Don’t Lose It! (or how to cope before you do)

The Romans and the Israelites, East versus West, good against evil, the old and the new—mankind seems to have been born to fight and disagree. But lately the cause seems to be less important than the result. Jilted by your lover? In Singapore, one man thought it was OK to gouge his ex’s eyes out. Caught in a traffic jam? Road rage is all the rage. And if the maid is giving you grief? A good scalding seems to have become the norm.
Violence, threats, screaming and lawsuits may be some ways to deal with an argument, but there are better alternatives to handle differences of opinion that won’t leave you in even deeper trouble—although at the time it might seem impossible. I-S spoke to six experts for their advice on how to handle nine of the most common areas for dispute. Take the boxing gloves off and read how.
You’re signaling to cross into the other lane, but a car next to you keeps speeding up to cut you off. You honk your horn, he gives you the finger before slowing down suddenly, causing you to hit his rear bumper and smash his tail lights.
THE LAWYER: Rajan Chettiar, solicitor at Rajan Chettiar & Co., says: “This is a typical incident on the roads in Singapore. I would advise that both drivers pull to the side and reach an amicable agreement. An amicable solution would be to acknowledge that the other party who caused the accident was in the wrong. Each party bears their costs of the damage to their own vehicles.” 
THE SHRINK: Dr. Vanessa San, a psychologist with Psycare Consultants, suggests: “Was it really all his fault? Or were you negligent in some way? Pull over and talk to him. Explain your situation calmly; that you unintentionally hit him; why you were honking (trying to make him aware you were changing lanes?). If he still blames the whole situation on you and insists you pay the full amount for the damage, he may be justified in doing so. Apologize, pay up, and cut your losses. Learn to be more careful of unreasonable drivers in the future. If you have reason to disagree, stay calm, explain your position, and make a police report.”
THE COPS: Spokesman Stanley Norbert of the Singapore Police Force Public Affairs Department, has this to say: “The police take a serious view of road bullying. We appeal to all road users—motorists and pedestrians alike—to be alert, patient and courteous on the roads. Should the public encounter any road bullies, we would like to offer the following advice:
• Remain calm and collected at all times. Do not further agitate the road bully with exaggerated gestures, expressions or behavior.
• Do not engage in a face-to-face confrontation with the road bully.
• Note down the vehicle number of the road bully and file a report with the police so that we can take the necessary action.
• If confronted by the road bully, call ‘999’. Remain in your vehicle and secure the doors while waiting for assistance.
Your best mate from university is in town and wants to sleep on your sofa for three weeks and party nonstop like its 1999 … again.
THE GURU: Rag Maini, director of Sacred Space, a holistic hub offering yoga, meditation and tarot card readings, has this to offer: “Give the excuse that boy/girlfriend or husband/wife does not like friends staying over, has a habit of walking around naked, and likes his/her privacy. Try to make alternate plans to meet best friend everyday for the three weeks outside for coffee, tea, movies, dinners.”
THE SHRINK: “Know thyself. If you know that it’s probably going to drive you up the wall because you sleep at 9pm every night and need order and personal space, then obviously it will not be good for your friendship if she stays. Consider the friendship; how important is this to her? Will it ruin the friendship if you say she can’t stay? Are there other options or friends she could stay with part of the time? If you know you really cannot put her up, explain the situation in terms of YOUR need for quiet, privacy, order, no disturbance. Be prepared to bite the bullet and accept that it may offend and affect the friendship. If you decide to let her stay, talk to her nicely and set house rules, such as not bringing friends home, no smoking inside, quiet after 10pm on weekdays, and please, no hanky panky on your sofa.”
As usual, your father is offering unsolicited advice about your plans to drop out of a career in law to become a film director. This time he is threatening to cut you out of his will (and the family fortune).
THE MONK: Gen Kelsang Wangchog, resident teacher at Odiyana Buddhist Meditation Society (who is teaching a course on overcoming anger in February) suggests: “You should remember that your father loves you very much, and strongly wishes for you to have protection and safety in this uncertain world. He is merely expressing his view on how—in his opinion—you would be best protected. You don’t have to follow his advice, you have the right to choose your own path, but it would be unfair of you to hurt him with words of anger. Accept your father’s view on this, and not try to change him. (Anyway, who ever did exactly what their parents wanted them to do?!)”
THE LAWYER: “I would advise you to keep quiet. Wait for your father to calm down. Approach him a couple of days later. Impress upon him why you prefer to be a film director. Highlight to your father the cons of being a lawyer in Singapore and highlight to him that you are an unhappy and discontented lawyer who is likely to drop out of law within the next three years of practice. Tell him success stories of law students, like Kelvin Tong, who have done well for themselves by dropping out of law and becoming film directors. Appeal to your father’s senses and he will realize that you have given a lot of thought to this and are very serious about it. It may be helpful for you to inform your father of your future concrete plans as a film director. You may have to do this in a few sessions. I would advise the father to be patient.”
THE SHRINK: “How sure are you of your career switch? Have you done enough research/thinking regarding both career paths? If you are sure, talk to him again and give your reasons for the change. Show that it is a carefully thought through decision. Draw out a career plan. Show that you will be able to support yourself and give some proof that you will have opportunities. If there is still disagreement, work out an arrangement by which you can start by going part-time in both first to ease him into the idea. Or say you just need a break from law, it’s probably temporary, and you are just trying something new. If that fails, you are still sure, and he’s still threatening, go ahead—it’s your life. Accept his anger. He is of a different mindset, and aggression towards him will do you no good. Don’t burn your bridges—he might soften when he sees you successful in your new career and change his mind!”
You tell your boyfriend/girlfriend you need a cooling off period from the relationship but he/she doesn’t take it well and instead begins following you and hangs a dead rat from your front door with a note “things are going to get hotter not colder.”
THE GURU: “As there is still love in the air, buy a healing session for boy/girlfriend giving the excuse that it is good for each other to go for healing. The healer must be wise to explain the karmic effects of doing things like hanging a dead rat. Hopefully, after the healing and wise words from the healer, you can talk things out so as to remain friends rather than enemies with bad karma.”
THE SHRINK: “It seems he/she may have read your ‘cooling off’ as ‘breaking up’ and is desperate or out for revenge. But even if you did just mean cool off, he/she has disrespected your boundaries and seems highly unstable to threaten you in this way. Realize that he/she may be extremely fragile and vulnerable. Talk to him/her and politely request he/she respect your need for space, and to not repeat such behavior. If he/she takes an offensive attitude, the best thing you can do is nothing. Maintain your ‘cooling off’ status. Protect yourself. If you feel in danger, tell a friend/parent/relative and have them stay with you or stay with them for a while. If he/she persists with nasty behavior, make a police report. As a side note, are you sure you want to be with this person at all?! You may want to consider ending the relationship, rather than put up with such behavior in the long run.”
THE COPS: “For parties involved in a dispute, we would encourage them to resolve the matter amicably or have it mediated by the court. Members of the public involved in a dispute are advised not to take the law into their own hands. Where an act of harassment disturbs the general peace of the neighborhood, police may investigate and persons found using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior, or displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing harassment, alarm or distress, can face a fine of up to S$5,000.”
Despite telling her repeatedly not to, your new maid puts your expensive designer dress into the washing machine where the colors run—and then dries it until it’s Barbie-size—this is the third time! You tell her you’re returning her to the maid agency; she threatens to jump out the window.
THE COMMUNICATOR: Laureli Blyth, director of Training and Research at the Australasian Institute of Neuro-Linguistic Programming says: “In a normal tone of voice that is friendly, praise her work so far, how well she cleans for example. Ask her if she has something that is fragile and valuable—something she takes special care of—and ask her how she’d feel if someone treated it without being delicate. Show her how to launder and dry one piece, then have her show you how she will duplicate the process. Then give her more praise. Make sure you do this in a normal calm voice and, if appropriate, pat her shoulder to solidify the message.”
THE MONK: “There is a famous Buddhist quote that summarizes the practice of patient acceptance: ‘If a problem can be remedied, why become unhappy? And if there is no remedy, there is still no point in becoming unhappy.’ Here, you have a choice: Either you fire the maid, and learn nothing (and who is to say the next maid will come free of all problems?), or you take the time to be patient, explain out of kindness her error, and accept that she is human, makes mistakes and give her another opportunity. In this way, the maid becomes your practice of patience. How wonderful it is to have such a kind maid, teaching you patient acceptance in this way!”
A hot new job opens up in the company and even though you’re perfect for it you’re overlooked for the position in favor of the smarmy new guy.
THE GURU: “Of course anyone will get angry and feel cheated, but psyche yourself and think maybe my guardian angel is protecting me from a) being overworked; b) protecting me from facing conflicts with friends I have [up to now] been working harmoniously with; c) the pressure of the new status; or d) the most likely, that this is not my rice bowl, even though I deserve the position. There could be something else for me in the future that will make full use of my potential! If the newbie got the job … then it is his Good Karma so wish him well.”
THE COMMUNICATOR: “Let the boss know you are disappointed, but not discouraged. The worst thing you could do is to get angry and ‘show them’ how you feel. Find out how you can be seriously considered for future promotions or hot jobs. Ask for more responsibility and let the boss see your results. It’s important to keep your disappointment to yourself, not let everyone know how wronged you feel. Act the part of the hottest employee and you’ll soon have the next hot job.”
THE MONK: “We all need to learn to be flexible—and adapt to life’s adversities. Adaptation is the art of survival! A powerful way to view this situation is to remember to say this to yourself: ‘Who is to say that the new job would have brought me a happier life? On the contrary, it will have brought with it a new set of problems. How wonderful that I am now free from the new set of problems I would have encountered if I had been given the job!’.”
A presentation to a major client tanked and now the team leader is pointing fingers saying your stats and info let the side down—who’s responsible?
THE SHRINK: “Keep your cool and don’t say anything that might aggravate the situation. If you know you haven’t pulled your weight, swallow your pride, talk to her and apologize for letting the team down. Make sure it never happens again. If you felt that it was unjustified, talk to her and find out why she thinks it’s your fault. Clear up misconceptions, ask her what she thinks you could have done better, and how to improve in the future. If what she says is reasonable, take it as a learning experience. If not, keep your cool. See if it happens again. If it does, see if there’s another senior you can talk to. If the situation doesn’t improve, you may want to look for another job or request a transfer to another team.”
THE COMMUNICATOR: “Keep your calm and hold your head up high. Tell them your stats and info provided are what was requested. Remind the leader that it is a ‘team’ effort. Perhaps suggest a brainstorming session for ways to make improvements as a group for future presentations so all could benefit. Keep your feelings and comments to yourself about how you really feel, as this will lead to you being the target for any future finger pointing.”
THE GURU: “Cool yourself down and visualize that everybody involved is willing to listen to your explanation positively. Call for a meeting with all those involved in the project and the one pointing the finger to explain how you got the stats. If, at the end of it, they still think that you are responsible, accept responsibility and apologize. There’s no harm in apologizing to cool things off.”
Every night the neighbors crank up the volume for their nightly karaoke sessions of Cantopop, which last until 11pm. Your anonymous letters for peace and quiet are not working!
THE MONK: “First try to accept the situation by practising patience, and if you are totally unable to, then with a calm and peaceful mind, kindly ask them to reduce the noise. Getting angry and displaying our temper to them will certainly not solve the situation in the long-term, since resentment will exist for many years between you and the neighbors, and even if you did blow out at them, you would find it hard to sleep anyway with an angry mind. It is always possible to be patient—even when attempting to solve a situation.”
THE LAWYER: “Approach the neighbors and highlight the problem to them. Explain the effect of their actions on you and your family. Ask them to be considerate and turn down the volume or finish their sessions by a reasonable time, say 9pm. Ask them how they would feel if they were in your position. Finally tell them politely that if this matter persists, you will have no choice but to commence legal action against them.”
THE COPS: “Again, it’s worth repeating that where an act of harassment disturbs the general peace of the neighborhood, police may investigate and persons found using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior, or displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing harassment, alarm or distress, can face a fine of up to S$5,000.”
You’re due to renew your flat’s lease next month, now the landlord has just upped the rent by 50 percent with no warning.
THE LAWYER: “Check the tenancy agreement as to whether the landlord is entitled to do so. Usually, they have the right to do so and it would be reflected in the tenancy agreement. Even so, you can still negotiate with your landlord not to increase the rent by 50 percent. Counterpropose a figure or propose that the rental hike takes effect on a future date. If the landlord does not agree, you have no choice but to agree to his terms or give notice of your intention to quit. This may make your landlord think twice.” 
THE COMMUNICATOR: “Make an appointment to see the landlord to discuss the lease terms. Find out the purpose for the huge increase and let them know your intention to be a responsible, long-term tenant. Keep your cool, don’t let it become personal. Determine if there is a possibility to negotiate and if so, make an offer; if not be prepared to move.”
THE GURU: “Try to negotiate. If the landlord is handy then get the agent who got the place for you to talk to the landlord, showing him records that you have been a good tenant, paying rent on time and have been looking after the property. Tell them that it will take some time before someone takes the unit over and there is the possibility of new tenants not paying the rent on time thus causing loss of income. If all fails, even to bring the increase down, look for another place soon and just let go.”
Solicitor Rajan Chettiar also offers this piece of advice: “As a backgrounder, negotiation and mediation are common and popular alternative dispute resolution methods used by lawyers and the Courts to resolve minor conflicts and problems. The advantage of this system is that it creates win-win solutions for the parties, maintains the relationship between the parties, and saves time and legal costs for both parties. These methods can be effectively used by litigants with the help of lawyers without filing a case in the Courts. For these methods to work, each party must be reasonable/willing to negotiate and must possess the correct mindset to give and take so as to reach an amicable settlement. Parties have to put their interests forward and reach a common position which is acceptable to both parties. Again, negotiation and mediation may be only effective after parties have gone through a few rounds. The tone of language/mood, behavior and body language of parties are important in the mediation/negotiation process.”
Community Mediation Centre (Subordinate Courts): #01-13 The URA Centre, East Wing, 45 Maxwell Rd., 6325-1600, [email protected],
Singapore Mediation Centre: Level 4, 1 Supreme Court Lane, 6332-4366, [email protected],