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A PowerAnswer is an approach to problem solving that relies upon power disparity rather than collaboration. Generally it is the issuing party's final action in dealing with a problem, though there are exceptions.
- At MeatSpace retail stores, refusal to accept a return unless the customer provides a receipt, regardless of the merits of the situation
- Volume-based internet communities, such as Yahoo, that generally refuse to work collaboratively with customers to resolve password problems or other usage difficulties
- The ebaY community, which is notorious for unilateral rulemaking and selective enforcement
- The Paypal example below
- In online communities, a LegalThreat
- Examples abound in dealing with postal services, telephone companies, and cable companies
- MicroSoft's end-user technical support, which generally refers callers to other vendors
- Many situations in employment and landlord/tenant relationships
- A labor strike
Generally, a PowerAnswer will strain any relationship. The person who receives a PowerAnswer has four choices:
Not surprisingly, PowerAnswers are doled out most often when the RightToLeave is weak, due to monopoly or high switching costs.
In online communities, a PowerAnswer will at a minimum cause the participant receiving it to reevaluate their reasons for being a part of the community. In many cases it will lead to departure, unless the SuperordinateGoal is especially compelling, or the participant has few other opportunities for social interaction.
Generally, the goals of a PowerAnswer are to:
- minimize the issuer's involvment in the problem
- reduce the likelihood of a scope expansion
- minimize the damage to the relationship
The technique for meeting these goals:
- Prepare carefully. Anticipate any scope expansion and the likelihood of departure and be sure the risk inherent in the PowerAnswer is worth taking. As in the game of chess, try to anticipate the other party's likely responses to the PowerAnswer and determine in advance how to deal with each one.
- Be direct rather than beating around the bush. Do not feign collaboration, instead acknowledge that the action is power-based. Feigning collaboration in a power-based interaction is a sign of immaturity and is extremely damaging.
- Make no apology, as it would be perceived as insincere and increase the damage to the relationship
- Avoid discussion of any scope expansion. Phrases such as "do what you have to do" or "that is your choice" can be used if a threat of scope expansion is made by the other party.
- Where applicable, close the discussion on a positive note, pointing out the value of future interaction.
There are exceptions to these goals, as when a PowerAnswer as a RedHerring? for terminating a relationship by encouraging exercise of a RightToLeave.
The most important thing to remember when receiving a PowerAnswer is that it signifies that the discussion is over. Therefore, do not try to continue the discussion by offering alternatives, making threats, issuing putdowns, etc. Most of these have the potential to complicate matters later no matter how you ultimately respond. Instead, listen, and after the discussion is over sort out your alternatives and decide what to do -- you can always QuestionAuthority? later.
On the other hand, SalesBeginWithNo?. It may sound like a final answer, and the issuer may intend it to be a final answer, but it might not be. To build on MeatSpace examples, it is not unusual for a customer service rep to say there is absolutely nothing they can do for you, and mean it, but then a few minutes later, they do. It is, of course, generally to be approached as a sale rather than as a discussion or confrontation, due to the power disparity.
Sometimes people misinterpret comments or suggestions as power-answers, just because of who they come from.
I recently received this letter from PayPal after trying to get a duplicate charge straighted out:
- Dear __,
- Thank you for contacting PayPal.
- We have completed our investigation of your case and, it has been determined that this is not an instance of unauthorized account activity, we have denied your Unauthorized Account Use Claim. Through careful research of your claim, it was found that this particular transaction(s) was a duplicate payment(s).
- PayPal is a user-initiated system and will only initiate payments that are requested. Duplicate transactions may be the result of more than one payment being initiated. In this case we suggest that you contact the recipient and make arrangements to have them send the money back to you via PayPal or another method of your choosing.
This is an excellent example of a PowerAnswer. It makes it clear that PayPal has no intention whatsoever to help resolve the problem, yet through the use of passive voice it avoids assigning blame.