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Lessons from a squeaky sofa

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

After Roger Schwarz bought a new sofa, he found that it squeaked when he sat on it at home. He complained to the store’s owner, who insisted that the sofa was identical to the others he sold—and they all squeaked.

Schwarz and the owner decided to test three sofas at the warehouse (same model and color) to determine if they squeaked. If they didn’t squeak, the owner would conclude that Schwarz’s sofa was substandard and he’d get a new one free. But if they did squeak, Schwarz promised to pay more for a different model that didn’t squeak. None of the three sofas squeaked. The owner asked Schwarz to make a small pen mark in an inconspicuous spot on one of the sofas to identify it.

Then the owner agreed to go to Schwarz’s house with the marked sofa. When the owner sat on Schwarz’s sofa, he realized it squeaked. The marked sofa didn’t squeak (the owner thus confirmed that the floor in Schwarz’s house wasn’t causing the noise). So he gave Schwarz the marked sofa for free.

When Schwarz asked the owner, “What do you think about the way we dealt with our disagreement?,” the owner replied, “This was a really fair way to resolve our disagreement.” He added that it was the most educational customer complaint he’d ever had.

— Adapted from Smart Leaders Smarter Teams, Roger Schwarz, Jossey-Bass.

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