The Process Server Mindset
Because of the fact that most states have a plethora of different laws regarding civil service of process, coming to any kind of consensus on “the proper way to serve a paper” across the board is a semi challenging task. However, one thing that process servers from California to South Carolina can agree on is the fact that serving papers is an acquired skill and there is a certain etiquette that goes along with it. Aside from the obvious importance of knowing your state laws, I believe the mindset of a process server is equally as important.
Like most professionals, I have found that process servers have different philosophies on how they approach the bearer of bad news role. One mindset that is common among servers is the "hunter" mentality. These types make it their life mission to hunt you down and serve you. The more evasive the better. While I can relate to this (I have tracked people down by a t- shirt logo on their Facebook picture...story for another time), the problem with the hunter mentality is that once you are actually in front of the person it is necessary to turn hunter mode off. The same aggressiveness that produced the information that put you in front of the person can be felt by that person and interpreted as confrontational once you are face to face and trying to get them to take your documents. There is definitely a time for hunter mode, but it is usually in the skip-tracing phase.
Make them feel like you are on their side:
The first important thing to note is that I usually give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I am honest about who I am, and I try my best to use all means (phone, text, email, social media) of communication to get in touch with the person. The reason I do this is to prove due diligence and so the excuse of “I didn’t know they were trying to serve me papers” is eliminated. People also have more respect for you and are more likely to do what you want them to do if they trust you. If all transparent efforts fail, I then go on to use more covert methods, but only as a last resort.
From my early professional experiences in leadership positions in primarily male dominated fields, I have found that the best way to get someone to do something they don’t want to do or are unsure of doing, is to make them feel like you are on their side. This method has never ever let me down. I have found more success as a process server if I approach people from a position of “let me help you” rather than “you are taking my papers whether you like it or not,” even though the latter may very well be the case.
Keep in mind, for the most part I keep my serves as simple as possible and say as little as possible along the lines of "I have time sensitive legal documents for you. Be sure to read through the documents and consult an attorney if need be." Most people accept my papers without any issues. For the more suspicious or hesitant ones my speech goes something like this:
“Listen I know you are probably not happy to see me but my whole purpose here is to make sure your constitutional rights are protected. It is important that you are informed of the complaints being made against you and that you are afforded the opportunity to tell your side of the story.”
The wonderful part about my "let me help you" speech is that it's all true. In fact if it wasn't for due process we would all be out of a job. I always do this with as much respect as possible and with a tone that does not involve talking down to the person being served. If they are rational humans, once they hear that they get to tell their side of things, they usually accept service.
Depending on the person, putting them at ease right off the bat is also an efficient way of conducting business. If someone opens the door and the first thing they hear is "your rosebush is absolutely gorgeous," they will have a harder time slamming the door in your face. Find a balance here though because no one likes a you-know-what kisser and people can tell when you're not genuine.
In conclusion, most of the time people are willing to work with you if they get the impression that you are not there to do them any harm (physically or financially). If you can put them at ease and make them feel like you are doing them a favor by serving them papers you will be a better server, enjoy what you do, and you'll get more "thank yous" than insults. Serving papers is a little like sales, and it takes a skilled sales person to influence someone to buy a product they don't want!