I think that one of the ways I best help the people who come to my office is to help them to see things differently.
Because our culture prides itself on self-sufficiency, most of us (the male half, anyway) have difficulty asking for help in the first place. And before we ask for help, we think hard about what the problem is and what should be done about it, so that when we arrive at the caregiver’s office, we’re really just looking for confirmation of the diagnosis we have already made before we arrived.
My wife bought me a Coffee Guy coffeemaker for Christmas. Yesterday morning it quit working: I put the water in, turned it on, and nothing happened. I pressed the “on” button a few times, plugged and unplugged the machine, dumped the water out, poured it back in, and made a diagnosis. Then I called the Coffee Guy help desk:
Me: Hi, I’m calling about my Coffee Guy coffeemaker. I think the heating element is broken and it needs to be replaced… (You see? I’ve got the problem solved already.)
Coffee Guy Guy: Thank you for calling, sir. We at Coffee Guy want to make your coffee experience a wonderful experience. I am here to help you with your problem.
(I’m already starting to get annoyed. This guy is reading from a prepared script. I’m thinking “trained monkey” to myself as I take a deep breath and continue:)
Me: Yes, well I’m wondering whether I should take the coffeemaker back to the store to get it replaced or whether you have an address I should ship it to.
Coffee Guy Guy: Yes sir. Before we continue, could I take down some personal information please? Your address, email, and a telephone number I should call in case we get disconnected…
(More precious moments of my time are wasted as I supply him with statistics. Still, I think, it might be good for him to have my address, so he knows where to send my new coffeemaker….)
Me: Yes, so now that you have all that information, may I have your address so that I can send you your coffeemaker that has, as I said, a broken heating element?
Coffee Guy Guy: Yes sir. Before I do that, may I ask, what kind of water do you put in your coffeemaker?
(Annoyance increasing. I see where this discussion is heading. Companies never want to assume responsibility for their defective products. He wants to blame my water. How many different kinds of water are there, anyway? And what kind of water did the manual say that I should use? My anxiety increases as I consider that maybe I put the wrong kind of water in the coffeemaker, but no, I remember what kind of water the manual said to use and it’s the water I’m using and so I answer triumphantly: )
Me: Filtered water!
Coffee Guy Guy: Yes sir. And where do you keep your filtered water?
(Now I’m puzzled. What difference does it make, where I keep my filtered water? What does this have to do with a broken heating element in a coffeemaker?)
Me: I keep my filtered water in my office, with my coffeemaker. (annoyed)
Coffee Guy Guy: Yes sir (patiently). Um, do you keep your filtered water in a refrigerator?
(Now how did he know that? Or maybe it was a lucky guess. Everyone keeps their filtered water in the fridge, so that it is cold for drinking. Of course.)
Me: Yes, of course I keep it in the fridge.
Coffee Guy Guy: Yes sir. Um, I’m wondering, could you try something for me before you send me your coffeemaker? Could you just take some tap water and pour it into the coffeemaker, and turn it on again, and we’ll see what happens?
(What is going on? What possible difference could tap water make to a broken heating element? Will the minerals in the tap water repair the element? This is crazy, I think.)
Me: Oh, alright. Just a minute.
(I’m annoyed. But I know that if I don’t let him follow the steps on the cue card in front of him, then he won’t give me his address and I won’t get my new coffeemaker. So I get some tap water, pour it into the coffeemaker, turn it on, and….)
Me: I don’t believe it. It’s working! You’re a genius! YOU FIXED MY COFFEEMAKER OVER THE PHONE!
Coffee Guy Guy: Yes sir. Thank you sir. You’re very kind. It’s just that sometimes refrigerated water is too cold for the coffeemaker to heat it properly…
So now I keep my filtered water on the counter, beside my coffeemaker. I can’t offer you cold water. But I enjoy my coffee.
This is what therapy with me is like. You will come, with your problem, and with your ideas about your problem. And I will listen. And I will try your patience, perhaps, as I collect some information and then I may make a suggestion that sounds to you like the craziest thing, perhaps…
But you know, sometimes it is the craziest ideas that set us free.