Flight and invisibility are fun to imagine, but what are the real superpowers that make a difference in your life? One of mine is 3-way calling. I deploy it when I’m caught in a bureaucratic tangle in which one or more parties don’t want to communicate with one another. Case in point: the ambulance bill from my son’s car accident almost two years ago. He’s fine, but I’m still wrangling to get the responsible insurer to settle with the ambulance service.
Back in August 2012 I mused about the predicament for wired.com. When insurer A’s responsibility ended it refused to communicate with insurer B. As a result of the long delay created by insurer A, the party now responsible – insurer B – denied the claim.
The other day I talked to ambulance service C, they convinced me that insurer B was still on the hook and that they had the documentation to back that up. So I called B and, of course, got nowhere. They were relying on an insidious denial-of-service attack which works by routing all communication through a low-bandwidth channel: me. When each scrap of information extracted from B has to route through me on its way to C, and when C’s responses have to return to B by the same circuitous path, not much can get done. That’s what B wants, of course.
It can seem like a stalemate. B won’t answer C’s calls. When I ask B to call C that always turns out to be against the rules. Here’s where my superpower shines. With B on the phone I say:
“Hang on, I’m putting you on hold for a minute.”
Right there you’ve got them on the run. The hold maneuver is something they do to you, but don’t expect you to do to them.
Now I call C and join them to the call with B.
“Sheila, meet Frank. Frank, Sheila. Now please work this out.”
The negotiation that ensues always intrigues me. Invariably it entails differences in terminology, records, and interpretations. If systems were built to facilitate direct communication those differences could be worked out. But when systems are built to thwart direct communication it’s a logjam until the clock runs out.
Despite knocking their heads together I don’t yet have a final resolution to this matter. My superpower doesn’t always prevail. But it always makes me feel less like a pawn in other people’s games.