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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Evidence over emotion - dealing with difficult conversations

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

I'm generally am amiable person, sometimes even to the point where I don't want to offend you, especially if I like you...but when things need to be sorted out (as in the case of missed flights, refunds, poor service...and so on), I find that facts and evidence are far more powerful tools than emotion (and if you ever had to go to civil court - evidence not emotion is what a case will turn on.)

Every so often, I need to prepare to go to battle (with my pen rather than my sword)

- and in doing so I have been able to claim compensation, or get my refund, and in some cases, the company has even offered something to "make up" for the poor experience which I've either accepted graciously or gifted to someone else who has really enjoyed it on my behalf - and in those cases I've returned as a paying customer. In fact, there are many academic papers written about the "Service Recovery paradox" - where even though you may experience poor service, if you give the organisation an opportunity to sort it out, and they do - the customer is even more loyal than they would have been had the experience been smooth. And on NO occasion have I used "writing a bad review" as leverage - and in fact I only write bad reviews if the organisation refuses to sort things out...because I do believe in giving people a chance.

However, I have also been told that while I have copious amounts of cognitive empathy, I am a little wanting in the emotional department - so perhaps it's easier for me. Plus, I know what a huge time-consuming pain it is to go through the evidence to bring a case, BUT I find if I channel the time and energy I would have used venting, and "write a letter" - it can bring results.

So, I thought I would give an outline of my approach to get a resolution after the point of crisis.

Please note, I am NOT offering legal advice, I cannot guarantee an outcome, and I would always suggest you seek professional help especially if the organisation refuses to acknowledge the situation, but this may serve as a guideline as to what can make your case stronger:

Firstly, try to keep your distress minimised: I do feel terrible saying this because I know what it's like to be waiting for my wedding transport (Cinderella's coach - which never arrived!!) resulting in one of my bridesmaids calling her husband to come and pick us up in his car...and frantic messages to mine saying "I AM coming!!"...but even in that case I kept in mind that getting married was far more important than anything else, and I wasn't going to let anything overshadow that...(Hmm...maybe it's not that I lack emotional empathy, but my logical brain seem to overshadow it). BUT the point of me saying that, is the more blameless you can be in the situation, the easier it is to make a claim. If you have been hurling abuse at people - that gives the organisation something to pin any refutation on.

Take names

If speaking to someone on the phone, or perhaps it is someone who addresses everyone - ask for, or try and see (if face to face) their name. This serves two purposes - the first is that it gives credibility to your experiences as employee records can be checked as to who was dealing with the situation; and the second, especially if you are speaking one-to-one - there's an element of responsibility that you place on someone when you ask for their name, and they may become an ally in helping you sort things out. (We know that it is not their fault, but unfortunately, as a representative of the organisation, it is their problem).

Note times

As soon as things have gone wrong, make a note of times eg: when did someone come to speak with you; when did you respond; when did you ask for help and so on. When it comes to setting out your complaint, it is really helpful to narrate it almost like a documentary... eg: yes, it will be "he said, she said" - but with time and date stamps eg:

April 28th 2022: Purchased second hand Fiat500 from your dealership at a cost of £8999

April 29th 2022: Car broke down and had to call the AA to relay me back.

April 29th 2022: AA Job reference #1234 and James from the AA spoke with Simon about the problem, taking photos of the car before leaving

It seems pedantic, but already - if you were going to reject the car and request a refund under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (which I did) - I have not only a job report that the car is "not fit for purpose", but the names of witnesses and what's more, YOU know I have that information.

Keep all documents - especially informal messages eg: social media and What'sApp

Screenshot any further, or previous correspondence if you have to (just to have a second copy) - plus a screenshot will give you the additional time stamp. On one occasion when I was claiming compensation for a delayed flight, the airline's app showed the plane arriving at 2 minutes past the required 3hr cut off for the compensation cycle to kick in...I took a screenshot, and when I checked back 10 minutes later, that evidence had disappeared.

Luckily with WhatsApp and social media messages, even if the other party wants to delete a message, if you have seen it, then they cannot delete your copy, BUT we cannot always rely on that, and having a second version helps.

Note: Further, when it comes to adding these conversations to your narrative, quote directly rather than offering a summary eg: rather than "Simon explained that Fiat knew it was a common fault..." say "In his WhatsApp message of April 30th 2022, Simon stated that you "...had called Fiat and they have said it was a common fault." Not only does it save you the effort of "storytelling", but again, direct quotes (with evidence) are hard to argue with.

Outline your loss and costs: This may include missed events for which you had tickets, or hotel stays and so on. Hold on to receipts.

Add the emotional distress in your conclusion and apply it to their service as well as your experience. eg: "Having dealt with your company in the past and always experienced a positive service, I was appalled and disappointed by the way I was treated. Not only did staff show a complete disregard for the fact that it was Christmas, and many of us were travelling to see loved ones specifically for Christmas Day, but their inability to give us any information (in fact as you can see in my description of events they were not contactable for 3 hours), made an already difficult situation worse."

You may also wish to offer the benefit of the doubt because of a difficult circumstance, while keeping in mind that excuses are still unacceptable, especially for a large organisation that has been in business sometime(!) eg: "While I understand that the pandemic has caused staff shortages, for a business such as yours it is not unreasonable to think that you would have had the foresight to manage any possible problems long before now."

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS include a "call to action" This is the thing most people forget - and that is to say:

By when do I expect to hear from you (eg 10 working days)

What I want to hear (eg. an explanation for the unacceptable service AND when I am to expect compensation under the ...if you can insert the procedure or act you are relying on here...often a google search for your experience will put you on the right track)

How I expect to hear (eg. by letter/email/phone etc)

What will happen if I DON'T hear eg: contacting the ombudsman; starting Alternative Dispute Resolution/mediation; starting legal proceedings.

Be PREPARED to follow through. Don't threaten anything you don't intend to follow through with.

Be aware that this process is both long and stressful (with no guarantee of resolution)! You do need to steel yourself for this, because not only does it take time to write everything out chronologically, as well as ensure you have all the evidence to which you refer, but also you are re-visiting the experience which was already difficult in the first place. HOWEVER, psychology research has shown that venting actually DOESN'T make people feel better in the long run, so for me, I would always turn to making a case because it is taking affirmative, positive action...and setting the wheels in motion which may at least achieve an outcome (which venting alone will not).

In conclusion: Hopefully, what will happen, is that the organisation will see that your case is tight, and not only that, but you are someone who clearly seeks a resolution and respond favourably. Further to which, if they don't, if you already have all these details, it's very easy to "copy and paste" them onto Ombudsman forms, or even claim forms should the need arise.

As I said, I cannot guarantee how any organisation will respond. What I do know, personally, is that I have been able to settle most of my disputes without having to resort to the courts - nor even the ombudsman, and at the very least my taking formal action reassures me that my case is "on file" in case a larger action needs to be brought at a later date.

The process is the same whatever your complaint, and if you, like me, do feel a little ashamed that you are "causing conflict", remember:

- You are not name calling (as you might in venting!!) - you are setting out what happened factually

- In doing something, you will feel better anyway...AND even if you don't see the complete benefit, you may well have paved the way for the next person caught in a similar unfortunate situation.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt


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