We all occasionally experience disagreements with our neighbors. Minor things such as an overgrown tree hanging over the fence, or a dog that barks all day can lead to conflict. How we deal with these situations can have a huge effect on how successful we are in resolving these conflicts. Having a disagreement does not always have to be a negative thing. Working together to resolve conflicts can lead to better relationships and a better sense of community. By using a few simple conflict resolution techniques, we increase the chances of a positive outcome.
First of all, when a conflict arises, don’t start out by taking your dispute straight to the HOA, Code Enforcement, or the Police. Give the other person the opportunity to address the problem. A good dialogue may reveal there is not really so much of a problem after all. If the first thing a person hears about an issue is in a letter from the HOA or a visit from the police, they will typically become defensive and less willing to work toward a solution to the problem.
Conflicts occur for many reasons. Often the other person may not even realize there is a problem. For example, a person might not realize their dog barks all day. The dog may never bark when the person is home. It is necessary to tactfully inform the person of the problem. If you have not introduced yourself to your neighbor, this might be a good time to do so. Before you talk to your neighbor you must clearly define the problem. It is much easier to find a solution if both parties clearly understand and agree there is a problem. Stick to the facts and avoid attaching your emotions. Try to get an idea of how your neighbor might view things. Looking at the issue from another perspective might change your own perception. Come up with a few possible solutions but be willing to compromise to some degree, rarely does one party get everything they want. Once you have done these things to prepare for the conversation, you should be ready to approach your neighbor to discuss the problem.
When you are ready to talk to your neighbor, choose a time when they are likely to be able to talk for about thirty minutes. Don’t approach them when they are on their way to work or obviously too busy to talk for a while. Avoid approaching the person with a group of other neighbors, as this will likely cause the person to become defensive. It might be best to approach them when their spouse or children are not present to avoid family pressure or too many opinions being expressed at the same time. When speaking to the other party, be respectful. This will make it easier for them to open up to you and consider your point of view. Try to separate the person from the problem as making a conflict personal can create barriers that make it hard to negotiate. Be calm and use a normal speaking voice. Being loud or getting emotional will only hinder good communication.
First, identify and agree to the problem. Many times the problem might be different than you perceive it to be. Be courteous, listen carefully to what they have to say and don’t interrupt them while they are speaking. It can put a person much more at ease if they believe you are eager to hear what they have to say. Identify your objectives clearly without being demanding. Ask your neighbor to suggest some possible solutions and be willing to look at solutions you may not have considered. By making it a joint effort to find a solution, you are building a relationship with your neighbor and you are likely earning their respect. Discuss the possible solutions and find the ones that best suit the needs of all involved.
Despite our best efforts, some people are difficult to discuss things with. They might become immediately defensive or start yelling. People who behave this way often just want to feel they are being heard. Be calm and let them have their say. Be patient and let them talk until they feel they have made their point. This might allow them to get it off their chest and be ready to listen to what you have to say. It may help to reiterate or repeat back what they have said. This shows you are listening and understand their position. When they feel they are being heard, they are likely to calm down and be more reasonable. Honestly consider what they have to say. Avoid belittling their viewpoint or telling them they are wrong. Look for points you can agree on to promote cooperation.
If the person becomes verbally abusive, firmly end the conversation. You might say “I see you are getting upset” and set a time to continue the discussion when the person is more able to speak calmly. There may be aspects of the situation in which you are wrong. Own up to it and the other person will feel validated. This can change the whole tone of the conversation. Above all, never let small conflicts escalate to violence. When people resort to violence, both parties lose and nothing is accomplished. If you absolutely can’t resolve the issue with the person directly, then it is time to seek the assistance of the HOA (Home Owner’s Association) or Code Enforcement.
By using some simple negotiating skills, you can resolve most issues in your neighborhood and develop lasting relationships with your neighbors.
Community Service Officer John Thomas is a long time resident of Temecula and is a Crime Prevention Officer with the Temecula Police Department Crime Prevention Unit. He can be reached at (951) 506-5132.