"Be careful when you negotiate with her," Mark said. "And don't even mention the word 'lawyer.'"
Mark's our lawyer.
Just back from an island vacation, I'd called Mark about a dispute involving the small house we'd rented for the week.
Two days after we arrived, the upstairs toilet had some issues and—before you could say, "This may not be my favorite rental"—the bathroom flooded.
Then, in a dramatic, "Wait till you see this!" moment, the flood poured down through the dining room ceiling.
You may be curious why I rented a house like this. My wife was certainly curious, although those weren't her exact words.
Apparently, I'd missed the online picture called "Our stately dining room—sometimes, ha, ha, ha, it gets soaked by upstairs plumbing run amok."
I called the owner right away. "You have a lovely home," I told her. "At the moment, it's having a few problems."
The owner agreed that the house was not livable and that she'd refund our money.
Then, next day, she balked.
Well, everyone has their point of view; often it's not yours.
Still, we had followed all her instructions completely, including "call me if there are any plumbing problems."
Ever feel like you're 100% right? We certainly did.
Convinced you're right, it's easy to get triggered. Welcome to the dark side of your brain, the part that thinks like an alligator.
This part is brilliant at threats and ultimatums—"You'll be hearing from my reptilian lawyer"—but not so smart at interpersonal problem-solving.
"You can certainly sue," said Mark. "And you'd probably win. But at what cost?"
Your alligator brain doesn't run a cost-benefit analysis, or realize that threats and ultimatums often spiral out of control, just like an over-flowing toilet.
Before you know it, you're knee-deep in counter-threats, legal bills, wasted time, etc. And it smells bad.
"Appeal to her better nature," advised Mark.
So we did. I'd like to report that worked like a charm. It didn't. Nor was it emotionally satisfying.
But we did retrieve some money. Someday, we may even contemplate another vacation.
Tip: Threats can be useful. But don't use threats just because you're emotionally triggered.
Step away—at least till you can think straight. And, in a situation like mine, watch where you step.
© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.