Step 5 - Communicate effectively
To resolve most everyday legal problems you will probably have to talk to the person or organisation involved, either in person, on the telephone or in writing. Below we give you the lowdown on how to do this effectively.
- Stay calm and be polite.
- Be clear about what you want and stick to the point.
- Know your rights (see step 2) and if the law is on your side, or you have had advice, tell them so.
If you are talking to someone in person or on the telephone
- Make notes of everything you want to cover during the conversation and tick them off as you go along.
- Get the name of the person and repeat it several times through the conversation to keep personal contact.
- Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand something that the other person says to you. Ask them to explain it in a different way or to give you an example.
- At the end of the conversation repeat back anything you have agreed, particularly anything that they have agreed to do.
- Repeat their name at the end of the conversation and where they are: it helps to make that person feel committed to what they have agreed.
- Sometimes a bit of praise can go a long way in getting that person on side!
- Make a note of who you spoke to, where they are and what you agreed.
- For extra peace of mind send them a letter confirming what you agreed. The more you have in writing the more evidence (see step 6) you’ll have if you need to make a complaint.
With calls where you get a recorded message saying ‘your call will be recorded’ make a note of exactly when you call. That way if they later go back on what they agreed you can ask for the recording. They probably won’t have it but it can work wonders for wrong-footing them!
If you are writing to someone
- Double check you’ve covered everything you want to. It is sometimes useful to have a friend check that you’ve made all your points clearly. What's in our minds isn't always what we've put down on paper.
- If you are posting a letter and can afford it send it ‘signed for’ so that you can track it. This means they will be more likely to respond and not fob you off.
If you are writing to complain about something write ‘Complaint’ in bold across the top of your letter. That way they may have to deal with your letter in line with their complaints procedure and reply within a certain number of days. If you still don't entirely trust that they will do what they have promised, it's a really a good idea to send them a letter confirming what you agreed. The more you have in writing, the more evidence you'll have if you need to make a complaint.
"I had a tendency to get upset and lose my temper a bit when I tried to sort things out. I remember shouting at this woman at customer services when my computer broke. I hadn’t really worked out what I wanted to say, and ended up yelling about some pretty irrelevant stuff. It wasn't my finest moment, it was the company's fault not hers. Apart from being embarrassing, and stressful, it also made things worse! It made it hard to get my point across, and made her less keen to help (understandably).
Now, I try to stay calm, write down what I want to say beforehand, and tell them clearly what the problem is I need their help with. It really works."