Polarized Problem-Solving

March 12th, 2007 by Steve Pavlina

Here’s an example of applying the concept of polarity to solve a specific problem.

Many years ago I ran into a problem with my web host.  Their service was OK for several months, but then it started going downhill.  My web site would suddenly go offline, and I’d have to contact them to fix it.  My email would cut in and out, and sometimes valid emails would be stuck on the server for days.  I witnessed the competency of their tech support gradually decrease as they hired people who were under-qualified.  One time they sent a mass email to all their customers by sending a single email with a mass CC, so every customer received everyone else’s email address.  Not the brightest behavior for a web host.

I wasn’t doing much e-commerce back then, and my web site wasn’t mission critical.  I was busy with offline projects, so I put off dealing with this for a while, but eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and switched hosts.  I didn’t switch earlier because the original host kept promising that the problems would be fixed once and for all.  So I fell into the trap of thinking, “Maybe this will be the last support issue for a while.”

After I canceled my account, I decided to request a refund for the previous five months of hosting from my original host, the time period during which I experienced faulty service.  I was paying $75/month for hosting at the time, so the five-month total was $375.

I sent a polite email to my old host listing the problems I experienced and explaining my reasons for requesting a refund.  I asked them to credit the amount back to my credit card.  I thought my request seemed reasonable, since they kept stringing me along, promising final fixes that never came.

A few days later I got a phone call from one of their support people.  He apologized for the bad service, admitted it was their fault (with a quiet tone that suggested he didn’t want his boss to hear him say this), and openly agreed I should be entitled to a five-month refund.  Then he paused and said it was unfortunately “company policy” that they could only give me a one-month refund.

I said, “I’m afraid that’s unacceptable.”

There was a long pause from the support guy, and then he stuttered forward with some meaningless phrases, apparently taken aback by my response.

I reiterated that I couldn’t accept his offer.  He stood firm (in his words, not his manner) that the company could only give me a one-month refund, even though he agreed that my service wasn’t up to par for the whole five-month period.  He didn’t have the authority to override company policy of course, so he was in an untenable position.  Finally he asked me what I was going to do, and I said, “You’ll find out soon enough.”  Then I hung up.

Admittedly I was a bit upset from this call, since I found the company policy excuse ridiculous.  I set this problem aside for a few days to regain my perspective.  Then I asked myself how I wanted to deal with this situation.  Which polarity did I want to use?  Love or fear?

I decided I wanted to tackle this situation with fear energy.  Although I was mostly love-oriented at the time, I wanted to learn more about the fear side, so I made a conscious choice to use that polarity for this situation in order to understand it better.  Plus it seemed like a perfect fit.

This meant I was going to use fear energy all the way.  No mixed polarities.  No Mr. Nice Guy.  They were going to bend to my will and issue my refund promptly.  Period.

When using fear energy, your goal is to establish dominance and take control of a situation.  When you require the cooperation of others in a situation where you only have to deal with them once and then never again, it makes sense to be fairly heavy handed and expedient.

So I wrote a simple email to this hosting company.  I reiterated my request, this time stating it more as a demand.  I noted that they admitted their mistake and tried to hide behind a paltry excuse, which was unacceptable.  I told them they were going to issue the refund within five days, or I was going to present my situation to their entire client list.  Remember they provided me with all their clients’ emails by mistake.  For good measure I also mentioned a few others I’d report this problem to, including the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, local news reporters, elected officials, and so on.  I explained this would only take me a few minutes, since it would only require CC’ing a single email.  With hundreds of people on their client list, I was certain they’d see the wisdom of issuing my refund as a less costly alternative.

I sent this email not just to a single person but to about six different email addresses at their company (basically every email address I could find on their web site), so it wouldn’t be possible to ignore it.  And I used a regular CC, so they’d know this email was received by their colleagues too.

Four days later I got a phone call from one of their people, someone I’d never talked to before.  He said they were issuing my refund.  Then he started going on about how they had turned my communication over to their attorney and that I was banned from doing business with them ever again.  I told him that was none of my concern as long as they issued the refund.  I knew no lawyer was going to get involved for a small sum like $375.

The $375 was credited back to my card the next day, and I never heard from nor dealt with this hosting company again.  I imagine they went out of business long ago.

I’ll leave it to you to form your own opinion about the method I used.  My fear-based solution may have had negative repercussions for others, but it solved the problem quickly and efficiently.  I spent maybe 30 minutes dealing with the refund problem, and the net gain was $300 ($375 minus the initial $75 refund offered).

When you polarize with fear, your attitude will be, “It’s my way or the highway.”  Your will is all that matters, and the concerns of others are irrelevant, except to the extent you require their help.  If someone gets in your way, you pressure them to bend to your will.  It’s a very Machiavellian approach to problem solving.

What would have been a love-polarized way to solve this problem?  There’s no single right answer.  One approach would have been to simply let it go, accept it was my fault for not requesting a refund sooner, accept it was my mistake for choosing a poor host, forgive the company for their error, let them keep the money, and move on.  Maybe offer to help the hosting company find a competent consultant who could assist them.  I could have accepted the $75 refund and given myself the challenge of turning it into $375+ in a way that would have created even more value for others.

Different polarities will define the problem differently.  A fear-based approach might define the problem as, “I want this hosting company to give me a $375 refund ASAP.”  A love-based approach might define it as, “I desire to forgive myself and this hosting company, and I intend to create at least an extra $375 of value for others.”

For several years when I’ve had a problem to solve, I’ve paused to decide whether I want to use a love-based approach or a fear-based one.  Once I made the decision, I did my best to stick with the same polarity until the problem was fully resolved.  This taught me a lot about the differences between these two polarities.

Think of polarity as an over-the-top approach to problem solving.  When you choose a polarity, you aren’t striving for a balanced, middle-of-the-road solution.  You work at or near the extremes.  While it may take some time to get comfortable with that, polarized approaches can be highly effective because they help you act quickly and decisively.  Even if you decide not to use these extreme solutions, simply identifying them can get you thinking in new directions that can help you overcome obstacles.

Take a moment to identify a current problem in your life that you’d like to resolve.  Now consider what a polarized solution would look like.

To brainstorm a fear-based solution, say to yourself, “Enough already.  This problem gets solved now.  No more excuses.  Anyone and anything that isn’t with me is against me and will be dealt with swiftly.  I will not be denied.”  Put yourself in that state of mind.  Feel the inner strength that comes from being dominant and in control.  How would you solve this problem?  What would you no longer tolerate?  What would you change immediately?

To brainstorm a love-based solution, say to yourself, “I am at peace.  I am here to love, to give, and to contribute.  I forgive everyone and everything, including myself.  I accept this problem as an opportunity to increase my service.  If this is a problem for me, it is a problem for others as well.  I will do whatever it takes to help others solve this problem, and by helping them my own problem will be transformed from an obstacle into a beautiful gift of service.”  Really put yourself in that state of mind.  Know that your problem is a call to serve others, not a personal obstacle.  What can you do to help others solve this problem?  Where could you find people who need help with this?  How grateful are you to be in this privileged position of service to the highest good of all?

Remember that polarity is simply a tool for making decisions.  Whenever you face a tough decision, consider what the most highly polarized outcomes would look like.  It’s sort of like asking, “What would Hitler do?” and “What would Jesus do?”  By considering these two extremes, you’re viewing your situation from two completely different perspectives.  This gives you a much deeper level of insight into your decision as well as into your own motives.  This transforms your decision from a choice between external realities to a choice between internal realities.  Instead of trying to decide between option A and option B, you’re deciding whether you want to be person A or person B.  In other words you ask yourself, “Of the types of people who could make this decision or solve this problem, which one do I most want to be?”  In many cases this process will illuminate your decision in such a way that it becomes much easier to make, and if you’re solving a problem, your solution will tend to be more accurate and realistic.



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