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I Wanted Fries with That: How to Ask for What You Want and Get What You Need

I Wanted Fries with That: How to Ask for What You Want and Get What You Need

by Amy Fish
I Wanted Fries with That: How to Ask for What You Want and Get What You Need

I Wanted Fries with That: How to Ask for What You Want and Get What You Need

by Amy Fish


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At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced an injustice, large or small — a restaurant botching our lunch order or a boss who isn’t following the guidelines for workplace etiquette — and suffered in silence for fear of offending anyone. When we fail to speak up, however, we shortchange ourselves. Amy Fish encourages standing up for yourself (and others) by complaining effectively. Her suggestions will appeal to anyone who wants to speak up and isn’t sure where to start, including managers navigating workplace disputes, couples who argue about the same things over and over, and even someone with a friend with bad breath. Illustrating her points with funny real-life stories, Fish reveals pragmatic methods to redress grievances with civility, honesty, and fairness for everyone involved — whether you’re trying to right the wrongs of the world or just claim the french fries you ordered.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608686193
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 708,952
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

As ombudsman at Concordia University in Montreal, Amy Fish resolves complaints from students, faculty, and staff. She has written for the Huffington Post Canada, Reader’s Digest, and the Globe and Mail and appeared on CBC Marketplace and CTV News. She lives in Montreal.

Read an Excerpt


How to Get Greener Lettuce

* * *

Involve the Artist

Please jump into my time machine and fasten your seat belt. I hope you haven't eaten yet, because we are headed for a submarine sandwich shop in 1996. I am on a lunch break from work.

Oh man, look how long the line is. I can't wait for my turkey sub. My favorite ingredient is the shredded lettuce. It's cold and wet and crunchy and it fills up the sub nicely. The line is moving like molasses on a snail's back. I just finished grad school, and I'm working at a hospital in downtown Toronto. Let me introduce you to my two coworkers, Ward and Ollie. We eat lunch together every day and will continue to do so for the next three years. Ward is the only person I know who actually plays the McDonald's Monopoly game and thinks he's going to win.* Ollie just proposed to his girlfriend, who is part Amish.

We are next in line. The lettuce in the display case looks a little brown. I am so disappointed. All I wanted was some nice, green iceberg.

Sandwich Artist is looking at me expectantly, twirling her lip ring with her tongue.

"Six-inch turkey on brown," I say.

"What toppings would you like with that?"

What do I do now? Do I say, "Everything except hot peppers," as I usually would, and live with the lukewarm lettuce? Or do I say, "No hot peppers, no lettuce," and eat a soggy sub that has only the half- hearted crunch of cucumber sliced paper thin?

My first reaction is to accept mediocrity. I can survive with brown lettuce. My lunch doesn't have to be fantastic. I don't have to live every moment as if it were my last. (Pinterest quotes have not been invented yet.) There will be other subs. I don't want to cause a scene.

Plus, if I do say something, she'll probably just ignore me and go on layering green peppers onto seven-grain bread with her smug latex gloves. She doesn't care about my sub or my lettuce. There's no point in speaking up. I don't have a chance.

Oy, that is so sad. I am giving up before I even started. That's like getting to the top of the Olympic track and not rocking back and forth to launch my luge because my aerodynamic boots will probably touch the side of the ice, and I'll lose the 2.17 seconds I so badly need for the Gold. I'm not even going to try to keep my body completely still and beat my previous record. I'm just going to sit here and wish I took up curling instead.

Yes, my aerodynamic boot may touch the side, and I may lose the race. But just as likely, I may win the race. I may slide down the track faster than anyone ever has, beating not only my personal best but also the competitor on my left, who I could swear illegally greased their sled. The race is fraught with uncertainty. One thing we know for sure is that I have to at least jump on my sled to get greener lettuce. Meaning, when dealing with brown lettuce, you have to try to correct it, or nothing will ever be fixed. Doing nothing is the worst possible option, and let me tell you why.

If I say nothing about the lettuce, I will have to eat something I don't want. If I get less enjoyment out of my sub, I'll have to go back to work this afternoon feeling unsatisfied. This will no doubt lead me to the vending machines, where there will be no lettuce whatsoever, and I will be forced to buy three Twix bars just to even out. I will then have to show up at my Weight Watchers meeting and announce, looking at the scale, "I tried, but the lettuce was brown." Remember, this is 1996 when Weight Watchers did not exist on your phone. People left their homes to attend meetings where they were weighed behind a supposedly opaque screen. Alternatively, I will have the willpower to ignore the chocolate, but will spend the rest of the day feeling vaguely unsettled, like something is missing.

Another thing: If I suffer through the brown lettuce, and I say nothing, then everyone in line behind me — which at this point is like eighty-seven people — will be stuck with brown lettuce too. They will sadly pick at their steak-and-cheese, their pastrami- hold-the-jalapeño, or — even worse — their tuna salad, all thinking that if only the lettuce wasn't so brown, the sun would be shining a little more brightly today. And I will be partially to blame. I could have fixed the problem when I had a chance.

On the other hand, I can demand to see the manager. I can ask her what in the name of sliced Swiss she was thinking by putting out lettuce not just tinged with brown — but riddled with brown creeping along the edges of each and every leaf. Does she think we are fools? Not a chance! We are better than that! We are stronger! We are — still hungry because that ploy will never work.

Here's why shrieking at the manager is a no-go: It would be causing a scene. We are in a crowded restaurant, accusing the staff of doing something wrong, and embarrassing them by immediately going over their heads and speaking to the manager.

But wait, why should we be nice? They have done something wrong! They have attempted to serve us imperfect iceberg! They're trying to dupe us!

True, someone somewhere may have let the lettuce tray slip through quality control. But we don't know if this is a purposeful attempt to move inventory or just carelessness by people who are marking time till they can go home and soak their feet. We don't know if Sandwich Artist pointed out the brown lettuce to a manager, and she herself was told not to make waves. Until we can confirm intentional deception, I think it is in our best interest to remain calm and not raise our voices. The literature about standing up for yourself agrees with me: "Standing up for yourself doesn't mean being a rude tyrant. There's definitely a happy medium between aggressiveness and assertiveness."

I'm worried that if we ask for the manager, we are going to stall the line. Don't forget, we have to get back to work. By the time the manager comes out, listens to our plight, and helps brainstorm a solution, hours may pass, and everyone in line will be looking at us, annoyed, and we will be embarrassed.

We've agreed that we aren't going to tolerate suboptimal lettuce. And we've agreed that asking for a manager would be premature at this point. So, what are we left with?

We can't leap over the acrylic counter ourselves and grab the fresher lettuce. That would be both unsanitary and grounds for calling 911. If we are going to get better lettuce on our subs, we need Sandwich Artist to help us. We have to get her on our side.

Watch what I do next.

Sandwich Artist has just asked me what I want on my sub. I catch her eye. I look down at the lettuce. I look back up at her, and I say:

"Does this lettuce look a little brown to you?"

She looks at the lettuce. Nods her head. Reaches below the counter, and, Hallelujah, Praise the Lord — she pulls out a fresh batch of shredded iceberg with nary a brownish leaf to be found.

What worked?

What worked is that we included the server in the conversation. We went with the fundamental belief that everyone is operating in good faith, and that all we have to do to get something corrected is to point it out. When I asked her if the lettuce looked brown, she had the chance to pause, look down at it, and form her own opinion. She agreed that it was browner than it should have been. She had the tools to correct the situation — a better lettuce supply — and she did so without any fuss.

The other thing we did well here is that we let said artist comment as an expert. Our question basically was "As someone who makes sandwiches all day long, and is very experienced in the area of lettuce, does this lettuce look brown to you?" We trusted her to give an expert opinion, and since she was empowered to do something about it, she changed the lettuce right away.

We did her a favor, because we gave her the opportunity to cast herself as the hero in the story. When we speak up, one thing we need to remember is that we are building alliances with the people who can solve our problems. This might be a sandwich artist, a clerk behind a desk, or a customer service agent on the phone. All of these people have something we want, such as new lettuce or a full refund. Sometimes all we have to do is let them see that there's a situation to be corrected and give them the chance to correct it on their own.

Now, what if she had said, "No, I don't think it looks brown" — then what would we have done? We would have pushed a little further, and maybe said something like "Really? Must be the light. From this angle, it looks kinda brown." If that didn't work, then we could maybe put a bit more pressure, with a question: "Do we have any other lettuce we can use?" Again, giving her another opportunity to save the day for us, veggie-wise.

If that didn't work either, then it would be time to evaluate how important the lettuce is, and depending on how hungry we are, how much time we have, and whether there's a line at the burger place across the street, we would make a quick decision about buying the sub now or dipping out and grabbing something somewhere else.

Before we jump back into the time machine so I can take you home, I have to congratulate you. You have learned the first lesson of speaking up.

The first lesson of speaking up is: it works.

Sure, it doesn't work all the time. But sometimes, it's easy. All you have to do is point out the potential problem, and the universe (or in this case, the Sandwich Artist) takes care of the rest. Had I stayed quiet, I would not have had a chance. Because I spoke up, my sub was more delicious, and I improved lunch for every single one of the 112 people in line behind me.

The second lesson you learned today is that you can include the person you're complaining to in your complaint, and invite them to help you. Many people are thrilled to ride in on their white horses and offer you fresh lettuce.

Third, when given the chance to save the day, many people will grab it, and you will end up getting the lettuce you want and need.

When Else to Use This Technique

The "Involve the Artist" technique works well with airline or train reservations, in which case we would call it "Involve the Ticket Agent." Let's say your flight has been canceled, and you need to rebook. The ticket agent usually has the ability to fix your problem. I suggest you open by saying the lettuce looks brown. Just kidding. That would be confusing. I suggest you open with a comment about how crowded the airport is, or a question about what time the shifts change. You can ask if the people on the flight have been losing their cool, which would indicate that you're on her side. Then tell her that you believe in her ability to get you to your destination. Let her fingers work their magic on the keyboard, and chances are she will try to help you. If you can say things like "I'm counting on you" without being condescending, I believe it's worth a try.

Or you might want to try this technique over the phone, when you are calling to complain about something you ordered online. When the person answers the phone and says, "Hi, this is Janet," you can answer with something like "Hi, Janet. I'm so happy you answered my call. I really need your help." And then continue to involve Janet, and ask her opinion. This might sound like "Janet, I ordered the Mom Jeans in size 28, and they were too small. Are they running on the small side?" or "Have you had a lot of Mom Jean returns?" Ask questions that give Janet a chance to share some of her expertise. That will encourage her to help you. From what I understand, there is a lot of variability in what telephone customer service agents can do for you. There's no way to really ascertain what Janet's superpowers are unless you give her a chance to show you. Give her the chance.


How to Register for a Sold-Out Event

* * *

Admit When You're Wrong

My great-aunt and great-uncle are eighty-eight and eighty-nine years old, respectively, and I love them to pieces. They have a summer house that they bought for about $1.50 in 1970 and has grown so tremendously in value that we probably could not afford to buy a blade of grass on that island at today's prices. I had my first birthday there, and I have come back almost every August since. For a million years, we have timed our visit around a 5k race that my husband takes very seriously, and the rest of us try to complete in under six hours without requiring crutches, ankle tape, or a police escort.

Normally, my aunt and uncle register us for the race. They sign us up at the community center and then go across the street for a single slice of pizza, which they share while sitting in rocking chairs on the porch.

This year, for the first time ever, in-person sign-up is no longer an option.

All registration has to take place online, on the internet.

My great-aunt gives me this information and tells me that they are looking forward to seeing us, that they can no longer run but will be bringing lawn chairs to cheer us on, and after the race we can all go across the street for pizza, or we can do takeout and bring the pizza home.

I get off the phone with her and promptly forget everything except the promise of pizza. The place across the street from the community center makes their pies with farm-fresh toppings ranging from eggs to fennel. They have plain cheese and pepperoni too.

Several weeks pass, and it occurs to me that the sign-up for the race must be soon. I check the website, and, thankfully, I haven't yet missed the date — online sign-up is in a couple of days. I mark the date and set an alarm on my phone.

That day begins like any other. I get up, go to work, pick up my coffee at Tim Horton's on the way, and mute the alarm for online race sign-up. Check my email, mute the alarm again, do some more work, spill my XL coffee (two-milk-two-sugar), wipe up the mess, and then scroll through to see what my alarm was going on about earlier. Oh, right — race sign-up.

I find the website, register all five of us (my husband and me and our three kids), and click for payment. It doesn't go through.

Refresh again, use another credit card, wonder what's going on.

Race is full.

Race is full?

Race sold out in less than two hours. Registration opened at 8 a.m. and by 9:37 a.m. there were no spots to be had. It's now after two o'clock in the afternoon.

How can that be possible?

Since the beginning of time, every summer — bar none — someone from my aunt and uncle's vacation house has run in the road race. They have a commemorative T-shirt from every single year. They had a photographer take pictures of all the shirts, which they had made into a poster that they donated to the race committee. The poster was sold as a fundraiser for the race's thirty- fifth birthday.

Those T-shirts are only available to those running the race. And this year's T-shirt will now not be available to any of us, because we are not registered and therefore will not be running.

How am I going to break them the news? This is not going to be easy. I will admit that I was wrong, but I decide to put it off until I get there, hoping that once they see our brave faces, some of the sting will be gone. I will bring it up after dinner but before Jeopardy! That way, we'll be relaxed, but discussion will have to be quick because their show is about to start.

We drive close to eight hours, take a ferry, drive another forty-ish minutes, and pile out of the car. I bound up the stairs to greet them while Dave and the kids unpack the car. I take one look at my uncle's face, and my rational break-it-to-them-gently plan flies out the window. I blurt out immediately: "We aren't registered for the race. I tried my best but the race sold out too quickly, and I couldn't get us a spot." I am barely holding back tears. I feel so bad that this thirty- plus-year tradition is about to be broken by me, just because I muted an alarm. I didn't realize how quickly the spots would sell out.

My uncle takes both my hands in his. I kneel, so that we are face- to-face. "Amy," he says, his voice raspy. "I am really, really disappointed in you."

Oh man. Kill me now. A knife in the heart would have been less painful.

He is the last person on earth I would ever want to disappoint. And over something so preventable. How am I going to fix this? It's unfixable. I am still next to him, frozen in place, when my husband comes in and surveys the scene.

"We'll go by the community center first thing in the morning," he he says. "I'm sure we'll be able to buy a T-shirt." He is completely calm.


Excerpted from "I Wanted Fries with That"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Amy Fish.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: I Wanted Fries with That xv

About the Book: The Hole in the Story xix

Part I I Want My Problem Solved

1 How to Get Greener Lettuce: Involve the Artist 5

2 How to Register for a Sold-Out Event: Admit When You're Wrong 13

3 How to Get the Insurance Adjuster to Show Up: Put Yourself in Their Shoes 20

4 How to Get the Person in Front of You to Move Their Seat Up: Go Step-by-Step 26

5 How to Get Your Appliance Repaired: Be Clear and Concise 33

6 How to Get Clingy Children to Back Off: Use the Resolution Continuum 39

7 How to Exchange a Onesie (When You'd Rather Get Your Money Back): Be Prepared to Compromise 44

8 How to Report a Rhyming Physician or Other Health-Care Professional: Consider Your Timing 52

9 How to Get a Ski Jacket Repaired without a Receipt, and Also Return a Coffeemaker: Two Stories with the Same Ending 57

10 How to Find a Unicorn Frappuccino: Listen for Clues 70

11 How to Get Your Log-In ID and Password to Function Correctly: Stay on It 79

12 How to Get Your Money Back When Your Favorite Dress Is Ruined: Some Questions Remain Unanswered 86

13 How to Get Your Teacher to Raise Your Grade: Show the Evidence 93

14 How to Stay Alive While Your Complaint Is Being Investigated: Remain Calm 99

Part II I Want You to Change

15 How to Get Your Guests to Arrive on Time for Dinner: Learn the Serenity Prayer 113

16 How to Ask Your Husband to Put Down His Cellphone During Dinner: Set the Bar Low 119

17 How to Get Your Boss to Stop Changing Her Mind: Report Her to the Fashion Police 125

18 How to Ask Someone to Freshen Their Breath: Be Direct 132

19 How to Get Someone to Shower More Frequently Because They Stink: Be Compassionate 141

20 How to Get Your Volunteers to Dress More Appropriately: Reframe the Situation 146

Part III I Want Justice to Be Served

21 How to Get Bacon Out of the Synagogue Refrigerator: Collect Data 161

22 How to Prevent Grandma from Falling on a Pile of Broken Pipes: File an Official Complaint 170

23 How to Get on the Kiddie Coaster with Your Three-Year-Old If You Are Wet and Black: Ask for the Manager 181

24 How to Get Your Coworkers to Clean the Kitchen: Be More Threatening 188

25 How to Call Out Another Mom for Suboptimal Cupcake Behavior: Speak Up Even If It Hurts 194

26 How to Accidentally Get Your Waiter Fired: Rise Above the Fear 201

27 How to Get the Break You Deserve at Work: Know Your Rights 209

Conclusion 215

Acknowledgments 221

Endnotes 225

About the Author 227

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Amy provides a smile on every page.”
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice, about The Art of Complaining Effectively by Amy Fish

“Fish’s how-to guide for effective complaining is effervescent with a breezy sense of humor . . . a blueprint to getting what you need with the right words and a delicate touch.”

“Readers looking for advice on raising concerns effectively will find this guide to be a valuable tool.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Sharing a host of entertaining stories, Fish describes in depth how to ask someone to freshen their breath, call out another mom for suboptimal behavior, and how to get the break one deserves at work. She stresses that communication needs to be ongoing and clear, and that by complaining effectively we will make the world a better place for the next person. This page-turner of a self-help book highlights great ideas on almost every page.”
Library Journal

“Great advice about how and why you should and can negotiate your desires and advocate for others as well as yourself.”
San Francisco Book Review

“Amy Fish is laugh-out-loud funny, and her words carry an important message: we need to stand up not only for ourselves but for everyone in line behind us. I found myself nodding feverishly in agreement. I wish I had read this twenty years earlier so I could have imparted more of this information to my children. It is so sensible.”
— Nancy Spielberg, producer, Playmount Productions

“Self-improvement has never been easier or more enjoyable, engaging, amusing, and effective. Amy Fish delivers clear-cut instructions with passion and wit, teaching even the most reluctant complainers how to speak up for themselves. You’ll laugh your way to a stronger, better you.”
— Lara Lillibridge, bestselling author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama: An Irreverent Guide for the Newly Single Parent

“With warmth, humor, wisdom, and deep respect for others, Amy Fish gives you the strategies and courage to speak in your own voice to ask for what you want or need. This is storytelling and complaint handling at their very best.”
— Lydia Cummings, university ombudsman

“Laugh-out-loud funny and packed with wise and practical advice on making your voice heard, this book should be on everyone’s reading list.”
— Susan E. Opler, ombudsman, City of Toronto

“Fresh, crisp, and terrifically useful advice. Especially good for those of us who’ve never had the nerve to send back a dish at a restaurant, these easy scripts and practical examples will help us all learn a kinder, gentler way of making things better.”
— Sam Bennett, author of Get It Done

“Take it from someone who avoids complaining at all costs: Amy Fish’s I Wanted Fries with That made me want to speak up and speak out! She offers practical advice laced with enough humor to make even the most skittish of us stand up and get exactly what we want.”
— Athena Dixon, author of No God in This Room

“Amy Fish’s book gave me great tips I can use at work, where I spend a lot of time negotiating with opposing counsel, and at home, where I spend a lot of time negotiating with my teenage kids. It also made me laugh along the way.”
— Susan Gradman, Chicago attorney

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