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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dealing with hard bargainers

Everyone with a damaged house or in the residential Red Zone has found, or one day will find, themselves negotiating with EQC, their insurance companies and those who work for them (Fletcher EQR, Arrow, Hawkins and the like).

As occurs in some of the professions, those doing the negotiating have a set of commercial requirements and professional ethics that bind them to behave in a certain way.  Which is fine for them, but a cause of disquiet for many who come up against them. Why? Because sometimes professional ethics seem to exclude what the lay person would consider fairness, decency, openness and honesty.

Some of this disquiet arises because homeowners don’t have a full appreciation of the way their insurance policy is being interpreted. What seemed to be clear at the beginning becomes increasingly less clear and confidence fades away.

In some cases it is because of the stance being taken by the insurer or their agent: e.g. unless you specifically ask about a policy entitlement some companies do not volunteer the information. Many with a knowledge of WINZ will understand this tactic. Sometimes the approach of the agent is hurried, unfriendly, or incoherent which creates a difficult discussion environment.

Nigel Dunlop, an Auckland barrister, is an accomplished mediator with many years of experience. On his website (here) are a number of articles based on the mediation work he has done. Of particular interest are articles about the bargaining ploys and tactics used by experienced  practitioners, people similar to those you may come across when dealing with insurance issues, or the council, CERA and some politicians.

A few starting points would be (click on the title to go to the article):

Reading them can be hard work, and may not make you better at putting your case, but you will have an insight into what approaches some on the “other side” may use. None of the articles will solve the puzzle of why the conduct is considered to be ethical in the first place.

What reading Mr Dunlop’s articles does reinforce is the necessity for an advocacy service. All the tribunals in the world will not redress the power and skills imbalance that exist between individuals, and those that seek to delay, minimise and deny legal entitlements. Could it be that Minister Brownlee, in agreeing to look at a tribunal system, knows he can appear to be doing good (making a concession) while not changing the imbalance in any material way (a misleading concession)?

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