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Victoria Pynchon

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"You Park Like an Asshole" ~ How Not to Commence Negotiations

book.jpgPriming Legal Negotiations is the winner of this week's Golden Asshole Award. /*  An autographed copy of A is for Asshole, the Grownups' ABCs of Conflict Resolution will be winging its way to author Carrie Sperling, Executive Director of the Arizona Justice Project today!  Excerpt below.  Full article at the link.  

Thanks to the Legal Writing Prof Blog for the head's up.

As I left for work one crisp, sunny April morning, I spotted a five-by-seven printed form on my car’s front windshield. The form’s message proclaimed, in large, bold letters, “youparklikeanasshole.” The form had a checklist of infractions like “two spots, one car,” “that’s a compact?” and “over the painted lines.”The bottom of the printed form said,

Parking is far too limited in our overcrowded streets and parking lots, and you happened to park like an asshole. Go to the above web site to see why someone else thought you parked like an asshole. Don’t be too offended, we all do it one time or another—it just so happens you got caught.

My next-door neighbor, who evidently put the note on my car, listed my infraction as “other” with a follow-up explanation written by hand: “You are parking too close to my garage. It’s hard for me to pull my truck in.” I studied the note for a few moments. I felt my heart start to pound and my whole body became uncomfortably warm. I wadded the note and tossed it. I was angry. When I arrived at work twenty minutes later, I was still angry. I told my co-workers about the note.

They all agreed with me; it was rude and inappropriate.

When I returned home that evening, I visited with neighbors who were not complaining about my parking. I showed them the note, now crumpled and dirty. They, too, became angry. One neighbor suggested exacting revenge on the note’s author by letting the air out of his tires. Another neighbor excitedly suggested something involving Crisco. Although I am a trained mediator, I became giddy about the prospect of getting even.

Perhaps it was a moment of self reflection that led me to question why I was even thinking of revenge. But that written demand evoked intense emotions in me and in my neighbors. We did not care about investigating appropriate responses or attempting to resolve the problem; we wanted to make my neighbor pay for his rude behavior. Instead of encouraging me to change my behavior in the way my neighbor requested, the note had an entirely different effect. The written demand prompted me to make my neighbor regret placing that note on my windshield.

This incident led me to question the legal demand letters lawyers write. I wondered if demand letters often evoke similar negative emotional reactions in their recipients. And, if so, do those emotions influence the recipients’ behaviors in ways that hinder settlement?

I'll be providing a template for a negotiation request letter later today.

And all kidding aside, this article should be required reading for every legal writing class in every law school in the country!

Cross-posted at The ABCs of Conflict Resolution Blog.


*/  The Golden Asshole Award is given once a month to the individual making the greatest contribution to reducing assholishness in the profession.

Comments (6)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Ken Shigley - November 16, 2010 9:52 AM

Great insight.

Your story reminded me of an incident 25 years ago when my wife and I were newlyweds in our first house. It was the kind of neighborhood where kids and dogs often ran free, and our dog was no exception. Next door were an Iranian engineer and his American bride. One day when I got home I found a note taped to the kitchen door from our carport. Written in a form of English that made it clear no native speaker had proofread it, the note was a rant about our cute Lab pooping on his lawn.

I reacted in anger, showed it to a neighbor across the street whose suggestions included ethnic slurs and a flamethrower. When my wife got home, she reacted more calmly. Ever the wise one, she wrote a note on her engraved note paper (left over from wedding gift thank you notes), inviting the couple next door over for coffee and dessert to discuss our landscaping plan and how it would relate to their landscaping, knowing that the Iranian guy would have to tell his wife about his note before they came.

When the evening came, we had gourmet coffee and homemade chocolate chip cheesecake. The drawing prepared by our landscape designer was spread out on the coffee table. For about an hour we talked about everything except the dog and his note. We got a lovely description of how beautiful the mountains north of Tehran are in the spring. Finally, the word "jerk" was used as a verb in some other context. The American bride of the Iranian guy said, "speaking of jerks, Ali had no business writing that stupid note!" Poor guy didn't have a chance.

We were conciliatory, kids and dogs continued to have the run of the neighborhood as before, and we had no more problems.

If only the US had enjoyed that much success in negotiating with Iran!

Victoria Pynchon - November 17, 2010 9:13 AM


Thank you SO MUCH for leaving this story here. It's beautiful and touching and made my entire day ~ heck, my entire WEEK.

Shayan - November 18, 2010 2:20 PM

Ken, what does his being Iranian have to do with anything? I'm Iranian. And where I live it is common courtesy to pick up the excrement of the animals that belong to you. I've worked in many equestrian facilities, and shoveled lots of horse manure, but I've never asked a neighbor to pick up my dog's excrement, or implied that their unwillingness to do so was a result of "ethnicity."

PS Iran is home to dozens of ethnicities. Being Iranian is a nationality, not ethnicity.

Victoria Pynchon - November 20, 2010 12:34 PM

Thanks, Shayan, for leaving your comment. I too was curious about a neighborhood in which the custom was for the neighbors to clean up after one another's dogs. Then I read the comment again and saw that Ken was talking about an incident that occurred twenty-five years ago ~ a time when cleaning up after one's own dog was not the general folk custom (in some places mandated by law) as it is today. I didn't see Ken refer to "Iranian" as an ethnicity rather than a nationality, though many may well make this mistake if they do not live in a multi-cultural community. I also do not read Ken's comment as one blaming the nasty tone of the note on his neighbor's ethnicity. I take your point, however, that the context might imply to some that the tone of the note was related somehow to "Ali's" nationality, which, of course, it could not be. As I explain the A is the Asshole, the ABCs of Conflict Resolution, an asshole (a jerk) is not a person (and hence could never be an ethnicity or nationality or gender or sexual orientation, or religion) but a behavior and not one person but two. As Ken's story illustrates, many would read Ken's behavior as "assholish" because leaving one's dog's poop on a neighbor's lawn violates agreed upon rules of civility (though it apparently did not in Ken's neighborhood at the time). Others would read Ali's behavior as "assholish" because it was an unnecessarily disproportionate retaliatory response to a slight breach of neighborliness. It took two to tango. It would have been best if Ali felt able to knock on his neighbor's door or pick up the phone or even write a note asking for the kind of meeting the neighbors finally had ~ one in which they got to know each other, broke bread together, recognized one another's humanity (reducing any actual but likely implicit prejudice either man may have harbored of the other before Ken's wife decided to put it right) and reached a working agreement based upon their personal interests as well as the customs of the neighborhood. We are all "jerks" at one time or another and we all often mistakenly and to our embarrassment make stereotypes of one another, preventing neighborly relations which sometimes lead to turf wars (think gangs), genocide and armed conflicts. The goal here is to avoid all of that in favor of understanding, compassion, recognition of our shared human frailty, communication, amends, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Bellevue dental - September 9, 2012 10:07 PM

great article! it is an eye opening to all. and i'm very much thankful that she wrote her experience for us to let know them respectively

Amber - December 20, 2013 10:50 PM

Great story and how true that the feeling of revenge or anger often hinders getting the conflict resolved. Good post!

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