When I was about ten years old, my mom and I ran into a problem at the ski area where were skiing. I don’t remember the exact problem, but I think they gave us a room with one king bed and we wanted a room with a queen for my parents and a bed for me. Something like that.
We had a valid reservation for exactly the room we wanted and needed. This problem was 100% the fault of the ski area and was the result of what might be called incompetence or possibly greed (overbooking). We had to go to the office and ask for help.
The man in front of us was screaming at the customer service rep about the exact same problem. The person behind the desk just kept explaining that she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do. They simply couldn’t accommodate him. I told my mother it wasn’t looking good for us. She said, “We’ll see.”
She walked up to the desk and, in her kindest voice (and my mother was genuinely very kind) said, “I’m sorry, but I have a problem. I’m hoping you can help me.” The surly customer service rep who resisted the screams of the previous guest visibly relaxed, took a breath, became human again and asked my mother what the problem was. My mom explained and within a couple minutes we walked out with exactly what the screamer had demanded. My mother was smiling and so was the employee.
As we left, I said, “Well, that went better than I expected.”
My mother said:
It’s been my experience that most people enjoy helping other people. It makes us feel good. It’s what we want to do given the chance. But we don’t like being told we must comply with someone’s demands, so we resist. If you ask for help rather than making a demand, most people will do their best to help you. Some people won’t, but remember, if they refuse to help you, you can always yell later, but if you start with a yell, you can never take it back and politely ask for help later.
When I find myself losing patience with a person who is the face of some immovable bureaucracy, my mother’s words come back to me and I try (not always successfully) to remind myself that you can always yell later.