True story from last week. And proof: this stuff works!

As entrepreneurs, we’re always trying out new services, right? You just never know what new tool might give your business a boost.

Ever sign up for a monthly service, then tell the merchant you don’t want it—only to find that the merchant keeps charging you anyway?

Here’s how it started. I was looking at my bank statement and saw a pending charge for a new month of a service that I had clearly asked to STOP. I figured since it was “Pending”, I should dispute it—stop it on my end, since the merchant had obviously ignored my message. But “Jane,” (I’ll call her), customer service representative at American Riviera Bank (my local banking company), let me know that wasn’t going to work. The bank has laws they must follow. And the merchant has contract rights that must be respected.

Now I was feeling upset: scared, anxious, angry. The merchant was ignoring my request to stop the service and a bank saying there was nothing they or I could do about it. Even shutting down my charge card might not stop the monthly charges since, as the bank explained, I’d “entered into a continuing contract.” A story kicked in and I was telling myself that I was powerless and being financially exploited.

I expressed my dissatisfaction to Jane, and asked her to please pass it on to management.

I started writing an email to the bank, giving them a piece of my mind. But then, I stopped…

I reminded myself: “Excuse me, self? I know you’re upset, afraid and angry. You’re feeling like a victim and you’re wanting to flame someone. But, after all, you do teach this Empathic Communication stuff, right? Maybe you could use it now. It might help you save your relationship with your bank and the merchant.”

So I did. First, I gave myself some love and empathy. I gave my feelings time to be felt—mostly fear and anger. The fear was telling me that my need for security was not being met by the responses of either the merchant or the bank. (Financial security is a strategy for meeting my universal human need for physical security).

My anger was telling me I that I had a judgment that someone was trying to hurt me and that my universal human needs for autonomy, power and fairness were not being met here.

As part of my self empathy I brought out my kind and conscious “Inner Parent Coach”. I’m a lovable person, I told myself. I’m safe. My money’s safe, with the possible exception of this charge for a service I don’t want. I am doing my best here. If the merchant is a reputable company, even if the charge has gone through, there’s a good chance they’ll refund it. The bank wants me as a customer, so I have some power and leverage. Most importantly, I remember it’s my responsibility to provide for my financial security and to do what I can to receive justice in the situation. That is, it’s my responsibility to fill my own needs. No one else has been put on Earth to do this for me. (This is an easy one to forget!) Not the merchant. Not the bank. Though, thankfully, I CAN sometimes inspire others to help me meet my needs.

Then, I felt calm and I could go on. So I found the merchant’s telephone number. I called them and they apologized for missing my email communications, and agreed right away to stop the charge and end my subscription.

Next day, I received a letter an email from the bank’s Vice President and Regional Banking Manager: “I wanted to reach out to you with regards to your feedback that you expressed with Jane. She shared your concerns with me and I wanted to address them…”

I deleted my draft email to the bank and wrote a new one. It read, in part:

“I can understand the need to protect a business when there is some kind of long term contract involved, which the consumer has agreed to, for a defined period of time. However, no contract is forever, at least that I know of! The time boundaries of contracts are extremely important and, in my view, should be honored as part of automated banking systems.

In my own example of a month-to-month service that can be stopped at any time, it seems to me a breach of my autonomy as a consumer, to not be able to disconnect or stop the payment process from my side, at any time. Instead, that control is in the merchant’s hands. The money belongs me, not the merchant and not the bank.

In my view, we consumers have fallen asleep at the wheel, and our rights and our autonomy have been seriously corroded as a result. My request to your employee Jane (cc’d) was a small step for me towards waking up, and I’m grateful to you Jane, that you followed through on my request and passed along my complaint. In my view, it is also the responsibility of the human beings working in the banking industry, to stand up for their customers… This would meet my needs for respect, consideration, fairness and justice.

I was glad to learn from your employee about one work around to this system, which is to use the Bill Pay service. I am glad that ARB provides this service free of charge to individuals and sole proprietors.

In general I am glad to be able to bank with a local company, and am very happy with ARB’s calm, cheerful service and responsiveness to my needs as a customer. Thank you both for your contributions to that culture!”

The next day I received this from the Vice President—Regional Banking Manager, who said: “Thank you Miss Cooley! I’m proud to have you as one of our customers! I have copied American Riviera Bank’s Executive team, to share your comments and to let them know that community banks (and their people) are making a difference with our customers. Have a great weekend.”

So, why did the VP forward my email to their exec team? I think it was two things: 1) that I was clearly expressing my needs as needs. I was taking responsibility for my part and requesting (not demanding) that they take responsibility for their part; and 2) I was expressing my gratitude to them for who they are and how they showed up in this interaction. Neither of these would have been possible without my skills in Empathic Communication!

The cool thing is, you can do this too! Not only with your banker, but everywhere in your life.

So, there you have my latest Breakthrough Conversation and a way you give empathy to a bank. Pretty awesome, right?

If you need a Breakthrough Conversation with someone who is troubling you in your life, please let me know! You can either click here to sign up directly, or call me (805) 252-6406 or email me:

Peace & prosperity,

About the Author Catherine

Catherine Cooley is a mediator and a communication coach. She has worked in environments of extreme conflict including prisons, the court system and local communities teaching what she calls "Breakthrough Conversations." She specializes in helping people foster clear, respectful, warm, cooperative relationships at home and in the workplace.

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