For reasons I don’t understand, the printed version of my book Pause for Breath became unavailable on Amazon at some point during 2022. I asked my main contacts at my publisher to put this right. Their answer? There’s nothing we can do, it’s all down to Amazon. I went round this loop a couple of times, accepting their answer in good faith and feeling helpless. It was easy to see Amazon as ‘the villain’.
This isn’t the only administrative treacle I’ve been wading through recently. I’ve had issues with utility bills, website hosting and getting my invoices paid. I hear that others are challenged by issues with telecoms, email, scams and bank accounts, and with more important systems such as healthcare. In an age where everything is automated, no-one knows how anything works any more, and unearthing what’s amiss is often tortuous.
Part of the ‘stickiness’ of any attempts to resolve administrative glitches is being ‘once removed’ from the system or process that’s not working. My point of contact within a system only sees their part of it, rather than the whole.
For example, I’ve been chasing unpaid invoices. When an invoice becomes overdue, I email the person who authorised it and ask them to find out what the hold-up is. They usually reply along the lines of apologising and assuring me that they’ve ‘resubmitted the invoice to finance’, requesting prompt payment.
At this point, my heart sinks. I have many years of experience of invoicing, receiving payment and coaxing delayed payments out of the various limbos into which paperwork disappears. I’m also an accountant (thoroughly lapsed) with some insight into what I’m dealing with. When a payment is late in an automated system that normally works smoothly, there will be a reason. The invoice has probably been ‘parked’ somewhere because some criterion hasn’t been met – but no notification is sent and so I’m in the dark.
I therefore have to enquire indirectly. And when the ‘authorising person’ ignores my request to investigate and simply resubmits the paperwork, I have to wait a while – and the invoice remains unpaid. After an interval, I email again… from being a week overdue, payment is now three weeks late. And the kind ‘authorising person’ is doubly apologetic as they go through the motions again.
Assuming you’ve read this far, you may recognise this pattern of mollification and well-meaning (but ineffective) action. For me, it gives rise to a very strong urge to shout and throw my weight about. But I know this doesn’t help.
In addition, I appreciate why the authorising person is reluctant to contact finance to ask what’s happening: the response will use language they don’t understand. This mirrors my experience in email exchanges about my book being unavailable – unfamiliar with the relevant systems, I literally didn’t know what the publisher, their printer or Amazon were saying. I’m unversed in their jargon and so couldn’t ask the right questions.
Sadly, such impasses seem increasingly common. As the time and energy involved in navigating a broken system escalates, so does my frustration! In the red mist, I try to remind myself that I can’t fix the system – I can only handle myself well. In each irksome cycle, I challenge myself to centre; to recognise that the other person is genuinely trying to help; and to find a fresh approach that might spark a change in response. This is easier in some situations than others!
With unpaid invoices, I encourage the authorising person to refer me to finance by offering examples of what can go wrong – once I’m in contact with accounts payable, matters are usually resolved quickly. Very occasionally, I bypass the system and search out an email address for a direct approach to someone senior in finance
With Pause for Breath, my irritation peaked with an out-of-office response to another attempt to make progress. Building a head of steam, I decided to complain. As I sought out ‘the boss’, I noticed contact details for the Distribution Manager. I paused, centred, started again… and got a result: availability was restored.
I’m also caught up with invoices. But now there’s an impenetrable glitch with my new electricity supplier. Handling myself well? Work-in-progress!
- When you’re inconvenienced by things not working as they should, how do you react?
- What will support you to handle yourself well when these inevitable glitches occur?