In my house, I had, until recently, a large copper tank which contained our hot water supply. Some years ago, I had a “rainwater” shower installed – one of these wonderful things that cascade hot water over you in the morning as you brace yourself to face the day. This shower’s appetite for hot water meant that I also had to have a special pump installed to deal with the relatively low water pressure in the house. A plumber installed the pump as part of the shower installation and all was well for more than two years until one day an anguished cry from the shower room told me that the pump was no longer working and it had chosen my wife to be the person to experience its failure. Undaunted, I dug out the warranty details – the pump was guaranteed for five years – and called the manufacturer. I was told that their engineer would visit to assess the pump and that it would be replaced provided that it had been ‘installed in accordance with our instructions’. The visit would be free of charge unless the installation did not meet with the approval of the engineer when I would be charged £95 plus VAT of 20% and they would not renew the pump which cost £500.
A few days later their engineer, a man not notable for his cheery disposition, arrived and inspected the installation. He looked at the pump, the pipework, the storage tank and the header tank in the roof space grunting and muttering ominously. At the end of the inspection, he took a clipboard from his van and stood in the kitchen entering many ticks and crosses on a lengthy form (never a good omen in my view). He signed the form with a flourish and presented me with a carbon copy explaining that just about everything that could be wrong was wrong. He trotted me through all the errors saying that he would not install the replacement pump and I would be getting a bill.
I called my regular heating engineer and he came to see me. We decided, on his advice, to bring forward a plan we had already discussed to have a new hot water system installed – it is called mains pressurised hot water. I don’t understand it except to tell you that as I sit here writing this blog, there is a quarter of a ton of hot water in a tank above my head (I try not to think about it) but no pump is needed and it all works fine. My heating engineer looked at the list left by the inspector of the pump and laughed. “This is what they do,” he said, “to avoid having to honour their warranty”. In the list of plumbing wrongdoing, he pointed out a number of things which he said made no difference to the functioning of the pump which, amongst other iniquities should, according to the man who inspected the installation, have been connected to the shower thermostat valve by a 22 millimetre pipe. Why did it seem more important than the others? My heating engineer told me that there is no shower thermostat manufactured for domestic use in the UK which has a 22 millimetre connection. The requirement stood out because it was unachievable, a matter which a quick check with the plumbing supply merchant confirmed.
In a week or so, the promised bill arrived in the post. I waited a week or two until I was closer to the payment date they had indicated and wrote a letter to the manufacturer telling them that I had carefully read the report written by their engineer and as he had specified an installation condition which it was impossible to meet due to the unavailability of the 22 millimetre connection, their bill was in dispute until I received an explanation. As I write this more than two months later, there has been no explanation and no further request for payment.
As a negotiator, I know that when someone gives you a list of reasons for complying with them, as often happens when they are presenting an argument to you, then you should look for the weakest part of their argument and dispute it. The manufacturer presented me with a condition I could not have complied with – I may have been guilty as charged about the other conditions which included things like pipe length and vent sizes - but their position was fatally undermined by the one weak component.
There are two lessons here for us as negotiators – first, find a good, strong reason to support your argument and stick to it: do not be tempted to cast around for as many reasons as you can muster – they will inevitably get weaker and undermine the strong one. Second, remember my shower connection – put the weakest of others’ arguments under pressure and you can threaten all of them.
That said, I am off for a shower!