On being ... certain

By Ingrid Sapona

I had an incredibly frustrating experience yesterday and, as I often do when this kind of thing happens, I tried to find some “lesson” in it. Admittedly, this business of looking beyond the frustration (or irritation, or sadness or whatever) for something positive I can take away from it is just a coping mechanism -- but it usually works for me.

Here’s what happened. I’m getting ready to move into a condo and the room that’ll be my office doesn’t have any fixed lighting. So, I called an electrician (Joe) who friends recommended. From the moment I met Joe, there was something about him I liked and trusted. We discussed a number of lighting issues and during the course of the discussions my confidence in him only went up.

In terms of lighting for my office, the news was not what I hoped. It seems that because the ceiling is concrete (with no electrical fitting roughed in), my choices are rather limited. One option Joe explained was a special type of track lighting that allows you to run a line up the wall that then feeds into the end of the track. Given the alternatives, I think it’s probably the best option so I kind of quizzed Joe about it to make sure I understood how it worked and to try to visualize it.

Sensing my earnest interest in trying to understand what he was describing, Joe did all he could to help me understand. He drew a rough sketch of the fitting on a scrap of paper and wrote down the name of the type of fitting I should look for when I go shopping: he said I need a track with an “end feed”. After our meeting I felt confident that I understood the solution and I headed to a well known lighting store to see what they had that fit the criteria.

Fortunately, I had recently dropped in there, so I had already faced (and gotten over) what I call the “overwhelming factor”. In my wildest dreams I never imagined there were so many different ways of making lights. The first time I walked in I felt the way I’m sure early ornithologists must have felt when they went to some far off land and discovered completely different species of birds than those they were used to!

Anyway, after looking around a bit, I headed to customer service for help. When the salesman came over, I explained that I am looking for track lighting with an “end feed”. He took me to a display that showed small bits of track with different fittings. None of them looked like what Joe drew, so I asked whether any of them were an end feed. He pointed to one and it didn’t look anything like Joe’s sketch. Joe had explained to me that the fitting must fit flush with both the wall and ceiling but all the samples in the display had the fittings mounted in the centre of a plate so they would not be flush with the wall.

I told him my electrician was very clear about what I needed and I proceeded to describe my situation, including the limitations of the concrete ceiling, etc. The salesperson stood there expressionless as I spoke and when I was done he said, “Yeah” and, once again pointed to the one he pointed to before, saying “That’s the one”. I then said, “But I don’t see how that would work. I need one that would sit flush with both the ceiling and wall -- I don’t think it should be centered in the middle of a plate like that”. In response he said, in a rather irritated tone, “You have to have that plate and that’s how they’re mounted.”

His insistence that that was the fitting made me start to wonder how it could possibly work. Was I simply not able to envision how the installation would work or what it would look like? I tried one more time to explain my confusion and I asked him to help me understand. To that he simply reiterated what he said before. I stood there for a few minutes with a look of disbelief. Finally, given my blank stare at the display, he walked toward another salesman at a nearby desk. I followed and when we got close I proceeded to tell the second salesman that I need an end feed track and that I didn’t see how any of those on the display would work.

The second salesman got up and walked to the display and took a look. In a matter of seconds he said, “None of those are the end feed mounts -- I guess we don’t have any on display.” Then he looked up the inventory item number and gave it to the first salesman, who simply responded, “Oh.”

By that time I was so fed up I decided to put off buying it for another day (and likely at another store). All the way home I was thinking about the experience and about how irritated I felt. Was I just bothered by the fact that the first salesman didn’t even acknowledge he was wrong, much less that I might be right? Or was my anger a result of his dismissive attitude toward me? And why was he dismissive? Did I sound like I didn’t know what I was talking about? Or did he just see me as a clueless blond? Or perhaps I was somehow to blame -- maybe my tone or words made him feel I was dismissive of his expertise, given that I kept saying that what he was telling me didn’t seem to jive with what my electrician said.

Eventually I realized that what bothered me was that the salesman had been so smugly certain and I let his certitude erode my confidence in what I understood. Once I realized that, the life lesson in this little episode became clear: I need to be more certain. That said, I’m pretty sure that’s probably not going to happen…

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona