principles in trying to get your way. However, if your principles are whacked, that’s a different topic altogether, so this assumes you’re a decent, high-functioning, non-psychopathic human being. If it’s stuff you’re after, remember it’s only just stuff, and is not the essence of life anyway……


Zeke July 5, 2011 at 10:39 am

Most self-proclaimed “alpha males” are just narcissists with bad manners, morals, & behaviors. There are very few REAL alpha males, and more often than not they are in complete control of their thoughts & actions. That’s what makes them ABLE to act in alpha manner. Wanna-be alphas are the most irritating guys anywhere – ask any woman who has to work for one, is married to one, or is hit on by one at bars or health clubs. It’s the fake alphas who give us men a bad name……


Michael July 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Good stuff, Zeke. Your father obviously taught you well.

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