In my last post, I introduced the framework my wife and I are learning to implement to help our kids clear roadblocks for college. For an overview of the Five P’s of Persuasion for College, you might want to check that post out. In today’s post I want to dig in a little bit on the 1st P – Pleasant.
When things go wrong
The time to use the framework is when you’re frustrated. Perhaps there is an issue with the admissions department. Perhaps it’s a problem with an advisor, or a faculty member.
Maybe your kid needs “approval of the department” to do something, and it’s not working out the way you want it to.
You know that there is someone out there who is applying arbitrary rules, rather than being reasonable. They are applying a rule wrongly, and they need to see how wrong they are. It’s your job to tell them, so they can fix it, right?
Poor Richard’s almanac provides the proverb that “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” and Mary Poppins sang that “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Being pleasant is one of the parts of the process that helps you overcome obstacles.
We faced an obstacle recently when our precious child, an Eagle Scout who performed very well in Dual Enrollment and graduated high school and completed an associate’s degree just a couple of months after his 18th birthday, that lovely kid was rejected by the university’s admissions department. What’s wrong with those people!
He graduated community college in May.
Our plan was for him to start university in August but it looked that the school was not going to let him do that.
We had no “plan B” for another school for him.
His three older brothers did almost the same thing that we were planning for kid #4, so we had not planned for a rejection.
Now what were we going to do?
We had to find a way to get the nameless, faceless rule following bureaucrats to want to help one of 30,000 university students. How could we do that?
How to persuade
Persuasion is the art of helping someone else get aligned with your way of looking at things.
And in our world today, no one will help you unless they WANT to help you.
The fact is that when it comes to college rules, someone has to want to help you – there is literally no way to get them to change unless they want to help you!
Author Bob Burg says “All things being equal, people do business with people they know, like and trust” You know this is true in your life.
You know that there are service providers you choose to work with who are not the fastest, not the cheapest, or even the best at what they do, but you choose to work with them because you know them, you like them, and you trust them.
When we are trying to get a college bureaucrat to help us, they have to WANT to do it.
And they won’t want to help if they don’t know, like and trust us.
So how can we get this person to know, like and trust us?
What are they thinking and feeling?
The first step is to put ourselves in their shoes.
What’s it like to work for a college?
Lots of students, lots of rules
Imagine that you’re at a school with 20,000 students.
Each semester you’ve got 20,000 families that are all trying to get things done.
Your school has been around for a long time, and as an employee, you’re a “cog in the machine” with limited power and authority.
And those rules that frustrate parents? They frustrate you, too.
Entitlement is common
And we live in an entitled generation where lots of kids (and parents) believe that they should be treated like VIPs.
But it’s not possible to have 20,000 VIPs, right?
So the schools create ADDITIONAL rules to filter out helicopter parents so they can’t dominate the time and energy of the staff.
The school is trying to meet the needs of the masses, not the individual student.
It’s a crisis for you. For me it’s a Thursday
As a school employee, this stuff is your work.
Every day, you get up with the desire to help students, and the workload can be overwhelming. So many people, so little time.
If this was your “every day” experience, what might convince you to want to help someone who is struggling?
I can tell you, based on human nature, what WON’T work: being nasty, angry or belligerent.
There is no faster path to getting a rule follower to more strongly enforce a rule than you being rude to them.
You have to realize that the person you’re working with has little power to change things for you.
And the reality is that you have even LESS power than they do.
Your ONLY hope to get to success is to get them to want to help you. They have to invest emotional energy and time to “fight your battle” for you.
YOU have a problem. I don’t.
Remember, at this point in the process, this is YOUR problem.
THEY don’t have a problem. YOU have a problem.
Your best hope is to get them to share the problem with you and be willing to be your partner to fight this battle.
Being pleasant matters
Which is where the “P” in pleasant comes from.
Why does pleasant matter?
What’s the difference between the “Chick fil A experience” and every other quick service restaurant experience?
One of the key differences is how pleasant the staff is, right? “May I refresh your beverage for you?” is a different experience than YOU asking a surly staff member “Can I have a refill?” and receiving a filled cup from a grumpy person.
No one wants to help a rude, entitled angry person. And you need them to WANT to help.
My kid’s problem
So let’s get back to my kid.
He called me and said “Dad, My application has not been processed by the school. What do I do?”
It was JUNE!
We reflected on the things that we had done wrong.
- My kid had not submitted all the paperwork correctly.
- He had not checked the admissions portal for admissions updates in a timely way, in spite of me asking him to do that.
It would have been easy to argue that there was a bug in their website that caused the problem (which is true) but that wasn’t really relevant.
What would happen if his application was ultimately rejected?
That had never happened in our family before! And my plan would be messed up!
We cooled off from the shock, and we brainstormed about what could happen if we “lost the fight” to get in.
- He could take classes at the community college to cover some of the early classes in the major he wanted.
- He could take a semester off from school and work full time.
We had options. Not great ones, but we had some options if our best plan didn’t work.
My mentor John Maxwell says “Connectors connect on common ground” and it costs them nothing to find common ground with you that you were wrong. I decided to lead with that.
How to get someone to want to help:
So we called the admissions department to find out how to get back on track.
I spoke with a random admissions person & said:
“Hi, I’m Tom Cooper. I’m sitting here with my son who has been trying to apply to the university for fall admission, but it looks like his application status is listed as incomplete. I think we messed up.
We are a homeschooling family. I remember we made a PDF of his HS transcript and that he tried to upload it with the rest of his documents in the application, but it doesn’t show up in the portal.
It looks like we also dropped the ball when it came to checking the status on the portal and only realized today that the application was incomplete. Is there a way to get this back on track quickly?”
Notice that I was humble and polite. I admitted we were wrong and I asked for help. This approach will give you better results than any other.
Her response was not particularly encouraging. She said
“Well, if you email his transcript to me now, I can attach it to his application today, but as a freshman applicant, he missed the application deadline which was last November. At this point, pretty much all of the spots for students are filled for fall. It doesn’t look like there is time or space for him before fall.”
I was really unhappy with this, BUT she was offering to help me, and being rude to her would not help me get what I want.
“Great. Thank you. We will email that to you right away. If that happens this afternoon, when should we expect to see something from the school?”
Notice that I chose to affirm her plan, and then I asked her to tell me reasonable next steps – when should I be ready to take the next step.
She told me that we should expect a response in the next two weeks. I asked if she would please confirm when she got the transcript. She agreed.
Taking the time to thank them, and to ask for them to clarify next steps shows that you want to be cooperative.
Our situation was not great, but beggars can’t be choosers. So we emailed, and she replied to let us know she got it.
We could have argued about what the school did wrong, but how do you think she would have felt? How would she have responded?
Nope. Being pleasant was helpful in getting us across the next hurdle.
Nobody wants to be yelled at, even those people who really deserve it.
And remember that this person played no part in creating my problem, they are only the one who has to hear from clueless, entitled, angry people. They didn’t deserve my wrath, and kindness can go a long way.
So he got in, right?
About a week and a half later I get a phone call from my kid.
“Dad, I got a rejection letter from the University. Now what do we do?”
Sigh. We knew this could happen, but we didn’t like that it happened.
Reading the letter, it explained that
- the school was full for fall semester, and
- that he had potential (duh – he’s a really good student) and
- he should reapply.
- One option the letter suggested was that he could pursue an associate’s degree before re-applying. Wait. He already HAS an associate’s degree! Did they even LOOK at his application?
We looked to see if there was a formal appeal process for a rejected application.
There was, but the school provides zero information about how to submit the appeal, or what format it needs to be, other than “in writing.”
How did we prepare for the next step?
Again, can we find common ground? People are happy to agree that YOU are wrong. 😉
What had we done wrong so far?
- We blew the application deadline.
- We think of our kids as transfer students, but the university thinks of them as freshmen applicants.
- We had not applied in the fall – we waited till spring when he was sure of his graduation. VERY late in the process.
- We blew the rules for submitting appropriate paperwork
- We failed to check status in a timely way, so now it was JULY.
And it looks like the school messed up too.
- Why had they not noticed the associate’s degree? We confirmed that the final official transcript was correctly sent to them.
We had two goals in calling the school again:
- Can we get them to reconsider their decision?
- What appeal process may give us the best chance for the outcome we want?
The second call
Again, I called admissions and said “Hi, I’m Tom Cooper. I’m sitting here with my son who got a rejection letter from the admissions department. It looks like we messed up in the process, and I think that maybe the school messed up a little bit, too. I’m calling today to see what options we have.”
She asked me for my kid’s details, and reviewed the records.
I humbly explained what we had done wrong, and then she asked “And you think the school did something wrong?”
“Well, the letter says that he can pursue an associate’s degree and re-apply, but he has an associate’s degree. Also, he has three older brothers who are 49’er grads, and we followed a similar path for their applications, and so we were surprised to learn that we needed to do something differently for him than we did for them. I know that dual enrollment is kind of weird, so things are a little different for students like ours.” (I brought up his brothers because I know that the school considers him a “legacy” applicant and that helps in the admissions process.)
She excused herself and left us on hold for a LONG time. I assume that she was confirming what I was saying, and that she also needed to ask someone what to do in this situation.
When she (finally) returned, she said
“We will take another look at his application and get back to you.”
That’s great – no need to even mention the formal appeal process! This matters because once someone believes that they have “made a decision” it is SUPER HARD for them to change their mind.
In this case, we didn’t press on the idea that a decision had really been made, and we had no need to escalate.
But I wanted a little more information. When would we hear? We might still need to escalate, after all.
I took a pleasant approach: “Thank you! We appreciate your willingness to help. I’m not pushing at all, just curious: When is it reasonable to expect an update on this?”
She let us know that we should hear something in the next couple of days.
Wrapping it up
If you’re facing a brick wall on your path that you want to have turn into a speedbump in your rear view mirror, being pleasant will help get that person on the other end of the call to be more willing to join you in fighting on your behalf.
Figure out what you can do to get them to agree with you, connectors connect on common ground, and then look for ways to affirm and encourage them in the things that they are doing where you agree.
People want to be helpful, and if they can see that you’re not a Karen or a Ken, and you empathize with their situation, they are MUCH more likely to help solve your problem.
You have to get beyond your perspective, your feelings and your emotional response.
It’s not easy, but it works.
My kid started classes in mid August.
When has being pleasant helped you overcome an obstacle?
Let us know in the comments!