Yesterday, as I was checking my mailbox in my condo building, I saw one of my neighbors. At first I didn’t really want to talk to him, because he was really uptight about everything, and I was walking around the building without one despite the signs everywhere saying that mask was mandatory inside public spaces.
After I had checked my mailbox and was about to leave, he was still hovering around, and he made eye contact with me. I could have just walked away, with a simple nod of my head, just to say hi and bye, but in that moment I chose to open up and talk to him instead. He walked toward me and started talking about something. Thankfully he didn’t mention about me not following the mask rule, although he himself was properly covered. As long as he didn’t start attacking me, I was okay talking to him.
We talked for quite a while. On various topics. There were a few things during our conversation that were a bit surprising and intriguing.
For example, he talked about the vandalism that took place. Then I asked, “Oh, was that why we had the fire alarm last night?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he continued to describe details of the vandalism. After I understood the situation more, again I asked, “So was that why we had the alarm?”
Again, he didn’t answer, and continued to talk about whatever he wanted to say. At this point, I realized two things:
- Stop asking about the reason of the alarm, since he’s not going to answer. He’s like driver who doesn’t pay attention to traffic signs.
- His communication style is totally different from mine. I don’t know what to do with him.
So I went along with him, letting him say whatever he wanted to say. Then at another point, I observed that he repeated that same communication pattern again, where he would start telling a story, and I would ask why, and he just kept talking about his story without answering my question.
I made specific mention of this interaction because I observed my mental reaction to his style of talking. When he didn’t answer my question straightforwardly, and instead going about saying whatever he wanted to say, while at the same time expecting me to give him my full attention, I struggled mentally. It was a bit like a mental tug-of-war. But out of politeness, I didn’t insist on fishing for the answer I was looking for, because if I did, it would not sound very pleasant. I would be saying something to the effect of, “I don’t think you’ve answered my question …,” leaving my comment dangling in mid air and expecting him to address it. But since this was a casual chitchat, I decided not to use that style of communication, and instead, let him take me for a joy ride with his mental wanderings.
I realized he wasn’t looking to hear what I had to say. It was a one-sided conversation where he only wanted to be the speaker, and by default, I could only be the listener, or else I could just say bye and walk away.
I usually don’t talk to this neighbor much although I see him hanging around the lobby often. Because he gets upset about a lot of things. My parents were like that too, so being around them made it convenient for them to vent all their anger and frustration at me. As a general behavioral pattern, I tend to avoid people like that.
However, yesterday, while he did his usual complaining in front of me, I didn’t feel any fear or discomfort, just befuddled. How do I respond to someone who goes round and round and round without a specific point? If there is no point, then what am I responding to? Recently, I have been training myself to be more direct and focused, so suddenly dealing with someone who does the opposite of being straightforward, I was really stumped.
At one point he mentioned an illogical argument, so I tried to straighten him out, but realized my attempt was wasted. He complained about taxes, saying that when he sold his previous house, he incurred a capital gain. I immediately said, “Because that was your principal residence, your gain was not taxable.” Despite my assertion, he still insisted that it was a bummer that he had incurred a capital gain. I absolutely couldn’t understand where his logic was, because if it had no tax impact on him, then what was he complaining about?
The most hilarious part of our conversation was that we both live in a unit with the same layout, same square footage, only that his unit is in the east wing while mine is in the west wing. We have both owned our units since the building was first built. However, the similarities end here. His unit got flooded seven times. Complaining ensued. Complaints about the condo building, the management company, etc.
“How many times have you got flooded?” He asked.
He looked at me wide-eyed.
“Not even once.” I repeated resolutely, looking firmly into his eyes, trying to drive a point home.
For once in our entire conversation he fell dead silent. Unbelievable huh?
I was going to say more: If you keep complaining, if you keep focusing on the negative, this is what happens.
But I didn’t. I simply looked straight into his eyes.