People are often too quick to assume that interest-oriented persuasion, consensus building, and conflict resolution won’t apply to certain situations. Last week, CBS reported on a Mr. Bill Bartman, owner of a debt collection agency with a policy of what the CBS reporter called “kindness.” In fact, Mr. Bartmann’s “kindness” is actually an excellent example of enlightened, interest-driven persuasion.
Bartmann began by looking at things from the point of view of a debtor. When people are in debt, that means they don’t have money. So, rather than employing experienced debt collectors to harass these people, Bartmann hires experienced customer care representatives to help debtors get back on a sound financial footing. In other words, he addresses their interests in improving their situation, rather than hammer away at his own interest in collecting the debts.
And if you’re thinking Bartmann shortchanges himself, guess again. He reports making 200% more than his competitors. A university president even nominated Bartmann for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. As is so often the case, Bartmann’s own interests are satisfied better because he addresses the interests of the person he wishes to persuade to pay up. More specifically, he addresses the interest that’s preventing the debtor from addressing his—she’s broke.
Bartmann uses a similar interest-oriented approach to motivating his employees. Whereas most collection agencies pay a percentage of the amount an agent collects, Bartmann rewards his staff on the basis of how many free services they provide to the debtors. These services range from helping people get government assistance, fill out application forms, schedule interviews, improve their resumes, and find housing.
This, too, is working to Bartmann’s advantage. The more help an employee gives a debtor, the more likely that debtor is to get back on her feet, and the more quickly she does so. And the sooner the debtor gets back on her feet, the sooner she pays the debts Barton’s agency is hired to collect.
One such debtor, a nurse who fell behind on payments when her working hours were reduced, recounts the way, Barton told her, “I’m here to help you.” This gave her hope that she could get out of debt, and sure enough, she did. She repaid it all, and declares that she loves her debt collector.
So the next time you feel tempted to rush to the conclusion that your interest-oriented skills will not work in a tough situation, give them the old college try anyway. You might be surprised at how well you come out.