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When angry, don't say X

Posted by Paul Hellman  August 12, 2011 11:00 AM

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"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.

Watch out.

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.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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