Let’s say you purchase a defective product. You try to return it but there’s a hitch. There’s a temptation to call the company that made it. And complain. And ask for money back or a replacement. Some folks announce that “I’m going to call the President of the company and give him [or her] a piece of my mind.”  Sometimes it works.  And the decision is justified.  But if the President says “sorry” – you’re fresh out of options. 

When I have an issue with a company (or product or organization or whatever), I try to accomplish at the lowest possible level that which I want accomplished.  So when I have a problem, issue, complaint or rant — and I want something done — I start with the person who answers the phone.  It may be Nancy or John or Elmer or Bambi.  And I explain.  If they can’t help me, I say “may I speak to your supervisor please?”   And I go up the ladder.  Using this procedure, you get perhaps five bites of the apple instead of just one.  Recently an insurance question came up and it was resolved with the person who answered the phone. 

This methodology is called “subsidiarity.”  The premise is that a matter ought to be handled by the lowest authority capable of addressing the matter effectively.  This can serve with any kind of negotiation. It is a concept that has application in government as well.  Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic study Democracy in America spoke of subsidiarity in terms of “decentralization.”  Instead of constructing massive unwieldly federal programs, one allows local municipalities and citizens to deal with issues.  When you have a problem with your local grade school, do you go to the U.S. Department of Education or do you start with your child’s teacher? 

I think there is a lesson here. . . .