I was nasty and petty to an unpleasant neighbor, and now I feel terrible about it. How do I improve my confrontation skills, apologize to my neighbor and stop beating myself up? Painfully self-conscious guilt fest below the fold.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I try to be a good person, but very occasionally, I get hot-headed and do or say stupid things. This week was one of those occasions. Sorry in advance for the length, skimming is encouraged!
To make a long story short, my next-door neighbors put a row of junk furniture on the curb back in May. A month and a half later, after a citation from the city, it had dwindled down to a single huge pleather recliner, fading and rotting in the rain.
After a week or so of considering it, and against the advice of my very diplomatic wife, I went over there on Sunday, knocked on the door, and asked if I could take the furniture to the dump. The neighbor said “sure,” but asked why, and I told her: I was tired of looking at it from pretty much every window in my house, and I was embarrassed by it during a recent visit from out-of-town family.
She said I was being an asshole, and I responded by asking her and her husband to please stop piling trash in their yard or on the sidewalk (this wasn’t the first time they’ve done this, and it drives the whole street nuts). I then backed my truck up to the curb, and my wife and I loaded the waterlogged chair and took it to the dump. After 10 minutes or so of feeling like a neighborhood hero, I was overwhelmed with guilt for a.) letting the junk chair get to me so much in the first place; c.) most likely breaking the bounds of neighborhood civility; and b.) totally failing in my attempt to be nice about it. I didn’t raise my voice, and I used polite language the whole time, but I was very nervous, and for some reason compelled in the heat of the moment to sound forceful, and I know I came across as contemptuous, shallow and mean.
The neighbors left us an angry note, claiming, rightfully, that I came over to her house “with an attitude,” threatening trespassing charges if my wife or I ever step foot on their property again and advising us that we “could take our Christmas fudge,” which we make and deliver annually to all of our neighbors “and shove it.”
I feel like I do these sorts of things – say what I’m thinking even though I know it’s rude, unintentionally make my displeasure very obvious – too often during confrontations, and hence I avoid them. Over the years, I’ve practiced pending difficult conversations, such as having to deliver bad performance reviews or feedback to an employee or even something as simple as requesting repayment for a faulty product. But inevitably I let my frustration show and frequently regret things I say or the way I phrased them later. I’d appreciate any advice on how to not let anger get the better of me – I think it would serve me well in my career and otherwise to be able to elicit desired outcomes or approach interpersonal problems in more positive ways.
I’d also like honest feedback on whether I overstepped neighbor-relation ethical boundaries in offering to dispose of my neighbors’ trash, and how I could have gotten my message across more politely. Or really, if I’m just an asshole. I guess I want some perspective.
Finally, I’m also trying to decide whether I should write a letter of apology (and send it through the mail, ‘natch) for the way I acted.
A little context: I’m just shy of 40, in graduate school, work as a freelance writer and web designer, happily married and generally very happy with life in general. I really, really strive to be a good person – recycle, commute by bike, try not to be judgmental, etc. Through my 20s, I was kind of an immature, self-centered guy prone to saying things without thinking and other boorish behavior. I’ve learned a lot in the last 10 years. I put a lot of effort toward overcoming my less pleasant personality traits, and think I do an OK job. I try extremely hard to not flip off bad drivers or other pointless, escalation behavior. I have good relationships with my loved ones, colleagues and supervisors. I generally think that people should be allowed to do what they want in their homes, but as I get older, and especially since my wife and I bought a 60-year-old home in a lower-middle class, inner city neighborhood in 2004, I feel pride in places looking nice.
The neighbors, both in their 50s or 60s, have been difficult for years, and though we try to be nice to them, we’ve had less dramatic arguments before and we don’t like them much. The husband, in the wild throes of opiate withdrawal, once tearfully begged my wife to take him on what became a crazy adventure to Wal-Mart for his prescription painkillers. Their dogs, frequently loose in the streets, have chased and frightened people, and we’ve both threatened to call animal control, though we never did. We frequently are treated to loud fights and/or late-night howling at the moon, as well as a constant cloud of cigarette smoke.
Thanks for reading.