Thursday, April 12, 2012
Killing With Kindness
I like to get my taxes done early. When it comes to taxes, I don't like to procrastinate. I just like to get it done. Typically my taxes are filed in February or, at the very latest, early March. This year was no exception. I e-filed my federal tax return on March 7 and sent my state return on March 8. I owed federal tax, but my state taxes were 0 (0 payment, 0 refund).
I still do my taxes in Utah because my official residence is still here even though I live in another state with Jonah. But since I work in Utah and don't work in the other state, it seemed more practical to keep my residence here for the time being, although I plan on changing residency within the year.
So when I came back to Utah for work, I was a bit dismayed to discover that the Utah State Tax Commission had sent me a letter indicating I had made a mistake on my tax return and that I actually owed $251. I went over my state tax return again and found that all of my math checked out. The letter indicated I had put the wrong amount on line 25 and that the revised amount was "$906," but that IS the amount I had put on line 25 and didn't explain why I would owe $251 since my withholdings were also $906.
So I called the Utah State Tax Commission to sort things out. The tax representative who answered my complaint was a somewhat condescending and curt woman named Charlene (not her real name) who I nicknamed "Miss Crabby-Pants, the Tax Harpy." She really talked down to me, which annoyed me greatly. I explained what had been in the letter, and as she pulled up my file, she said that I was missing one of my withholdings and page 2 of my tax return (both of which I know I sent because I checked and double-checked three times before mailing my tax return; plus, I have my own copy which backs me up). What really got on my nerves was that the mistake was made by whomever entered my tax information (using my return) into the tax commission's data base, but Charlene seemed to be taking it out on me as if it was my fault.
Charlene curtly informed me that I needed to fax my tax return and all my W-2s and 1099s to her. When I tried to explain something to her, she brusquely replied, "Just fax me your documents!"
So I paid an additional $12 to fax the documents to her, and the next day I got a phone message from Charlene indicating that I had forgotten to sign my return (which was true; I had signed the one I sent in March, but my own copy, which is what I faxed, was unsigned, and I had forgotten) and that I needed to re-fax my signed return before she could process it. Fine, I made a mistake; but it was the manner in which she responded that annoyed me. Her whole tone was just condescending and the subtext seemed to be, "You stupid person, if you had done this correctly in the first place, I wouldn't have to deal with your stupid problems. And now, because you haven't done it right, I have to wait on you." I even played the message for a couple of friends to make sure I wasn't overreacting. They definitely agreed that her tone was condescending and rude.
My immediate reaction had been one of annoyance. After all, I had sent my original, signed and complete return with no errors, and I was having to deal with this because someone had either misplaced or lost part of my return and my documentation or simply entered it wrong into their system; and now I had to deal with "Miss Crabby-Pants." I just wanted to say, "You don't have to be so unpleasant. I realize dealing with people's tax issues all day isn't anyone's dream job, but you could try to have a more cheerful attitude. Either that or find a new line of work."
However, when I got to FedEx Office to fax the signed return, I was inspired to react the opposite way. I thought to myself, "It's so close to Tax Day, and this woman probably has to deal with annoying tax issues, and it's probably a high-stress job with little return."
So I wrote her a note on the fax cover sheet. I basically said, "Charlene, I'm sorry about the mix-up. I realize this must be a very stressful and busy time of year for you, and I apologize if my mistake has added to your stress or workload. I hope the attached documents will enable you to complete this task and resolve the issue, and I hope you will have a very nice day. Please let me know if I owe anything so that I may do my part to resolve this issue."
Charlene left another voicemail for me the next day. Basically, she said she had received my documents, processed my return, and owed nothing. But the interesting part to me was her tone. There was none of the curtness, condescension, or unpleasantness I had heard the other two times she had communicated with me. She actually sounded pleasant and nice. I'm not saying my note had anything to do with that, but I do think it's interesting that my initial instinct was to attack back, but instead I dealt with it by being kinder, and in return, I received kindness.
I believe in the law "That which you put out into the universe you get back." When we give anger, we get anger. When we give negativity, we get negativity. When we give love, we get love. I think by putting kindness out there to someone who was less-than-kind to me, I received kindness back. And even if I hadn't received it from her, I would have received it elsewhere.
Besides, bottom line - you don't really want to piss off the person who's processing your tax return. That's just asking for bad karma.