Assertive Anger: Tough With a Twist

Sixteen years ago, I moved to a quiet dead-end street. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that I lived near a teenage heavy metal band! As day turned to evening, my silent haven was interrupted by the sound of innocent drums and guitars being tortured!
I was angry. I phoned the police to see if this racket exceeded the town’s noise ordinance. Not even close. I closed my windows, but the summer heat made it unbearable to sleep. I tried earplugs but those little pieces of foam were no match for the gazillion decibels of cacophony that filtered into my bedroom each night. I was frustrated and quickly approaching desperate.

I had to “confront the offenders” and resolve this. But how? I was upset so the first thing I needed was to calm down and change my attitude. If I went there with a chip on my shoulder, that would be reflected in how I spoke to them. History reminded me that the outcome would be poor.

I decided to view the situation through their eyes: teenagers hanging out practicing music (I use the term “music” loosely). Not doing anything wrong, not breaking the law, just having fun. That’s a good thing. That helped me change how I felt about them.

Next, I gave them the benefit of the doubt: they probably don’t realize that the volume (not to mention the genre, ok, I did mention it, but not to them.) of their music was offending someone. I couldn’t fault them for that.

A shift in my perception changed my attitude completely. Instead of anger, I now felt understanding. Next, I needed to decide what I wanted to accomplish (to convince them to “dis-band”!). Was I being fair? After all, I mow the lawn on Saturday mornings. Couldn’t that sound be offensive to them? What teen gets up at the crack of dawn on weekends? Yet, no one ever complained about it. So, what could I reasonably request of them?

Once I answered that, the next thing was to decide my approach: approach, not confrontation. Approach sounds much less intimidating. Confrontation sounds like I’m ready to fight. I wasn’t… ready, or willing, to fight, that is.

I went to their house the next time they were practicing.

“Hi,” I’m your new neighbor. You guys must be serious about your band. You practice a lot.”

Yeah, he replied, they had a “gig”- hoped to make it big someday. (Ah, yes, every young boy’s dream – to be a famous rock star!) Who was I to squash that dream?

“Music’s important to me, too,” I continued. “I feel bad asking you this, but when you practice late into the evening, I get very little sleep. Could you either end a little earlier or turn the volume down a bit?”

The whole time I spoke, I kept my tone polite and respectful knowing that this is how I would like to be spoken to.

“Sure,” he. “Sorry.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it.” (I really did. He didn’t have to honor my request. After all, legally he wasn’t at fault.)

That wasn’t so bad. The problem was resolved and I met my very nice young neighbor.

The next time you have a problem with someone in your life, try the following tips for resolving the dispute:

1. Watch your attitude and approach. They ultimately determine the outcome of the situation. Leave your ego and anger at home.
2. Polite yields polite, respect yields respect. Be the first to offer it and most likely it will be returned. Ghandi said: “I must first be the change I want to see in others.”
3. Begin by introducing yourself. Establish common grounds such as, “We’re both homeowners who live in this beautiful neighborhood.” This acts as a bonding agent.
4. Ask if they are aware that there is a situation you are having difficulty with. (Remember, the boys didn’t realize that their music was offensive to me.) Give them the benefit of the doubt.
5. Don’t accuse, threaten, judge, name-call or yell. Instead, ask questions to learn more.
6. State your request. Make sure it is fair and reasonable. Ask yourself, “would you be receptive to someone making that same request of you?”
7. Keep the ultimate goal in mind. Stay focused on what you need to accomplish and the best way to do that.
8. Be willing to compromise. Both sides need to be satisfied with the outcome or the problem (or a new one) will resurface.
9. Show your appreciation for their time and effort. “Thanks so much. I’m really glad that we were able to resolve this.” We all respond well to recognition.

Conflict resolution isn’t hard. Most of us were never taught how. But with the new tools you’ve acquired, hopefully you’ll feel a more comfortable the next time a situation arises. Remember: “We cannot be a world at peace, Until we are first a people of peace.” – Janet Pfeiffer

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