Spinning the Positive

Every coin has a flipside. Every inside has an outside. Every “No” response has a “Yes” alternative.

At the Disney University, I’ve heard that one of the class assignments is to go out into the theme park and find a few Disney “cast members” and ask a question for which the reasonable answer would be “No” … and listen to the well-trained responses. What Disney knows is what all great communicators, sales professionals, leaders, and customer service representatives know… When faced with a request you cannot grant or to which you cannot agree, a response filled with sincere empathy and a focus on what is possible will always be the better answer and often save the client, sale, online review, and future relationship.

“Can I march in the parade next to Cinderella?” “Oh, how I would love to say yes to that! You’d make a perfect prince charming. What I can do is recommend the best place to sit and watch the parade so you’ll feel like you’re practically in it!”

“I forgot my wallet. Can I take my hamburger and come back in a minute and pay you for it?” “Gosh, don’t you hate it when that happens? So frustrating to wait in line and then realize you can’t pay. Here’s what I’ll do… I’ll put your meal right here where it will stay perfectly warm and when you find your wallet, just come right up to the front of the line and I’ll ring you right up.”

Here’s a real and recent experience that happened to me. Last week, while attending the Speaking Consulting Network annual conference in Anaheim, I enjoyed a truly amazing farm-to-fork meal at a restaurant called The Ranch with three of my favorite colleagues. The service was impeccable, the atmosphere charming, and the healthy, delicious food was perfectly prepared. Throw in rich, meaningful, and funny conversation with good friends and it was a truly lovely evening. Only one problem. In my haste to leave, I left my credit card and receipt and didn’t realize it until I was home a few days later.

I called The Ranch and asked if they had found it. The none-too-friendly gal that answered confirmed that, “Yes, we do have a credit card in your name locked away in our secure vault.” Great news! May I give you my address so you can send it to me? “No, we cannot mail credit cards to people who leave them.” Okay. I don’t live nearby. How about I ask a local friend to stop by and pick it up for me? “No, we can only give the card to the owner with a matching ID.” Hmmmm. Okay. Help me out here. This is a corporate credit card with all kinds of bill payments, subscriptions, and for God sakes, my one-click Amazon account tied to it. (I’m starting to get pretty riled up now!) Not only don’t I live nearby but we are leaving the next day for several weeks of travel. Can you just hold on to it for a month or so until I return and spend the 4 – 5 hours round trip it will take to retrieve it? “No, we destroy the cards after 2 weeks.” Is there a manager I speak with? “No, he won’t be in until after 3 today. I can ask him to call you but I don’t think he’ll be able to do anything. These are our policies.”

No empathy. No solutions. No Bueno.

If I were a communications coach for The Ranch, a business who clearly cares about their patron’s experience, here’s what I would advise as a better trained response:

“Great news, Mrs. Belt, we do have your credit card and we’ve kept it secure in our vault hoping you would call. How can I help reunite you with it? Do you live nearby where you can come in to claim it?” No, I don’t. “I’m so very sorry for the hassle of all this for you. We typically can’t mail it or give it to anyone other than the cardholder but if you’d like, I will speak to my manager to see if there is any other arrangement we can make for you. Worst case, we’ll put a note on your card that you’ll be picking up sometime over the next few months. If you forget, we can certainly give you a courtesy call before we actually destroy it. How would that work, Mrs. Belt?”

You can’t always change your policies. Sometimes, the rules are the rules because, well, attorney’s advice and all. But there are very few events where we cannot focus on what is possible, what we can do, and what will work. And there is never a time when true empathy doesn’t soften the hardest news.

This week reinforce with your team how to meet clients with a positive, can-do, empathic attitude and response. The Golden Rule is a good one. Treat folks the same way you’d like to be treated and give them a reason to stick with you even if the answer is actually, “No.”


“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next.
Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.”
~Denis Waitley, Author and Motivational Speaker


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