Wednesday, May 20, 2015

To Be the Squeaky Wheel Or Not

I struggle often with how to be assertive enough. I don't like feeling like a sucker, but I also don't like causing a scene or being obnoxious, and it can be difficult to find a balance between the two. When I'm in a store or a restaurant, I'm fine with someone complaining about bad service, but sometimes people are bitching out sales clerks or wait staff for things they have no direct control over, and that makes me want to sink into the ground and disappear. I also get that people make mistakes, so if something is done wrong, my first step is to nicely point it out, and if they apologize and fix it, then I'm their customer/best friend for life. Some people are good at calling attention to themselves in order to get extra attention or privileges in any given situation - I sort of admire this in a person, but not in the way that means I wish I could do it. 

I'm sure everyone remembers me bitching about mentioning my course on school libraries last term where the instructor was new and I was finding it frustrating figuring out how to satisfy her seemingly fluid and randomly-changing criteria for assignments. We always get instructor evaluations emailed to us as the end of term approaches, and I was wondering how much time I should spend on it, since I wasn't sure if it would actually make any difference or if it was just a sop to make students feel like they had a voice.

Then two things happened to clarify the situation for me. First, I visited my sister in London over March Break and we talked about it; she's a pharmacist and works at a hospital, but she teaches courses in pharmacy through colleges sometimes, and according to her, a few bad evaluations definitely have an effect - not necessarily punitive, but at the least the instructor has to be observed by someone else to see if the complaints have any merit. My sister said she has sat in on lectures where she doesn't understand what's going on, and she's certified in the subject matter. 

Second, a professor friend on Facebook was talking about how evaluations are, in her opinion, given too much weight, and students who carelessly or vindictively give a bad evaluation can really affect a person's chances at tenure, among other things. So I did fill out the evaluation and I was honest but fair. I really think the problem was that the instructor was new and a bit out of her depth, and I didn't want to make trouble for her, just make sure that she realizes what areas need to be worked on. 

Yesterday morning I pulled out the bottles of juice I bought at Loblaws yesterday - one kale, mango orange, one orange. I love the fresh juice from Loblaws, but the bottles are stupidly designed - there's no way to open them without squirting juice everywhere, and I have to do it in the sink, close the bottles again and rinse them off before proceeding. It's one of those things that is always low-level infuriating, but I accept it because I'm not going to stop buying the juice and I don't really believe that Loblaws will care if I complain.

Then I remembered the Farm Boy butter croissants - my kids love croissants and I usually just buy the box of 40 frozen ones and bake them at home because it's cheaper, but every now and then I buy them a fresh-baked grocery store one as a treat. Farm Boy had these new, expensive, supposedly authentic French butter croissants, and I bought one for Angus one day, and it was awful. It tasted like one or more ingredients were burned. I thought maybe it was just a bad batch, but I tried once more and that one was awful too. So I stopped buying them. A few months later I was in Farm Boy and there was a bin of croissant pieces with a sign saying "NEW butter croissant - please try!" I tried it, and it was amazing. So either enough people complained or stopped buying the croissant, and what do you know? THEY FIXED IT. So I fired off an email to Loblaws. Maybe someday I can open my juice without a hazmat suit. Maybe not. At least I tried.

Then there was the epic farce that was trying to get new filters and a mask from my CPAP supplier. The machine is supposed to last five years, but there are white filters you have to change once a month, black filters you have to change every six months and the nose piece has to be changed every six months to a year. So I drove the half hour to the place and asked for a year's supply of filters and extra-small nasal pillows. The receptionist handed me two packages and then rung up the bill. As I was standing there, I looked at the filters and realized there were no black ones. When I pointed this out, she said "oh, we sell those separately". Um, okay, but I still asked for all the filters for a year. She got them and rung up a second bill. Then I left, stupidly not double-checking the mask package, and before I had gotten far down the hall she chased me down and said she'd rung up the bill under another Allison's name, which might affect any insurance claim. I was mildly exasperated but polite, as we went back and she rung through yet another bill. Then I got some groceries at the Food Basics next door, which was a wholly depressing and soul-sucking experience, and came home.

That night, as I unpacked everything and went to change my mask, I realized she had given me the completely wrong mask. I fired off a terse but still polite email to my CPAP therapist explaining what had happened, just to make sure I would be able to exchange the mask without any problems. She apologized and said I would. A couple of days later, I was taking my mom shopping, so we went to the CPAP place first. The receptionist was apologetic, though not really as apologetic as I think I would have been if our positions were reversed. The reason it had happened was that she was in the other Allison's file, so she gave me HER mask. I was also pissed off at myself for not checking the mask package, which I did this time - there were nasal pillows in a clear plastic envelope with an XS on it. 

So that was that. Except when I got home and opened it, the nasal pillows INSIDE the envelope that said XS were ACTUALLY ONLY S. 


It would have been funny if it wasn't so rage-inducing. My email to the therapist was angry, but still polite. She emailed back that she had sent an email to her supervisor to ask what they could do, and that she was really sorry. I thought for a minute, realized that there was no way I should have to drive back to that godforsaken place for a third time, and that if I didn't speak up, I might end up diong just that. I emailed back that HERE was what we were going to do: I was going to stuff the nasal pillows I had into an envelope, address it to her personally, and she was going to mail me the one I had ACTUALLY PAID FOR.

She emailed back "okay". I felt like a badass in-control queen of my destiny.

Guess there's something to be said for being the squeaky wheel now and then. 


Alison said...

This is actually very empowering for those of us who have trouble complaining even when it's justified. I think you did exactly what you should have done, FWIW.

Being able to email one's complaints makes a difference to me, I think. It's much harder for me to complain directly to an actual person! Who has feelings! And might be upset or (gasp!) angry with me for complaining!

My motto is: "I'm a recovering people pleaser. Is that okay with you?"

Steph Lovelady said...

I had to go out of my assertiveness comfort zone to get J back in school last week. We'd kept her home with a non-contagious but really bad sounding cough for over a week and when I first broached the idea of sending my not-contagious but contagious-sounding kid to school, there was some pushback from the administration. But I persevered and she eventually went back to school.

Lynn said...

Oh good for you! These are the kind of things I struggle with, too. The pressure to not-rock-the-boat is too great. If my poor husband had a nickel for every time I went into a price negotiation with the attitude of "oh, just take what they are offering, I'm sure it is the best possible and we don't want to complain!" ...well, then we'd probably never have to negotiate this kind of thing again.

I'm particularly impressed with your CPAP incident. I'm sure I would have just made do with whatever I got and shut up about it. You rocked it. I'm having you handle all my complaints from now on :).

Nicole said...

See, this is why I love you. Well, one reason. You recognize that people make mistakes (I've made my share, often when I'm in a fog of exhaustion, distraction, etc.) and allow people a chance to fix.

Now, I have to say, I am a bit enraged on your behalf that you had to go through that, but I think you dealt with it excellently. I personally hate - HAAAAAAATE - when I have to GO BACK to a place to return/ exchange. It is my least favourite thing. I would almost rather just keep the wrong item, but obviously when it is a MEDICAL ITEM you cannot do that - and can I just say (run-on sentence) that if that woman was fitting to the other Allison, well, that's ridiculous. Do they look up "Allison"? They should look up the LAST NAME WTF. Anyway, you rocked this, it was perfect, and by the way, you will never be the potato old lady. xoxo

Sarah McCormack said...

I think it is kinda like we say to parents.. "pick your battles". I squeak when it's important :)

Julie L said...

I need to learn how not to squeak so much. I'm just a big ole bitch and rant and rave at the injustice of everything. Thanks for reminding me that people are people are they make mistakes, just like I do.