By David L. Sefton, M.S., CPA
Occasionally, even the most honest and laid back bird breeders will have disagreements with purchasers of their baby birds. Usually, these disagreements can be traced back to honest misunderstandings on the part of each person. Unfortunately, the expression of the disagreement can sometimes cause hurt feelings and anger, resulting in a simple situation spiraling out of control. Disagreements aren't limited to purchases of birds. They can occur between breeders, bird club members and suppliers as well. Purchasing baby birds from bird breeders tends to be the source of the most frustrating disagreements and, perhaps, the majority of conflicts. Regardless of the source of the conflict, the following resolution methods usually work successfully.
As a general example, the reason purchasing baby birds causes so much friction is that you are dealing with a bird breeder on one hand who is knowledgeable (and takes that knowledge for granted) and a purchaser who typically knows nothing about baby birds. Bird breeders frequently consider a "common sense" solution to problems. "Common sense," by its very definition, means common to bird breeders. What is "common" to an unsophisticated purchaser is another matter.
Disagreements almost always occur when a baby bird dies. Breeders should try to consider the problem from the purchaser's perspective. They have paid a great deal of money (compared to buying a goldfish from a pet store, for instance), and most things that cost money have some type of warranty. From the breeder's perspective, most baby birds die as a result of the purchaser's neglect. How can this be balanced?
A Step At A Time
When a conflict arises, there are steps I take to solve the problem before it escalates. First, I don't ever talk over the phone with someone who is angry. This also applies to e-mail. Impersonal communication allows matters to greatly escalate and causes people to say hateful things that they would never say to someone's face. If the problem has inherent emotional energy driving the conflict, such as a pet dying, it is really good to have a face-to-face meeting. I offer to meet them at their place, however I prefer public settings like a coffee shop. Again, this tends to help people be on their best behavior. I listen to their side attentively. I give careful consideration to what they say, and I don't interrupt. Sometimes, listening is enough to solve most problems. I always try to validate their feelings without necessarily approving their logic. If someone has, for instance, lost a baby bird, I am sure to express sorrow and regret — no matter whose fault. That goes a long way to helping a person feel you take them seriously. Keep your voice and manner calm, and don't respond to anger with anger.
If it is clear that no resolution can be reached, I frequently tell them I wish to consider the matter carefully and would appreciate them sending me a letter covering all their points, so I can be sure to understand where they are coming from. Frequently, people don't want to write letters and let the matter drop at that point. If they send a letter, it is usually a little less emotional and, many times, once people see their position on paper, they can see for themselves if they are being unreasonable. I respond to the letter in writing, thanking them for taking the time to write. I tell them they have some valid points and I would like two weeks to respond. This gives time for matters to cool down. When I reach a decision, I talk to the person face to face, and lay out the reason for my position. I always suggest taking the matter to dispute resolutions. Typically, your local State Bar, city or county has dispute resolution centers that allow people to mediate problems. I have found these to be enormously helpful. It keeps issues from going legal. If a dispute is ruled against me, I typically try to follow their recommendation. Usually, they explain to the other party that you have been giving them a reasonable solution.
The key to solving disputes is keeping the problems from escalating. Try to keep emotions and stress out of the picture. Always deal with the conflict calmly. Don't look at the matter from an ego perspective by "putting your foot down." Always work toward resolution and look for compromises.