Do the unexpected to change your life’s pattern for the better

This article was originally published in North County News.

“I’m so angry I can’t continue this conversation. I’m going to hang up now.” And I did, gently, but firmly placing the phone on the receiver.

I shut my eyes trying to block out my frustration, but instead the dots haunted me. When I’m angry, I don’t see red. I see dots. Tiny dots, like the dotted-Swiss fabric my mom once used for making our Easter dresses. Raised and regular, these dots surround my thinking, often putting a blanket over the most rational of thoughts.

I wheeled slowly into my bathroom.

Since my paralysis four years ago, life’s adjustments have been many _ none more difficult than my quest for privacy. My renovated bathroom, complete with phone, mirrors and ample space for maneuvering, emerged as my safe haven, especially with new door locks that prevented my kids from untimely intrusions.

I wheeled in, locked the door and stared at the reflection of one unhappy camper. I had selected this computer provider because they were a local firm, offering on-site support and a personal touch.

However, that last phone conversation could have been with any New York- or Texas-based firm. I was fuming. After a few deep breaths, I decided to phone the caller’s supervisor, who sold and installed the system for me.

I dialed the number and waited, the dots still swirling.

After three rings, cell phone static filled the void as I waited for the customary, “Hello.”

Silence and more static ensued. Suddenly, the voice shouted, “What! What is it?” he demanded. More static while his words hung in the air.

“I’m having the worst day of my life here. But if you have something you want to say, go ahead,” he blurted.

I froze. My dots began to melt.

“Tim? This is Becky Galli,” I stammered. “I had something I wanted to talk to you about, but maybe I should call back tomorrow. You don’t sound so good. Are you OK?”

“Well, I’m not so good,” he continued. “But what’s on your mind. It can’t get any worse.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” I offered again. “I do have a concern I want to tell you about, but I really don’t want to make your day any worse.”

Another pause. Then _ laughter. Loud and long. “That’s the first time I’ve laughed all day,” he confessed.

“Let me call you back. Really, it’s OK,” I replied.

“No, what’s up? Let’s see what I can do to help.”

Calmly, I told him of my frustration. And with the sensitivity and decisiveness that only a small business owner can have, he recognized the error, apologized, and promised a technician would be dispatched by the end of the day. Within hours, the technician arrived and quickly corrected the problem.

But the phone conversation needled me for days. With dots of anger punctuating every thought, I had made that phone call expecting to vent and place demands. Instead, his unscreened honesty reframed my agenda.

Caught off-guard, I had radically altered my response.

Seems like I’ve learned that lesson before.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got,” so the adage goes.

First, in some parenting classes, and then later in some sales training, this principle emerged as a tool when trying to break repeated “going nowhere” conversations. “Do the unexpected,” was the challenge. Your change alone can disrupt the pattern and lead to a different outcome.

In parenting, I began using the word “no” with restraint, choosing to use some newly-discovered powerful words, “What do you think?”

Startled when asked to clarify their request, my kids would often answer their own questions or at least uncover considerations I would have missed.

Those words worked equally well in the business setting, providing a conversational tone for the selling process, checking for understanding in a non-threatening way.

Granted, I would not recommend that we answer our phones with shouted “Whats” as openers. Yet, the unexpected response can be powerful, creating an imbalance that can un-stick the most stubbornly stuck ruts of routine.

Tired of “getting what you always got?” Dare to disrupt those predictable patterns. The results may be surprising.