Author Topic: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)  (Read 5717 times)

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spookycatlady

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When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« on: August 16, 2012, 11:00:59 AM »
The Dude and I went over to visit Sean and Chloe.  Sean is the Dude's friend and I really enjoy the company of Chloe.  Up until this evening, I've liked them both well enough.   Sean is a pretty boisterous and aggressively opinionated and the Dude is also loud and talky, so I tend to find evenings out with this couple pretty draining overall because Sean, like my husband is the World's Leading Expert on Everything Ever.

The last couple of times we've been together, he's taken it upon himself to talk about how he's been mistreated by Giantcorp, which is a closely affiliated partner with my employer, Megacorp.  We often get confused with one another, the work we do overlaps, but with different missions.  I started at the ground floor, and worked my way through the ranks, and am considered an expert (expert was actually in my title for a while  ::)).  To add further background, very few people have positive experiences with the working level of Giantcorp or Megacorp.  The entire industry is almost universally mistrusted and disliked; I don't generally take it personally, but I whenever it comes up, I try to add perspective to their experience, hoping that maybe a little understanding will prevent the same level of frustration in the future.

So, Sean starts his story of woe and misfortune and I made a critical error by engaging with him in my normal way.

He got pretty insulting (he was bragging about how confrontational and aggressive he got with the agent in charge of his processing,)  I've done that job pretty quickly and I gamely tried to explain what might have been happing behind the scenes that he wasn't aware of.  He dismissed what I had to say and continued.  Loudly.

I tried to discreetly change the subject. 

He ignored this.  I ridiculously tried to change the subject.  "ANTS DON'T LIKE CUCUMBERS!"

He continued, raised voice and full of rage.  I said, "In case you weren't aware, I was trying to change the subject to something lighter because you seem pretty passionate about this and we probably aren't going to see eye to eye."

"I know you were trying to change the subject, but this is my house and I can talk about what I want."

"Fair enough. I'm feeling really uncomfortable by this conversation."

"It's not a conversation, I'm venting."

"Oh. I apologize.  I thought it was a conversation. If you needed to vent, I should just let you do that."  This was said genuinely. 

He then changed from complaining about Giantcorp and turned his frustration on me, "I don't understand why you're taking this personally."  When I tried to explain why I was taking his statements personally, he kept interupting me.  After about 5-10 minutes of that, I gave up.

I said, "Well, I apologize.  Sincerely, if I knew you had just wanted to vent, I should have just let you.  You didn't need to hear my take on the situation."

"I was just trying to have a conversation! You took this personally."  I realize that this wasn't going to resolve itself because he entered Crazy Town and argued for the sake of arguing.  He was not going to listen and I felt attacked and dismissed. 

So, I put a genuine smile and said, "You know what?  You're right, I wasn't there.  I don't know what happened."

He resumed complaining about his experience.  (Which FYI, would have been mildly annoying to me, had I gone through it, but he was making it seem like he was being raked over hot coals in the 9th circle of Hell.)  I tried the Toots Special TM and just started repeating, "You're right.  You were there and I wasn't. I don't know what happened."  I actually started thinking about what would you all would tell me to do on the eHell forums and that's what came to mind.

He then said, "I've never had anyone speak to me this way. I don't know why you're being so touchy!" 

I smiled and said, "I'm passionate about this subject.  I can see you are too.  And you were there.  I wasn't.  I can't speak to your experience."

His wife didn't speak through this entire exchange and my Dude tried a couple of times to explain my experience/perspective to Sean too, which was also dismissed.

He tried turning the tables on me personally (my role, I shouldn't care about what happens, I'm too sensitive about this), but I just kept repeating myself, with a genuine smile on my face.  I think it eventually worked because he seemed to run out of steam, the conversation shifted and the rest of the evening was fairly pleasant.  Later, when the Dude and I were doing the postmortem of the evening I told him, "I hope you weren't embarrassed that I was arguing with Sean." 

My Dude won a thousand husband points with me when he said, "I was getting pretty mad that he wasn't listening to you, but I was so proud of you for holding your own *and* being so polite and calm about it.  I tried helping you out and he was a real [expletive deleted] to me too, but you were doing so well!"  I told the Dude that if the conversation hadn't changed, my next step was to leave and he supported that. 

I am not accepting any invitations from them for a while, but probably in the future.  I need ideas/suggestions on how to disengage from the conversation earlier, because I know that Sean will bring it up again.  Like, as soon as he wants to talk about Giantcorp, I want to disengage completely. 

The reality is, I really hate it when people in general know where I work.  Many many people believe this knowledge gives them the opening to complain about all the ways they've been maligned by Megacorp or Giantcorp (or even the unaffiliated, but tangential Medium Inc.) 

Kaypeep

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2012, 11:13:05 AM »
Congrats on  handling such an uncomfortable situation that it ended without drama!

Next time, as soon as he starts talking about Megacorp or any of it's subsidiaries, don't say anything. If he goads you, then I'd reply "Oh no!  Not again!  I remember how sensitive you were the last time I added my 2 cents on this topic, so I see no reason to repeat that.  Feel free to vent but I have nothing to add.  Or we can talk about (insert innocuous topic here) and I'd be happy to discuss that instead."  If he pushes, perhaps your BF can tell him "She said she doesn't want to talk about it.  So respect that and drop it, or else we're going to have to leave."

And if he pushes and pushes, then go with your plan to leave and stick to it. 

The guy sounds like he can be a bore at times, but if he goads you he is going into bully territory, and I wouldn't tolerate that.

Jones

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2012, 11:15:51 AM »
No advice, but I'd like to post for updates, as I am dealing with a similar situation. Don't you enjoy talking to people who Know Everything about Everything?

Reason

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2012, 11:18:49 AM »
This exchange actually seems pretty complex. He felt the need to vent about something bad that happened to him, and you decided to respond by explaining why it was partially justified.

I don't know about Megacorp or anything, so I have to use an easier example for me to process. Let's say he got bitten by a dog (something bad happens) and you are an expert on dogs. When he tells you he got bitten, instead of saying "Wow, sorry to hear that, that's awful" you began to tell him that "The dog was probably just startled by some of your behavior. You shouldn't have been standing so close, wearing cologne, etc"

Granted, he didn't react at all well to it, but I wouldn't call it completely crazy. That is I can see why he was upset.

greencat

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2012, 11:20:36 AM »
Make sure that next time you hang out with them, your stuff is ready to go and easily accessible.  When he starts up again, try to change the subject once.  If he continues on the tirade of crazy, stand, smile pleasantly, say something nice that makes it sound like the evening was coming to a natural conclusion, and go.

Possible nice leaving phrases:
"It was lovely seeing you again.  Have a good night!"
"Well, we must be going now, but we'll see you again soon."

Remove the attention from him, and he'll stop doing it fairly soon.  People who go on unstoppable tirades are annoying.  The only person I evenly moderately tolerate it from is my own father, and I have almost 30 years of experience in side-tracking him!

O'Dell

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2012, 11:21:20 AM »
He got pretty insulting (he was bragging about how confrontational and aggressive he got with the agent in charge of his processing,) I've done that job pretty quickly and I gamely tried to explain what might have been happing behind the scenes that he wasn't aware of.  He dismissed what I had to say and continued.  Loudly.

And does the bolded bit usually work for you? Because I think this is where you went wrong. Typically people complaining want to be heard/understood. If you were going to say anything here, you wanted to empathize. "That's a shame that your experience was so bad" or "That shouldn't have happened" (if truthful). You can still explain or, even better, give tips on how to get better results if it happens again, if you think the person might take it well. Well maybe better to ask if they want to know before telling them that stuff. But just explaining what was going on behind the scenes does tend to come off as justifying Megacorp's methods and minimizing the person's frustration. And if that person is already getting emotional about it, you've just lit a match to their powder keg. ;)

Sean's behavior was inexcusable though. I think you and anyone else there should have been quicker to break things up...gotten up to freshen your drink or use the restroom so Sean might take a breather or even leaving like you planned.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2012, 11:30:27 AM »
I think I would make a 'No talking about Giantcorp or Megacorp' rule the next time you hang out.

'Sean, here's the deal.  You and I are never going to agree about this so let's leave it entirely off the table as a topic of conversation.  If you bring it up, we will have to leave/ask you to leave.'
I have CDO.  It is like OCD but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be.
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Mikayla

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2012, 12:43:09 PM »
I think I would make a 'No talking about Giantcorp or Megacorp' rule the next time you hang out.

'Sean, here's the deal.  You and I are never going to agree about this so let's leave it entirely off the table as a topic of conversation.  If you bring it up, we will have to leave/ask you to leave.'
This.

If Sean needs to vent (and this is understandable), then he needs to find someone with no emotional or professional ties to his industry. 

lowspark

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2012, 01:03:53 PM »
The next time (and all the next times) he brings it up, excuse yourself and go to the ladies room or whatever. And stay away till he's done. If that's not possible then do a "whoa! look at the time!" thing and end the get together.

You can ask him not to bring it up again, but based on what you've posted, he might just escalate that request into another venting session.

O'Dell

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2012, 01:07:38 PM »
The next time (and all the next times) he brings it up, excuse yourself and go to the ladies room or whatever. And stay away till he's done. If that's not possible then do a "whoa! look at the time!" thing and end the get together.

You can ask him not to bring it up again, but based on what you've posted, he might just escalate that request into another venting session.

I too suspect that's what will happen if she tries to make that topic off-limits.  :-\
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
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bloo

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2012, 01:20:15 PM »
"I know you were trying to change the subject, but this is my house and I can talk about what I want."

"Fair enough. I'm feeling really uncomfortable by this conversation."

"It's not a conversation, I'm venting."
"Oh. I apologize.  I thought it was a conversation. If you needed to vent, I should just let you do that."  This was said genuinely. 

He then changed from complaining about Giantcorp and turned his frustration on me, "I don't understand why you're taking this personally."  When I tried to explain why I was taking his statements personally, he kept interupting me.  After about 5-10 minutes of that, I gave up.

I said, "Well, I apologize.  Sincerely, if I knew you had just wanted to vent, I should have just let you.  You didn't need to hear my take on the situation."

"I was just trying to have a conversation! You took this personally."  I realize that this wasn't going to resolve itself because he entered Crazy Town and argued for the sake of arguing.  He was not going to listen and I felt attacked and dismissed. 

So, I put a genuine smile and said, "You know what?  You're right, I wasn't there.  I don't know what happened."

I don't see where you really did anything wrong. I think you handled this great from start to finish.

I've bolded the two statements he made that leapt out at me where he quickly contradicted himself. It looks like once he did that (the second bolded statement) you wisely stepped off the crazy train.

Yeah things might not have been AS heated on his end if you'd just said something like, 'sorry for your experience' or whatever but this is the dance we do when we are in society. Once you realized there might have been a slight misstep on your part, you re-calculated perfectly! Leaving earlier in the convo would have been okay too.

NyaChan

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2012, 01:24:54 PM »
As soon as he said "this is my house and I can talk about what I want"  I would have been sorely tempted to reply "Very well, but as a guest, I don't have to sit here and listen.  DH, I'll wait in the car for 2 minutes if you want to leave, otherwise call me and I'll come pick you up."  And exit.  To be honest, I don't think I'd want to go back to their house and I would hesitate to invite them to socialize again for quite a while. 

Mental Magpie

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #12 on: August 16, 2012, 01:28:56 PM »
Pod bloo.

OP, I might have said the same thing as you about how he may not have been aware of things going on that changed the way his interaction went.  I think part of the misstep there was that you didn't preface it with empathy.  However, after your misstep, you tried to backpedal as bet you could and then when he jumped on the crazy train with Ozzy, you politely tried to disengage.  I think you did pretty well.

If you do feel the need to say something next time, couch it with empathy and come from a place of understanding (just like a customer service agent) even if it is contradictory to what he wants to hear.  That, or don't say anything at all.  Also feel free to leave the conversation if it is personally insulting you.  You do not have to sit there and take it.
The problem with choosing the lesser of two evils is that you're still choosing evil.

spookycatlady

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2012, 01:40:48 PM »
@O'Dell, the method you bolded usually does work :).  The normal encounter is like this:

Normal Person: Oh! I had to deal with your company last week and the agent I spoke to kept asking me about my widgets! I wasn't calling about my widgets! I was calling about my filbertflams!  Stupid idiot.
Me: How frustrating!  I can say from experience that sometimes the agents ask about your widgets because there's a compatibility issue with the filbertflams.  Most people have filbertflam problems have widget problems too and if you solve the Widget Conundrum, no more filbertflam issues.  Crazy, huh!
Normal Person: Really? I never knew that.
Me: If I hadn't worked in that job, I wouldn't have known either! It seems so counterintuitive.  Let's eat pie!
Normal Person: I love pie!


Sean's reaction was closer to: No. I know all about filbertflams. There is no widget compatibility problem. That doesn't exist.
Me: Oh, but I found that when the widget is-
Sean: The agent did not know about filbertflams or widgets and he was so lazy to think it was about widgets.  I told him that as a customer, I pay his salary and he just needs to do his job.  He refused to do anything for me because he was too stupid to fix the real problem.

That's about as close as I can get to the tone of Sean's tirade. 

Reason

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Re: When I realized too late that I engaged the crazy (long)
« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2012, 01:45:33 PM »
Should the onus not then be on the agent to explain the connection between widgets and filberflams before asking about widgets? If the customer is left angry and confused, I think that's hardly the ideal way to do business. So Sean still has a valid point.

Unless he's one of those customers that won't listen to any logic.