Sometimes the best defense is to jump to the offense. Other times it’s better to be humble. Two stories:
1. Yesterday a letter came to my home. The envelope identified it as coming from Enterprise Rent-a-car. When my van’s transmission was being rebuilt in Denver we had driven an Enterprise car, so I figured this was a “customer satisfaction” survey or some such.
The terse letter enclosed asked me to call them and cooperate in their investigation of the damage to my rental car! WHAT damage?!! I knew that when I turned in that car there was no damage.
In righteous wrath and ready to do battle I punched in the long distance number. There was no way they were going to con me into paying for damage! Snort. Fume.
I got the outgoing message of the person’s voice mail. At the tone I identified myself, read the reference number from the letter and firmly informed the machine that although I would be happy to talk to someone about this, I could assure them right now that there was NO DAMAGE to the car while it was in my possession. I left my phone number and hung up. HMPH!
A half hour later, my phone rang. It was a lady from Enterprise. I was polite, but mentally gearing up for the argument.
But no. She was meek, and informed me that after receiving my voice message she had gone farther back into the records, and had found that the damage in question had been recorded earlier, before I rented the car.
I exhaled. She apologized for any inconvenience and thanked me for calling.
2. Today a letter came to my office at the plant informing me that due to my failure to file some kind of employment tax return with the State of Mississippi for October and November of 2005, my company was being penalized almost $900.
Now this didn’t make sense. We had hired an individual in late 2005 who lived in Mississippi, and we had been sure to withhold state taxes from his pay. But he wasn’t hired until November 28, and didn't get his first paycheck until December!
I called the number in Jackson, MI indicated in the letter, and requested help. A polite but firm state employee informed me that our records indicated that we should have been filing tax returns there since October.
My demeanor became deferential. I explained that I was from Texas, and since we didn’t have a state income tax I was woefully ignorant of the requirements. I asked what I needed to do, and could she help me? Please?
She became MOST helpful indeed! After some checking she ascertained that since the returns were to be filed quarterly and we had hired the individual during the last quarter of the year, the records must have been entered incorrectly to show that returns were due for the whole quarter instead of just December.
Again I asked what I needed to do to make it right. She asked me to wait for just a minute, and then came back on the line to tell me that SHE had changed our records, corrected the error, wiped off the $900 penalty, and we were now in full compliance!
I thanked her profusely, stopping just short (I hope) of obsequiousness. (Look it up. It’s a good word.)
So, sometimes it’s best to come out a-charging, and other times you need to lay back a bit.
Wisdom (or sometimes luck) is in knowing the difference!