– Mark Twain
I was a young professional on one of my first big business trips. I was attending a weeklong deep-dive professional development session on my own.
The hotel where I was staying was imposing. The pillars in the lobby seemed like they went on forever. Was there even a ceiling?
As I arrived and stepped out of my car at the hotel entrance, an employee asked if I would like to have him park my car. I said yes.
Later, while playing around on the TV and checking my account, I noticed that I was being charged $13 a day for parking. I understand valet parking, but no one said anything about a daily fee for my car sitting in a parking lot.
That's how young I was. My thought process went like this: I didn’t want to expense the parking fee to my employer because it seemed like a frivolous expenditure. Maybe I could just suck it up and pay it myself. I was thinking about all of that because I didn’t want to have a conversation about it.
No one can do it for you but you
I didn’t want to be that person — the one who just sucks it up. I no longer wanted to be the person who didn’t speak up, either. I had not been taught assertiveness, and it didn’t come to me naturally.
I approached the main desk at the hotel. I asked about the fee. They told me I was paying for being parked in a secure lot. “What am I paying for?” A security guard patrolled the lot on occasion overnight. The hotel employee seemed to think the discussion was over and moved on.
I stepped back from the desk. I regrouped. I approached again. I told them I understood the fee was for parking in a secure lot. I explained that the employee hadn't told me that when offering to park my car. Again, the desk clerk seemed to think the conversation was complete and moved away.
I regrouped and approached again. I asked for a manager. We went through the entire conversation again. This time I added, “I won’t be paying for that. Please remove it from my bill.”
The manager began to explain what I was paying for. “Yes, I understand," I replied. "But no one informed me of this from the start, and it’s not something I want. Please remove it from my bill.”
He acquiesced and we began the process of getting my car parked somewhere else.
– Randall Dale Adams
We don’t just change behaviors magically. Wishing does not make it so. We know we need to identify those moments when we know we want to make a different choice, and try something different.
At the time I went to that weeklong workshop, I had been working on a project that was floundering. I tried to make it work for 18 months. I worked with both my supervisor and his supervisor to influence the project leaders so that I could contribute effectively. Nothing was working. I was losing sleep. It became clear I was the only one who was going to take care of myself.
When I returned to the office after that workshop, I chose to have a new discussion with my supervisor. Granted this was a risk, but I told him I needed to move on from the project. The dynamic was nearly identical to me walking up to that hotel desk. The upshot was that my supervisor yielded and gave me a month to think about what I wanted to do next. Long story short, it all turned out well.
I’m not sure how things would have played out had I not chosen to stand up for myself at that hotel. I coach my clients to practice new approaches in low-stakes situations. Practice on someone you'll never see again... like a hotel clerk.
The Mark Twain quote up top speaks to me because it is so colorful and prompts a visceral response, particularly from a cat lover like me. Imagine what it would be like to carry a cat by the tail. Though I would never literally do that, I support the point. The trying might be painful. Yet, until you try what you say you want to change, you’ll never get there.
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