Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Adult bullying, aka High Drama Communication

Lately I've found myself in the middle of some neighbor drama involving trees.  My neighbor wants me to cut some trees in the parking strip down, and I don't want to.  Still, I said that I would look into the laws, do some research on what types of trees they were and what threat to the sewer line they may or may not pose, and get back to him.

Though I've contacted the authorities in charge of parking strip trees (they told me I would not get a permit to remove the trees; the trees belong to the city and do not meet the qualifications for removal) and shared that information with him, he's not satisfied.  He's yelled at me, he has ranted in my face as I said, "I'd like to be neighborly and do the right thing; let's work together on this..." and then he got so mad that he actually took a hatchet to one of the trees.  (According to the authorities, this is criminal trespass, and I should have called 911.  I didn't, but had to send a scolding email saying, "If you do this again you leave me no choice but to call 911...")


In addition to rocketing my blood pressure, making me check the real estate listings (no, I'm not going to move, but it is tempting), and making me wonder if my neighbor is actually insane, this has gotten me thinking about communication and drama, and how some people communicate in such high drama that they guarantee their own failure. 

He made it sure that he would fail.  He guaranteed that I am no longer inclined to view him as a reasonable person, and that we are now set up as adversaries.  No matter what happens with the trees, he has failed.  No more watching his cat while they're away, no more borrowing an egg, no more nice exchanges on the sidewalk.  And needless to say, it feels a lot chillier in the neighborhood now.  Even if I find out I *have* to remove the trees because of some city ordinance (unlikely), ultimately, he has a loss where none was necessary.

The funny thing is, I think my neighbor wants me to think he's smart and reasonable.  Based on this behavior, I (ahem) don't see him that way. . . and I'm much less inclined to treat him that way.

So, if you want to create high drama communication, here's what you do:
1.  Yell a lot.
2.  Lay down absolutes.
3.  When someone else talks, talk over them.
4.  When someone gives an alternate viewpoint, tell them that they're ridiculous.
5.  When someone says, "I'd like to reach a consensus we can both live with," say "It's my way or the highway!"

If you do this, and your bullying tactics work, you will get what you want, although you won't make friends.  But if your bullying tactics don't work, you set yourself up for some pretty brutal fireworks.

I think that this is what happens in divorce all the time.  One party lays down the gauntlet, angry and loud, and the situation turns from one in which perhaps both parties can get what they need, and changes into something where there are going to be winners and losers, or maybe just losers.

I know a story about a toaster that ended up costing $10,000 in legal fees.  Long story short, a divorcing couple (I'm friends with one of them) got into an argument about their toaster as they split assets.  One got the toaster, one didn't.  And then it was time for the one who didn't get it to make toast for her kid, and she couldn't, and so she got mad, and she communicated her anger by breaking into the ex's house and stealing back the toaster with a few choice words.  He was so angry with this method that he froze her bank accounts.....and high drama ensued.  I think it's fair to say they both lost....big time.

Now, I don't know what would have happened if she'd called him and said, "Our child likes toast in the morning and I would like the toaster back please," or if she said, "I really need a toaster, so I'm going to Target where I will spend $15 and buy a brand new one and I'm making that a line item in our settlement," or if she made her kid a smoothie in the blender she got instead, but in any case, I doubt that it would have cost $10,000 in legal fees.  But yes, she sure showed him, and she got that toaster.

I'd like to believe I'm smarter than that.  Sure, I get mighty angry sometimes, but in the end, I want to be happy.  $10,000 in legal fees to get a toaster would most definitely make me very, very, very unhappy, and I think it's fair to say that I'd rather give a total stranger or my worst enemy my toaster rather than run up that many fees to protect it.  And I don't want to yell back at my neighbor because I believe that when I take the high road, maybe I'll feel better about my life, and maybe I won't bring out his need to hatchet anything else, and that trumps the idea of the (rather satisfying in theory) idea of calling him a lunatic to his face. 

I don't want to fight over toasters, or trees.  Actually, I don't want to fight at all.  I want to behave like adults.  Of course, sometimes the drama is brought in by another party (a neighbor, an ex) and then we're stuck with the drama that they bring to the party.  In my case, I'm hoping that bringing in an impartial third party such as a mediator with the ex, and the city authorities over the trees, will bring some peace to the situations, and keep the drama to a minimum.  Still, I'm at the mercy of others' mood swings, and sometimes all of the reasonable behavior in the world can't make a high drama bully stop.

What to do?

So, my questions for my readers:

- Why is it that some people communicate in such a way as to escalate drama?  If you could help me figure this one out, I'd be pretty appreciative.  And if you can explain how to de-escalate their drama-inducing-communication, you should write a book, or at least a pamphlet, for wide distribution.

- How do you manage high drama situations?

- How do you take the high road when someone is creating high drama communication?

- How do you avoid drama without agreeing to it?

- And just for fun - what are your high drama communication stories?  When did your ex create havoc where it was unnecessary, just because they clearly were acting like a bully-lunatic?  Vent away.  :-)


  1. What the heck is up with neighbors threatening legal actions over trees?

    (I've spewed on this topic myself.)

    I don't get it. I hear you. I feel you.

    I repeat: I don't get it. (Why can't grownups be grownups?)

  2. You had this too? Argh what is with people?! I don't get it either.

    It seems that being a grownup is more rare than I once believed. I used to think it was a function of age, but now I see that the two are barely related.

  3. Sometimes you can't avoid the drama, so you just ignore ignore ignore. I wrote an article about the last word. Letting them have it and still keeping your power because you give them the last word. My ex thrives on drama, but it's not the drama, it's the win he likes. So, I let him think he wins, when in the end he loses because rarely does he get under my skin. You have to feel something for someone in order to react to them. When you feel nothing, you give nothing when they react. Boundaries are a beautiful thing! Thank you for stopping by and allowing me to find you, a comrade in divorce!

  4. Hi, Lee, and thanks for popping in. We need our comrades in divorce! "Keeping your power because you give them the last word" - this is beautiful, and I'm going to try to remember it next time there is an unpleasant conversation in my life. I look forward to reading your additional posts, an to seeing you here again, especially if you're going to leave little gems like that behind. :-)