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One Tire Too Many: An Unexpected Lesson in Trust

From John DeGroote’s Settlement Perspectives

The story might be better if I could make it more dramatic, but tires aren’t all that exciting. My car had turned 5 and rolled past 45,000 miles, and there was little debate — I needed new ones. I braced myself for an expensive day, pulled into Sewell Lexus, and asked for four new tires. My unexpected lesson in trust came when my service rep suggested that wasn’t really what I needed.

One Tire Too Many

As you might imagine, I wasn’t in the mood to reconsider my need for tires, and my request hadn’t been ambiguous. But my longtime service advisor pushed, and I listened with patient annoyance. She explained that she’d be happy to sell me 4 tires, but she would prefer to sell me 3 tires and use the full-size spare under my car as the fourth “new” tire. One of my old tires could go under the car as my spare since, even if I used it as a spare, it would do just fine for a short trip. I would pay a few hundred dollars less than I had planned, and everyone would be happy.

My service rep had had the chance to sell me more than I needed, and I would never have known the difference. Needless to say, I bought 3 new tires and gained a much deeper trust in my dealership as a result — an important, and unexpected, takeaway from a Generation Y service advisor.

Stage 3 Trust: Another Name for Where We Went That Day

I planned to end this post here, but a quick Internet search made me think otherwise. On a hunch, I did a quick search for the closest concept I could think of to my situation — “‘baker’s dozen’ negotiation” — to see if others had similar stories. A chapter by David S. Weiss in The Negotiation Sourcebook appeared.

I was pleased to see that there’s a more formal name for my experience than the “baker’s dozen”; it’s “Stage 3 Trust”. Weiss tells us that Stage 3 Trust occasionally emerges after one develops confidence in another’s competence and in their honesty; it’s the highest form of trust there is. It’s

Trust that when I am vulnerable, you will not hurt me and will be there for me.

If integrity is “[w]hen you do the right thing even though no one is watching”, my service rep had demonstrated her integrity. She could have sold me 4 tires, and she knew it. But she didn’t. So what does that get us? Weiss tells us:

Empirical evidence indicates that the stronger the trust between negotiating parties, the greater the probability the parties will discover solutions that will result in mutual gains agreements. * * * When negotiating parties agree on a common direction and have a high-trust relationship, they often are willing to engage in innovative problem-solving and some risk-taking. The parties consider the common interests and discover creative solutions they can put into operation. High-trust agreements are longer lasting and create momentum for resolving more complex problems.

Do you think I will ever take my car anywhere else?

A Final Note

It seems a few of us in the legal business have learned valuable lessons from our car dealers; Patrick J. Lamb also has picked up valuable tips on customer service at his car dealership, for example. But after my unexpected lesson in Stage 3 Trust, I looked a bit deeper into Mr. Sewell’s way of doing what he does at his dealerships, and learned he has written a book — a book that 34 people on (and at least one blogger) have cared enough to write reviews about — with only one negative review among them.  Based on my experience with his team, I’m not surprised.

See if there’s an opportunity to create Stage 3 Trust in your relationships, whether you’re a lawyer, a mediator, a client, or none of the above. You’ll be glad you did.


John DeGroote

John serves as a mediator and arbitrator in complex business, technology, and intellectual property matters involving parties and interests around the country and beyond — often before litigation is filed. Prior to his service as a mediator and arbitrator, John served as the lead settlement negotiator in hundreds of cases,… MORE >

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