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A failure to communicate...

In 1978, our Chevy Vega GT was four years old. It still looked great with its red paint, metal wheels, 4-speed, positraction, and bucket seats. However, the engine was completely worn out after only 45,000 miles, a causality of a design flaw. It was hard to start, used oil, and was a serious inconvenience if you relied on it for transportation. I decided to sell it at a price that reflected its poor condition.

On a sunny Saturday, I got up early, washed the Vega and painted a for sale sign on the window with a white shoe marker. From the outside, the Vega GT looked great. To my surprise, the engine fired right up. It was as if the Vega knew what was up and it wanted to be on its best behavior to entice a new owner.

As I drove the Vega to a location where cars were displayed on Saturdays for sale, I attracted immediate attention with the apparent low price and two cars followed me to the lot. The drivers both were interested in this flashy red hatchback. After I explained the engines condition, they both drove away as fast as they showed up.

When I got back to our house and was working in the yard, Candace told me that a woman had called about the car and that she was heading over to our house because she wanted the car. The woman arrived about fifteen minutes later with a young teenager whom she introduced as her daughter. She told me that she wanted to buy the Vega GT because it would be the perfect car for her daughter to drive to High School.

I looked at her daughter and visualized her late for school sadly cranking an engine that wouldn’t start. I informed the woman that the car’s engine was shot and that it would be the worst vehicle her daughter could get for reliable transportation. She didn’t seem to be listening so I said it again. I then asked if she or her daughter or anybody in her family was a good enough auto mechanic to rebuild the engine. She said no. I then asked her if her daughter had the budget to have the engine rebuilt. The woman answered no, and then added that the low price was what made the Vega so great. I tired to explain that the low price was set for a reason.

Finally, after realizing that our communication was not converging, I told the woman that I was not going to sell her the car because both she and her daughter were going to wind up very disappointed. The woman didn’t thank me for my honesty or concern. Instead, she got angry and insisted that I sell her the car. I said no again, and she left even angrier. The teenage daughter looked a little disappointed but I detected a trace of something different, maybe relief, or perhaps wonder.

Years later, when I reflect on this event, I am more amused than amazed. It was a classic case of non-communication where emotion collided with logic and neither side really listened. I also learned that effective communication needs to recognize the complicated interplay of emotion and logic. If one party is basing their opinion on emotion, you need to deal on the emotional level first. Once you have connected on an emotional level then, and only then, can you try to add a little logic.