Dear Cricket,

Recently, I dressed up for a presentation at school. (I am 14, by the way.) I brought a drawstring bag with me with, an extra set of pants, and my $160 sneakers to change into when my presentation was done. I accidentally left my drawstring bag with my pants and sneakers in the library. I realized this around third period, but because I have fifth period in the library I decided to get my bag then. It wasn’t there. My pants were there, but my shoes were gone. In the two years I’ve spent at this school, I’ve never seen anyone wear similar shoes, but today I spotted a girl wearing the exact same shoes. They were laced how I laced mine, and were stained and in the same condition as mine. I have the same lunch as this girl. How should I go about confronting her about giving them back? I don’t have much free time during the day and I’m afraid if I go up to her when she’s with friends I’ll look stupid. Do I allow her a day or demand them right there?

Sincerely,
Shoeless


Dear Shoeless,

How upsetting it must be to have had your beloved belongings disappear like that! It can be so tempting to move into the blame game and conclude that this gal has callously stolen from you for her own gain. Beware the temptation. Remember the principles.

Master Your Stories:
Rather than villainize her, ask “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?” Might she honestly have just found some shoes lying around and felt confused about how to return the items? Or could someone else have found them and gifted them to her?

Start With Heart:
It’s important to consider what you really want. If shame and blame are the goal, you will likely find it hard to maintain conditions that lead to dialogue. Try focusing your energies on the goal of learning what happened and recovering missing items instead. Your tone and delivery will bely your underlying motive, so try and get that in check before you enter into the conversation.

STATE Your Path:
Take care to lead with facts and not your conclusions. Help paint a picture for her so that she can better understand why you might be tempted to draw the conclusions you’re drawing here.

As far as your delivery goes . . . perhaps your mother taught you what mine taught me? “Remember, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it that matters!” I always like to go for a friendly, curious, and open tone as I seek to create safety for others when delivering a sensitive message.
If I were in your shoes . . . or not, as the case may be here (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!), I might try this approach:

“Hello! You don’t know me and I don’t want to bother you, especially in front of your friends. I just have a question for you. Would you mind chatting with me over here for a second?

I saw last week you were wearing a pair of red Nike Air Max sneakers. Please know that I don’t normally hunt girls down to talk about their shoes, but I’ve never seen anyone else at this school wear anything like those. I couldn’t help but notice they look so much like the shoes I recently lost here at school (even down to the way they are laced and the stain on the toes near where the color had rubbed off).
A few months ago, I accidentally left a pair just like those in a drawstring bag (with a pair of pants) in the library and I’ve been looking for them ever since. I know I’d want someone to tell me if something I found may belong to them, so that’s the reason I bring it up. I wonder if you might have been the one to find my shoes?”
The key is to avoid blame and shame. When people feel safe with us, we make it less likely that they will feel a need to deflect, hide, or lie to us.

Good luck, and I hope you and your shoes may be reunited again soon!
Cricket