This is a story about the power of your words to move mountains, the power of persuasion, but it comes with a caution…I will get to that in a minute, but first, the backstory.
A couple of weeks ago I shattered my wrist in a bicycle accident. Naturally, we had a lot of upcoming plans that were now in chaos. One of those plans was a much-anticipated family vacation to New Zealand.
After we sold our house I promised my kids I would take them skiing near Queenstown, and I put a little money aside for that. It’s been a full-on year, and startup founders don’t get time off, but I felt that the kids and I needed this because having their mother constantly distracted is not what I wanted them to look back on and remember of their childhoods.
I booked and paid in full but didn’t book the travel insurance right away. Lesson no.1: Always book travel insurance as soon as you book your flights and accommodation.
I was actually going to pay for all that the day of the accident. Oops!
My travel agent was incredible. She set to work immediately to get my bookings changed to September, so I could drive and maybe even ski. The only sticking point was that the accommodation was booked via Expedia and was one of those “You can’t cancel” deals. Lesson No. 2: Always book accommodation you can cancel or change.
My agent emailed the accommodation to explain the situation, but they immediately responded with a brief email stating they would invoke their right to retain the funds and refused to change the dates.
I was devastated. We’d been planning this trip for a year. How could this happen?
To be honest, my first impulse was to blast them on social media, but thankfully my travel agent had more foresight. She simply said to me: “Use your writing skills and tell your story. That can persuade them better than any phone call from me.”
Lesson no.3: You attract more flies with honey
I sat down and wrote the following letter:
I am writing to you to appeal to your best sense of judgment regarding an unfortunate incident that occurred just over a week ago. On Tuesday 23 May, I was riding my bicycle to the city when my front wheel hit a driveway lip and got stuck in the gutter and I was thrown off the bicycle. I’d been riding to improve my fitness and lose some weight before our trip to NZ. Ironically, I was going to pay for the rest of the trip expenses that afternoon when I got into the office (including the insurance), but instead, I ended up in an ambulance and the critical care unit with a badly dislocated and fractured wrist.
My kids are super excited about going on this trip to NZ, so you can imagine our devastation at being told I wouldn’t be able to drive for at least six weeks, let alone ski. I can’t even get a skivvy over my cast to keep me warm.
I’m a single parent and a startup founder, and two of my kids are on the Autism spectrum so money is tight, time is short, and finding something my kids actually want to do is difficult. They all voted to do this trip and I’d promised them we’d go.
As it stands, the situation is that if we go in June as planned, I won’t be able to drive, or ski, or wear warm enough clothes over my cast, or transport my kids to the ski fields. Our much-anticipated trip will likely be a negative and difficult experience and certainly, will not contain the memories of NZ that we are hoping for.
I totally understand that you have the right to just take my money and not budge in terms of allowing us to change our travel dates. However, I am hoping that you will instead be our hero, help us have the trip of a lifetime we’d hoped for, one that we’ll rave about to everyone we know and one that we’ll remember forever as an incredible experience, made all the more memorable by your kindness and compassion.
So, I’m asking you to please consider our request to change our dates, as by deferring our trip to September we have a much better chance of having a holiday that is both enjoyable and memorable. Attached are the hospital discharge papers as proof of what happened and I’ll be happy to forward a medical certificate after the 8th when I next go to the hospital.
Today, I heard the awesome news that the accommodation venue would allow us to change our dates. Yay!
If you want to know why my words changed their minds, here’s what you need to know. I used the non-violent communication framework I teach writing students who need to deal with difficult situations. I learned this technique through cnvc.org, which I’ve mentioned previously on this blog.
I used to suck at handling conflict (and catch me on a bad day, I still do, as evidenced by my initial reaction), but by employing non-violent communication methods, I’ve improved a lot. Here’s the thing though: you can’t manipulate the outcome. You must mean what you say.
If any part of my letter had come across as manipulative, I doubt very much it would have achieved the same outcome.
Here’s the framework I used:
- Explain the situation, without blaming anyone. Just tell the facts.
- Explain the impact of the situation.
- Share what you’d like as an outcome.
- Share how you want the other party to respond and invite them to work with you on a solution.
Use your words for good
Having a persuasion framework helped me write from a compassionate and understanding headspace. I could have easily gone into a negative, veiled-threat mode, but I doubt that would have felt very good. This way, both parties get to feel good, so it’s a win all round. I hope this story helps you, the next time you need to invoke the power of persuasion.
ps: Huge thanks to my travel agent Karen Farley from Travel Managers for reminding me to play nice, and my sister, for editing my letter.
Want to replicate the structure of this blog post? Plug the following ingredients into the Writally App: Nurture | Personal Case Study| 1001 to 1200 words | Helped | Regular Person | Evergreen