Assertively Dealing with Manipulation, an Example

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith has become one of my all-time favorite books. This book is like a vaccine against manipulation. I’m so grateful to my instinctual attraction to this book despite it not being popular nor new or anything. One of those rare books that are truly undervalued.

Let’s dive in into an example where a student of systematic assertive therapy uses what he learned to get a refund from his car dealer.

Dialogue #14
Jack gets a refund
of $1,800 from
a used-car

Jack is a part-time student who also works as a physiotherapist to support himself. He is dissatisfied with his occupation and is taking classes to get his degree and learn other occupational skills. Jack’s old car finally gave up and had to be towed to a junk yard. Jack had known that it was only a matter of time until his old car would fall apart and he had prepared to purchase a new one by saving a portion of his salary for two years. Consequently, he immediately purchased a used car from a dealer the day after his old one failed. Since he had the money in the bank, Jack paid the entire $1,800 cost by check. On the day after he purchased his “new” car, its automatic transmission started to leak heavily. Jack brought the car back to the dealer and the salesman promised to have it fixed. Two days after getting it back from the repair shop, the transmission started to leak again. He consulted with me and we talked in detail about his options on getting further repairs, another car, or his money back, and how he could assertively cope with this problem. On the way back to the dealer the next day, the car kept stalling and was restarted only with great difficulty, eventually needing a push. As he drove into the dealer’s lot, Jack decided that he wanted his money back and no further business with this used-car dealer.

Day 1: Setting of the dialogue: Jack walks into the sales office and speaks to the salesman who sold him the car.

JACK: Mr. Kirtz. That car you sold me is a piece of junk and I want my money back.

SALESMAN: What’s the matter, boy? I thought we got you all fixed up Friday.

JACK: That’s right. I thought so too, but the transmission started leaking again yesterday and now the car runs worse than my old one. I want my money back. [FOGGING, SELF-DISCLOSURE, and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: Well, we don’t have anything to do with the transmission shop. You’ll have to go see them about that.

JACK: I’m sure you feel that way, but you are the one I paid my money to, not the transmission shop. I don’t have anything to do with them and I want my money back. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: That don’t make sense. Course you got to deal with them. You took your car over to them, didn’t you?

JACK: I did, didn’t I? That was dumb of me to take it over there personally instead of insisting that you take care of the whole business, wasn’t it? [NEGATIVE ASSERTION]

SALESMAN: No, that’s the way to do it. Let me explain something to you on how these things work. You see, we did what we said we would do! You don’t have a problem with us! We don’t have anything to do with that shop! Your problem is with them. You go see them about your transmission. We can’t do anything about it here. We just don’t have the facilities. That’s why we sent you over there.

JACK: I understand perfectly that you want me to go over to the transmission shop, but I’m not going to do that I don’t have a problem with them. I have a problem with you and I want my money refunded. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: If you feel so strongly about it, I’ll be glad to call them up right now and speak to them for you.

JACK: Mr. Kirtz, if you want to call up the shop, go right ahead, but you are calling them up for yourself, not me. I agree that I dropped the car off and picked it up, but I don’t have anything to do with them. I don’t care what you do with the car. I just want my money refunded. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: (Coolly looking at Jack) If you’re afraid that we won’t stand behind a car we sell, forget it! We’ll get your transmission fixed for you!

JACK: Mr. Kirtz, I’m sure you feel that way, but you told me that the first time and it didn’t get fixed. Frankly, after this, I don’t believe you when you tell me that. [FOGGING and SELF-DISCLOSURE]

SALESMAN: That’s no way to be, boy. After all the trouble I went to to get your car fixed right away. It’s not my fault that the shop didn’t do the job right. You got no cause to say that to me. We’ll get your car fixed.

JACK: I’m sure you really feel that way, Mr. Kirtz, but I still don’t believe what you say and I want my money back. [FOGGING, SELF-DISCLOSURE, and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: Well, if you have that attitude, there is nothing I can do about it.

JACK: That may be true, but I still want my money back. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: I can’t give you your money back. The papers have been processed in Sacramento. We can’t change the legal papers. That’s your car. It’s registered to you. Nothing we can do about that.

JACK: I’m sure you really feel that way, so here’s what we are going to do. Lets you and I go talk to the boss of this place who can give me my money back. [FOGGING and WORKABLE COMPROMISE]

SALESMAN: Well, I don’t know if Smitty is around today.

JACK: That’s possible, but if you don’t start the wheels rolling to get my money back, I’ll still want to see him. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: I’ll call and see. (Picks up telephone, dials, speaks to someone, and then speaks to Jack) He won’t be in until tomorrow.

JACK: Okay. When can we see him tomorrow?

SALESMAN: He usually gets in around nine in the morning.

JACK: Will you be here at nine thirty?

SALESMAN: Sure, I’m here all day.

JACK: Fine, then I want you to speak to Smitty when he comes in. Tell him that I want the three of us to get together at nine thirty. Okay?

SALESMAN: That’s fine with me.

JACK: Good. And by the way, here’s the keys for the car.

SALESMAN: We don’t need the keys to your car.

JACK: I understand how you feel, but I’m leaving the car right out there blocking your driveway and you’ll probably want to move it. [SELF-DISCLOSURE]

SALESMAN: Take the car with you. You need transportation. We’ll straighten this out tomorrow.

JACK: That’s true, but I’m leaving the car here. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

SALESMAN: Suit yourself, but park it in the street.

JACK: I’m returning the car to you. I don’t care where you park it. [SELF-DISCLOSURE]

SALESMAN: (No response: silently, sternly looks up at Jack and then down at the keys on his desk, picking at them with one finger)

JACK: See you at nine thirty tomorrow. (Leaves)

That afternoon shortly after leaving the used-car lot, Jack called his bank and asked to place a stop order on his check. The bank informed him that it had already paid $1,800 out of his account and they could not honor his stop order. Nevertheless, Jack was determined to assert himself and get his money returned.

Day 2: Setting of the dialogue: Jack and Mr. Kirtz walk into the manager’s office.

MANAGER: Sit down. I hear you had some trouble with your car.

JACK: Yes, and I want a refund of my money I paid you for that car.

MANAGER: Why don’t you want the car?

JACK: Mr. Kirtz and I went into that yesterday. Have you discussed this with him?

MANAGER: Yes, but it seems that the car would be all right as soon as we fix the transmission.

JACK: I’m sure you really feel that way, but I don’t believe it, and I want my money back. [FOGGING, SELF-DISCLOSURE, and BROKEN RECORD]

MANAGER: Are you telling me I’m a liar?

JACK: Mr. Smith, I really feel you believe what you are saying. The fact is that I don’t believe it. I’ve been through this talk of repair guarantee before and I don’t buy it. I want my money back. [FOGGING, SELF-DISCLOSURE and BROKEN RECORD]

MANAGER: (Silent for a moment) You don’t like the car, that’s okay. Lot of cars I don’t like myself. Tell you what I’ll do. You go out on the lot with Bob and pick out any car you want and we’ll take your car back and just make a price adjustment. That’s a reasonable offer.

JACK: That seems like a reasonable offer, but I don’t want another of your cars. I just want my money back. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

MANAGER: You worried about the condition of the replacement? Drive it around a week and if you don’t like it we’ll give you another one. If you want, I’ll help you pick one out. Matter of fact, we got a great little car you’ll really like. We can swap this one even. Bob, go get that little red jobbie in the back lot and bring it out front.

JACK: I’m sure it is a nice car, Mr. Smith, but I don’t want another car from you people. I just want my money back. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

MANAGER: Well, that’s impossible. All the legal forms were sent to Sacramento already. You own that car and it’s registered in your name.

JACK: I don’t understand. What is impossible about taking the car back and giving money for it if it is possible to take the car back and give another car for it? [SELF-DISCLOSURE]

MANAGER: That’s no problem. We just send in a correction to change an error in the car registration.

JACK: I still don’t understand. What’s impossible about sending in a correction about refunding money instead of exchanging cars? [SELF-DISCLOSURE]

MANAGER: We just can’t do that!

JACK: I’m sure you really feel that way, Mr. Smith, but I still want a refund on my car. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

MANAGER: Why won’t you take another car? That would solve this whole problem. They’re good cars.

JACK: That’s possible, but I don’t want to chance another run-around. I just want my money back. [FOGGING, SELF-DISCLOSURE, and BROKEN RECORD]

MANAGER: (To Mr. Kirtz) Bob, let me handle this. You go back to the lot. (Mr. Kirtz leaves.) (To Jack) You pissed with him the way he handled your repairs? I don’t blame you. I don’t think much of that stupid son of a bitch myself. Let’s just you and I talk this over. I’ll personally see your car gets fixed or help you pick out another one. I’ll personally guarantee it. Isn’t that fair?

JACK: As I said before, it sounds very fair, except that I don’t want the car repaired and I don’t want another one. I just want my money back. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

MANAGER: You’re asking for the impossible. I just can’t do that.

JACK: I’m sure you feel that way, so is there someone over you with the authority to do it? [FOGGING and WORKABLE COMPROMISE]

MANAGER: You’d have to talk to the owner.

JACK: What time can we see him?

MANAGER: He gets in some time after lunch.

JACK: How about two in the afternoon?

MANAGER: That’s okay with me.

JACK: (Rising and leaving) I’ll count on you to set it up and meet you here at two tomorrow.

Day 3: Setting of the dialogue: Mr. Smith escorts Jack to the owner’s office, introduces Jack, and leaves.

OWNER: Sit down and make yourself comfortable. What’s all this fuss about your car?

JACK: Has Mr. Smith explained the situation to you?

OWNER: Yes, but why do you want your money back?

JACK: The car is unsatisfactory to me and I want my money back.

OWNER: What’s wrong with the car?

JACK: If Mr. Smith has explained the situation to you, you know that already.

OWNER: It seems like we are bending over backwards to satisfy you. We’ll fix your car or give you another one. What’s wrong with that? That sounds like a good deal to me. We don’t do that for everybody, you know.

JACK: I’m sure you don’t, but I am not interested in this car or a second one. I just want my money back. [FOGGING, SELF-DISCLOSURE, and BROKEN RECORD]

OWNER: Well, that’s impossible to do.

JACK: I’m sure it is difficult to make a refund, but I want my money back. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

OWNER: We only want to do what’s fair. Why can’t you be reasonable?

JACK: I’m sure you want to be fair. I want my money back. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

OWNER: What do you think would happen to the business world if every Tom, Dick, and Harry could just come in and get their money back because they changed their mind? How long do you think we could stay in business if we operated that way?


OWNER: Well, we just can’t do it.

JACK: I’m sure you really feel strongly about that, but that car is on your lot and its keys are on your desk. I’m not taking it back and I want a refund. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

OWNER: That’s a very unreasonable attitude to take.

JACK: That’s possible, but I still want a refund. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

OWNER: You go around through life like that, you’re not going to get along at all.

JACK: You may be right, but I still want a refund. [FOGGING and BROKEN RECORD]

OWNER: (Showing his temper; stands up, picks up the car keys, throws them down on the desk and shouts) You goddamn young punks, you think you can get away with anything! Come in here and think you’re a smart ass! Only a deadbeat like you wouldn’t keep his word on a bargain! Son of a bitch!

JACK: (Calmly and coolly) I’m sure this upsets you, but I want to get my money back as soon as possible. I’d like to do some other things today besides this. [FOGGING, BROKEN RECORD, and SELF-DISCLOSURE]

OWNER: (Jaw dropping agape and staring at Jack. Silent for a few seconds, he recovers his composure, smiles at Jack, and crosses around to where Jack is sitting, and shows an unbelievable change in attitude.) I’m glad you came to see me so we could straighten this out. A customer’s goodwill is the most important thing in this business. Let’s go down to the cashier’s office so she can write you a check. Now if you ever need another car, you come in and see me personally. I can make you a great deal. We have the best selection in town. (Opens door for Jack, walks down the hall with his arm over Jack’s shoulder, smiling and talking to Jack with his TV sales pitch personality automatically switched on and operating)

After each encounter with the car dealer’s staff, Jack kept in touch with me for feedback on how he had handled the situation and further coaching. We discussed the possible manipulative or fight-and-flight behavior that the sales personnel might display and I coached Jack on how he might cope with it. Incredible as it may seem, the particular behaviors we prepared for were exactly the behaviors Jack encountered, even to the point of the owner picking up the car keys, slamming them down on his desk, and cursing at Jack just prior to refunding his money. Jack’s reply to this anticipated temper tantrum was the cool, coached response of: “I’m sure this upsets you, but I want to get my money back (not: can I get my money back?) as soon as possible. I’d like to do some other things today beside this.”

As you might suspect, Jack was very pleased with the results of our detailed preparation for this learning exercise and his actual performance in the real situation. We had even planned for the possibility of the first salesman getting frustrated and angry or nervous and leaving, with Jack to call him back or to follow him wherever he went—an unlikely possibility since (1) the salesman’s job was to deal with dissatisfied customers and he probably had a lot of successful experience in putting customers off in the past, and (2) Jack was well practiced in not getting angry himself, agreeing with the viewpoint of the salesman and yet sticking to the point of what he wanted—repairs, another car, or a refund.

When Jack saw me next after his encounter with the owner, he didn’t wait for me to ask him how things went, but handed over a check made out to him and commented with a smile: “It was like shooting fish in a barrel.” Although Jack’s encounter with the used-car dealer makes a good story for encouraging other learners to seriously practice systematic assertive therapy, two important points must be kept in mind to place Jack’s success in clear perspective. First, the immediate question that needs an answer was asked me by one of my colleagues when Jack told him of his success: “How did you know what to tell Jack? How could you predict what the salesman and owner would do so accurately?” Simple. No mystery. I made, as it turned out, a shrewd guess based upon my own experience and success in a similar encounter with a used-car dealer some twenty years ago when I was a student. My guess was that fight-and-flight patterns hadn’t changed much since then and, at least for this used-car dealer, my guess was right. However, the advice I gave to Jack on what might happen, assertively coaching and preparing him for it, was only the frosting on the basic assertive cake. Having some information on how and when other people might use fight-or-flight behavior to deal with him when he did not respond to their manipulation was relatively unimportant in comparison to Jack’s own general ability to cope assertively; this is the second point we need to keep in mind to place Jack’s success in clear perspective. Jack learned to be more assertive to regain his self-respect and to stop manipulation of his behavior by other people. He did not exert all his effort in learning to be assertive just to get a refund on a used car, even though that was one obvious side benefit. If Jack had not decided to get a refund, or if the owner had refused a refund, Jack still had achieved his primary goal—to be able to stand face to face with someone and say what he wanted, not to be intimidated or manipulated, to solve a problem in conflict and thereby feel better about himself. These things he accomplished.