NEGOTIATING WITH THE OTHER PARTY
MAKE YOUR POSITION CLEAR WHILE REMAINING OPEN AND FLEXIBLE
If you find yourself in a dispute with another party, the first approach to resolving it is to communicate with the party who is in the best position to help you. Communication, whether oral or written, should be direct and concise. Find a time and a place convenient to both parties to discuss the problem. for instance, if you are concerned that a motor vehicle salesperson misrepresented the features of the car you purchased, call the person or their supervisor and schedule an appointment to talk about it. This way, you will have their full attention when you are discussing the problem.
Once you have scheduled your meeting, take a deep breath, explain the nature of the problem and ask what will be done about it. If assurances are made that the problem will be taken care of, ask that they be made in writing, with both the salesperson and manager's signature.
Try to remain as open as possible and mindful of the other party's position. Name-calling, threatening or bullying the party with whom you are in conflict will probably not be as effective as explaining how you have been "wronged" and what you want done to correct the situation. If it is impossible or unreasonable to have your way entirely, try to come to a "middle ground" where both of you will be satisfied with a compromise of your two positions. Being "reasonable" or "rational" does not mean that you should forego your rights. It just means that you explain your position in a calm and intelligent manner and that you do not make demands that are unfair and impossible to meet.
WRITE A "DEMAND" OR "CONFIRMING" LETTER
No matter how many times you have orally explained your complaint and asked for assistance or relief, it never hurts to put it all in writing. A brief, concise letter to the appropriate party often works wonders - it will also make you feel better since it gives you a productive way to focus your energy and may lead to the resolution of your complaint.
To Make your Problem and Position Clear
Sending a letter to the appropriate person to make a complaint or request action is often a good idea. Many times, consumers remember telephone or personal conversations but do not remember the dates, to whom they spoke, or the precise representations made. A letter is an effective tool to clearly explain the problem and the chronology of events leading up to the problem. A letter also provides proof that you put a particular person on notice of the problem and requested action on a certain date.
In writing your letter, keep in mind that the person reading it may have to be told the exact nature of your complaint. A chronological report is an effective method to discuss the problem.
The following is an example of a letter used to explain the problem and make a position clear.
March 7, 1995
Dear Ms. Landlord:
I am writing to apprise you of a problem which is becoming quite serious and to request that immediate action be taken.
As you know, on January 1, 1995, my husband and I signed a month-to-month lease for the rental of your property located on Halekoa Drive. On February 1, 1995, the house sustained damage during a wind storm. The following morning, February 2, 1995, we notified your husband, Harvey, about the damage to the roof and informed him that the storm caused leaks. Three weeks later, a rain storm caused damage to the contents of our home. I called you and you assured me that the matter would be taken care of. Two weeks have passed, and we have heard nothing from you.
I am writing again to request that action be taken to repair the roof. Please let me hear from you by Friday, March 18, 1995.
Very truly yours,
To Put the Ball in the Opposition's Court
Have you ever gotten off the phone and thought to yourself, "OK, well, now what am I supposed to do?" You've told someone about your problem, but you're not clear on what, if anything, they're going to do about it, and you can't remember if or when they are going to get back to you.
A good way to handle this is to write a letter explaining what you are going to do, what you expect them to do, and when you expect to hear from them. This way you can prevent a situation where you're each waiting for the other to take action and nothing gets done.
The following is an example of a letter written to clarify the actions which are to be taken by each party:
March 1, 1995
Dear Ms. Assertive:
Thank you for your letter. I understand the problem and will be hiring a licensed contractor to perform the repair work at the house I am leasing to you. The repair work will be fully completed no later than March 15, 1995. Since the problem is being corrected, I would like you to return the pails we lent you.
Thank you for your patience in this matter.
Very truly yours,
To Establish a Record for Later Use
Have you ever thought, "Why would I want to write a letter asking them to take action? They're not going to do anything no matter what I say?" Well, you may be right. And that is precisely why you should be writing a letter.
Written documentation is very effective in presenting your case. It shows you have put someone on notice, so that you will be able to prove later that you advised someone of the problem and requested, but did not receive, action.
March 25, 1995
Dear Ms. Landlord,
am writing to confirm our telephone conversation of March 20, 1995, in which I again requested that you repair the roof of my house. The contractor never arrived and we are getting rather wet and will have no choice but to vacate the premises if action is not taken immediately.
I expect the roof to be repaired by April 1, 1995 or we will be moving out of the house by the end of the month. Please inform me no later than next week Friday as to what will be done about this situation.
Very truly yours,
Rodney "Wronged but Recorded" Ralston
Even as he licks his postage stamp and sends his letter off, Rodney fully believes he is no more likely to get action from this lazy landlord than he is to win the sweepstakes. However, if his landlord later withholds Rodney's security deposit or tries to hold Rodney responsible for lease, Rodney's copy of this letter will be useful in proving that he put his landlord "on notice" of the defect in the house. If the landlord decides to ignore the letter, this too may be useful if Rodney must later prove that he was "constructively evicted" from his rental home.
For Your Own Peace of Mind
Have you ever talked with someone and found yourself so angry that you knew you had long since stopped being effective and were bordering on homicide? Or been so upset about the run-around you've been given that you finally vented all of your frustration on the last person to whom you were referred?
Sometimes it helps to simply stop talking, either because it's clear you are not talking to the right people (i.e., those who are in a position to actually do something for you), or because you have gone beyond the point where you can effectively communicate your position.
At such times, it may help you (as well as the person to which you are about to scream) to sit and write your story out to someone who is in a position to do something about it. If nothing else, you will feel that you are doing something constructive, and it may prevent a possible assault conviction!
May 1, 1995
I am writing to express my frustration at the Incredible "run-around" with which I have been dealing. I need to learn whether I need a permit to operate a private bird farm at my house in Hawaii Kai and have spoken with three different officials, none of whom could provide an answer. Please have the appropriate person call or write me at...
Very truly yours,
WHY YOU SHOULD WRITE A "CONFIRMING" LETTER
There are probably times that you wished you had recorded a conversation after a person appears to be wavering from his or her original representations to you. Or that you wrote down the name of the person who told you Company X would be sending you your money back and the day you took the call.
Writing a letter confirming a conversation is an effective way of memorializing an oral conversation so that a person will both remember and hopefully, honor, representations made to you during that conversation.
The most important element in writing a confirming letter is timeliness. The letter should be written as close in time as possible to the conversation you are confirming. It's always a good idea to write the letter no more than a day or two after the conversation has taken place. This way, it will still be fresh in everyone's mind.
The following is an example of a letter used to confirm a conversation:
Dear Tommy Tenant:
I am writing this letter to confirm our March 20, 1995 telephone conversation. During our conversation, we discussed the results of the licensed contractor's survey of the roof on the home you rent from me on Halekoa Drive. You assured me that you take full responsibility for the hole in the roof of the house and understand that the hole was caused during your attempt to attach an antenna to the roof. It is my further understanding that you will pay the licensed contractor to repair the roof leaks and that the roof will be fully repaired no later than April 1, 1995.
Please let me know immediately if the above is not an accurate factual account of your recollection of our conversation.
Very truly yours,
WHAT YOUR "DEMAND" OR "CONFIRMING" LETTER SHOULD COVER
Your demand or confirming letter should respond to each of the following questions:
Rule of thumb: Keep on track! One type-written page containing no more than five or six paragraphs should do it.
Be clear, reasonable and rational about what you want. Do you expect immediate and decisive action? If so, let them know. Explain what you want, whether it's a refund, and apology, a replacement, or a change in policy. Being "reasonable" does not mean that you give up any of your rights. It just means that you do not ask for more than what is realistic under the circumstances. And remember: your chances of getting what you want are better if you are rational in your approach.
Provide copies of appropriate documentation. If you are writing about an item you purchased, you may wish to provide a copy of the receipt. If you are complaining about the 14 times you have had to take your new car in for repair, provide copies of the repair orders. If there are too many to include, make it clear that they will be provided if requested. Keep all originals in your possession.
Type your letter if possible. No one likes to read a letter that is illegible. Your chance of receiving a favorable response is generally more likely if the letter is typed, neat, and short.
Write to a responsible person. If you are unsure of the person who is in charge, call the company and ask.
For corporate headquarters, addresses, or officers' names and addresses of businesses in this state, contract the Documents Information and Processing Branch, Business Registration Division, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, at 586-2727.
For national companies, you may consult with Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives, which is available in the library.
Send your letter certified, return receipt requested. By asking the post office to send your letter this way, you will have proof of mailing the letter and the letter's receipt. Although this service will cost a few additional dollars, it may prove worth the additional expense. Be sure to save your certified mail and return receipt.
Save a copy of your letter and all correspondence. If you don't get a response within a month or so, write a second letter stating you are still waiting for a response to the attached first letter you wrote. You may wish to consider sending copies of the letter (both the first and second) to other responsible people within the agency or company to which you are writing.
Send copies to the appropriate parties. If you are writing to let your landlord know that the contractor has told you that your house presents a safety risk, you may wish to send a copy of the letter to the contractor.
Send copies to "higher-ups" when appropriate. If you are writing to an unresponsive sales manager at a local business, you may wish to consider also sending a copy to his or her supervisor.
Use your judgment as to what will get results. You may run the risk of alienating someone and may wish to "tattle" this way only if you are clear you will not receive an appropriate response from the person with whom you have been dealing.
Invite a response. Make your letter clear that you would like to receive a response to your letter. You may wish to place a deadline for this response and/or indicate what action will be taken if they fail to meet the deadline (e.g.: "If I do not hear from you by August 1, 1994, I will have no choice but to pursue legal remedies in this matter.")
Send a thank-you note to encourage further cooperation. If you have received a favorable response to your letter, be sure to send a thank-you note. This encourages favorable responses to future problems which may arise with other consumers.
KEEPING A LOG OF YOUR COMPLAINT
A simple problem often mushrooms into a complicated, elaborate series of events or transactions involving many dates, people, and actions. The best way to remember all the important aspects of the problem is to keep a record or log of all the relevant events. It is also best to keep this record ongoing. In other words, do not try to remember dates, names and events three weeks after they happened. Instead, keep a log and write these things down as they occur.
Your log should be written chronologically and should include such information as:
- the full names and positions of all the people you have spoken or written to about the problem
- the date of each problem you have had
- the nature of each problem you have had
- the time you have taken to resolve the particular problems
- conversations you've had with persons about the problem and the dates of such conversations
For instance, the following log shows the various problems a couple had with their car. Logs kept by consumers often prove an effective method in establishing cases under the Lemon Law and my lead to an arbitration decision calling for a full refund of their money.
February 3, 1995 Odometer Reading: 2,300 miles
Transmission dies (Jean driving) just before Pali Tunnel. Car towed to X dealer for repair.
February 6, 1995 Odometer Reading: 2,340 miles
Car picked up from X dealer. Spoke with Mr. X who says problem will not recur.
May 15, 1995 Odometer Reading: 2,835 miles
Car dies at Kahala Mall (David driving). Car towed to X dealer. Dealer claims owner abuse: syrup spilled in transmission mechanism...New transmission mechanism ordered.
June 15, 1995
Car still in shop. Called Dealer X. Spoke with state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. They suggest filing a claim with the State Certified Arbitration Program (SCAP).
July 1, 1995
Sent certified letter to manufacturer asking for response to problem.
July 15, 1995
Submitted demand for arbitration to SCAP.