Canadian Underwriter

You Have Every Right to Feel That Way!

April 1, 2007   by

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A Series of Articles Provided by the Insurance Institute of Canada.

Loss adjusters must develop and use many skills, including communication skills. Every aspect of the claims process depends on good communication. When a loss is reported, the initial response must be to acknowledge the insured’s feelings. Being empathetic at a time when stress is running high can put an insured at ease and promote an increased degree of participation and cooperation.

When acknowledging feelings, sympathy can be expressed for the insured. But the loss adjuster should not make statements about how a policy should respond to a loss, nor should assumptions or presumptions about coverage be included in an acknowledgement of the insured’s feelings.

We can say something that validates feelings, but remain neutral in areas in which we haven’t got enough information to make the proper call.

Recognize that everyone reacts differently to a crisis. Whatever the state of mind of the insured, be flexible enough to respond to how the insured is feeling at that particular moment. Although it is not yet known how the policy will respond, the distraught feelings still need to be acknowledged. People are emotional beings. They have feelings. They get upset. There may be much more to a story than meets the eye. In some cases, an insured may be unable to move on to deal with practical issues until feelings have been resolved. For most of us, it is important to feel that we have been heard, that we are not alone, and that we have someone to talk to. The problem may still be there but somehow the weight of it lessens as the burden is shared.

Regardless of how the loss adjuster feels about the problem, it is real to the insured. A careless dismissal of feelings can create barriers. People need an opportunity to move through emotions so that the practical results required to move forward are obtained. For example, when an insured says “I feel sad,” instead of saying something like “You shouldn’t feel that way,” a more effective approach to acknowledging the insured’s feelings might be “I am sorry to see how sad you are.” Recognize that the issue is not about what should be felt, but rather about what is felt. To respond to emotionally-loaded phrases, words and actions, use language that soothes — for example, “I’m sorry to hear that,” or “you have every right to feel that way.”

To show a person we are listening, we could say something as simple as “Oh,” with an intonation that shows our concern but permits the person to speak on. An interjection like “Oh” could express a great deal of emotion based on how it is said. Try saying it out loud and see how many variations in intonation can be mastered.

To acknowledge the insured’s feelings effectively, incorporate active listening techniques into your conversations. Active listening as a principle of relationship-building is an excellent means of developing rapport with customers and improving communication levels. Active listening involves many facets:

* listening to what is being said;

* interpreting how it is being said;

*processing non-verbal cues;

* questioning those parts that were not understood; and

* confirming that what was heard was understood correctly.

Active listening enables a professional relationship to grow. It encourages the claims personloss adjuster to really hear what is being said–including unspoken messages. It enhances our understanding of the situation and the person. Sensing the emotions and feelings experienced by others assumes an ability to pick up on subtle clues and cues. Do not look to justify a person’s thoughts and feelings, just acknowledge them. Active listening demonstrates respect for the person, even though feelings and views may not be understood or agreed with.

When we understand ourselves and we are open to our emotions, we will be more effective in deciphering an insured’s feelings. Even a less serious loss can still be devastating to an insured. In a highly emotional state, the insured may be unable to think or act rationally. Sympathy at this particular time may relieve some stress, and eventually the insured will come to terms with what must be done.

If empathy is placing oneself in the other person’s shoes, then sympathy is putting the shoes on and feeling the squeeze. Each situation is different and the loss adjuster must be flexible yet focused on resolving the claim. Look for ways to understand the situation from the policyholder’s point of view. Seek to identify the questions on the claimant’s mind even though they are not verbalized.

It is not just saying the right thing: it is saying the right thing at the right time. Timing plays an essential role when gathering information about a loss. If a question or a solution was presented too early in the process, a positive resolution might be jeopardized because the insured was not ready for it.

Over-identifying with a client can also impede the claims process. For example, if a loss adjuster or claims person becomes too sympathetic to a client’s situation, unrealistic demands may be made of appraisers who need to determine the extent of damage. In this example, although very sympathetic to the claimant, the claims person or loss adjuster failed to maintain a proper perspective on the adjustment requirements; in this case, their sympathy impeded one of the important adjustment requirements, which is the provision of prompt appraisal services. As a result, the important service to the client of timely claims handling is lost. The loss adjuster must remain objective and rational in order to maintain his or her purpose.

As we said earlier, acknowledging feelings is an important concern. This must be balanced by focusing on the facts. The claim will be resolved more quickly when the relevant facts are determined and the insured’s expectations about what will happen have been managed effectively.

This article is based on excerpts from the study material in the Claims Professional Series of applied courses – a core of the CIP Program that helps adjusters learn the functional knowledge and skills required of their profession.

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