by Lori Silverman
Friday was the third occurrence—the third time in as many weeks that I received someone else’s mail in my postal box at my condo. The first time, all the mail I received on a single day was for someone else. Instead of delivering it to my neighbor, I trouped over to the local post office to inform a supervisor of the problem. The second time, I re-deposited the wrongly delivered magazine into the outgoing mailbox with a note saying, “delivered to wrong address.”
Today, I inadvertently opened the 401k statement that belongs to someone else in my complex. “Oh crap. Now what do I do? This isn’t mine. Geez! What’s going on? I don’t have time for this. I have a million other things to do before leaving for South America.”
I set the envelope on the counter and responded to a few e-mails. Before I knew it, it was four o’clock. “Huh. Do I just put it back in the box or do I take it to the post office? If I’m going to take it back, I need to go now.”
I neatly taped the envelope back together—and no, I didn’t look at the amount—and traipsed over to the post office. Surprisingly, there were only two people in front of me in line. I thought it’d be longer being that it was the day after Thanksgiving. After explaining what had occurred to a postal employee, I was told to speak to the manager who would join me shortly at a “closed” counter. After a few minutes, a man dressed all in black, with silvery hair prematurely gray from what I could ascertain, stood before me wearing a name tag too tiny for me to read.
“How can help you?” he pleasantly asked.
As I handed him the taped envelope, I emphatically stated, “This is the third time in three weeks that I’ve received the wrong mail. I’ve lived here since July of last year and this is a recent occurrence. I thought you’d want to know about these situations.”
“Oh. You probably didn’t realize that you were secretly being auditioned for a job opening with the U.S. Postal Service. We’re short of help these days,” he replied.
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. So did others in line that overheard our conversation. His opening comment wasn’t what I expected to hear. How could I be upset with that sort of demeanor greeting me?
I whispered back, ”Well, I might not be able to deliver the mail but I could surely help with increasing efficiencies and productivity.”
He smiled and proceeded to carefully write down my name and the details of all three mistakes on a yellow post-it note.
“I’ll give this information to the person who supervises all of the deliveries. Thank you for bringing the problem to my attention. It’s very likely that the problem is occurring because we’re using staff from another station. The note will help to alert anyone who delivers mail to your complex that a problem exists and to take special care in sorting the mail into the right boxes.”
“Thank you and have a great weekend,” I replied.
As I walked out I wondered if all sorts of problems couldn’t be dealt with in the same way. I also wondered if he’d been taught to respond to issues with a surprising twist of humor or if the words had merely spilled out of his mouth without him realizing it. In the long run, it didn’t matter. He’d “broken the ice” in a way I hadn’t expected and made me laugh.
Wouldn’t it be great if others did the same when we brought them an issue? Perhaps even more importantly: What would it take for you to break the ice the next time someone confronts you with a problem?
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