How to Get What Really Matters to You

A Sticky Situation

“I am so frustrated,” Shawna declared.

“What’s going on?” Roger asked.

“Three years ago I did some training for a company in Maryland. It was a one-time event that went very well. Eight months ago, they contacted me again and asked if I could do a similar event. I agreed and we scheduled it.

The day of the training, I showed up at their site and nothing was set up. The room was a mess and no one knew anything about the training.  Worse, only three people showed up on time. All morning, people kept wandering in and I had to stop and bring them up to speed. It turned out okay but it wasn’t a great day from my perspective.”

"And you’re still frustrated about that? How come?” Roger asked.

“No, it’s not that. Or not only that. I sent them a bill the week after the training. Eight weeks went by without payment. I called the business office to ask about the hold up. I was told the invoice had been forwarded to the manager and was awaiting authorization. When I contacted the manager, she told me no one had authorized the amount I had billed.”

“Really? And then what happened?”

“To make a long story short, they refuse to pay the invoice because they took issue with a small rate increase during the three years since my first training. Yet no one had asked about my rate when they contacted me the second time! And now they won’t pay the invoice!”

“Sounds like an aggravating situation. What do you think is going to happen?” asked Roger.

“I don’t know. We’re at an impasse and I’m not sure how to proceed. I really want to get paid but I am hesitant to pursue legal action. I have great relationships with all my other clients.  Do you have any ideas?”

What’s Really at Stake?

Have you ever gotten yourself into a tricky situation where the problem seemed straightforward on the surface? Something like being owed money, or someone standing you up for a meeting and blaming you for messing up? We initially attempt to resolve the problem at that level, only to find that we haven’t understood what’s really going on.

We think:

“If only they paid me what they owed me, this would go away.”

“If she admitted that she stood me up, we could move on.”

Well, maybe.  Sometimes things are that straightforward. But often, what’s tangible symbolizes a deeper value that matters much more to us. Values like fairness, respect, control or safety. Unless we understand the problem from that perspective, superficial attempts to move forward may not be satisfying.

One way to discern whether there is a deeper value at stake is to ask, “If X (e.g., money, time, possessions) were off the table, what would be the issue? What really matters here?”

Once you get clear on what’s really at stake, you can ask yourself, “What would it take to find a way forward?”

If you’re willing to look at the situation from a bigger perspective, it opens up many more options for a positive resolution.

Finding a Way Forward

"So Shawna,” Roger said, “This client isn’t paying you and you want to get paid. But you also talked about how important your relationships are with your clients. And you described your experience of showing up and not having the room ready and people coming late. It seems like there’s more to this than collecting a payment. If money wasn’t an issue, what else is going on for you?”

Long pause.

“Hmmm, that’s a good question,” she said slowly. “I guess it has to do with respect and fairness. I don’t feel I was treated well on the day I did the training. Now they’re refusing to pay the invoice because no one asked me what my rate was. How can they assume it’s the same three years later? That’s totally unfair!”

“So now that you’re clear the issue has more to do with respect and fairness, what options exist for moving things forward in addition to legal action?”

“I’ll have to think about that. Thanks, Roger!”

Exploring what’s really at stake can open up new possibilities for a way forward. How might this approach help you understand a sticky situation of your own?