This year, our harried lives were upended by an unexpected pandemic that compelled abrupt changes to every facet of our lives. One surprising lesson has been the awareness of issues with neighbors. The small silver lining amongst the chaos is the opportunity to re-learn forgotten conflict resolution skills.
Clashes between neighbors are older than any POA, COA, or HOA rules established. Typically disputes arise over four things: space, property, money, and human personalities. Sheltering in place and a generalized increase in anxiety created a stage upon which small interpersonal differences ignited intense arguments. Let’s review ways to evaluate conflict and steer towards resolution more amicably.
Complaining to someone is never easy, especially to a neighbor. In fact, it can be so intimidating that you tolerate a horrible problem just to avoid the confrontation. However, by being prepared, you can make the task more comfortable.
Assume they don’t know about the issue or how it affects you. Most people do not intentionally set out to create problems with their neighbors and are often the last person to know they’re disturbing you. By assuming they don’t know, you can frame your mindset in a positive manner to help you handle the situation more constructively.
Choose neutral ground. Stomping across the lawn at 11:00 PM yelling is likely not going to create the setting needed for an uncomfortable discussion. Instead, observe their habits and approach during a mundane task such as taking out the trash, washing the car, raking leaves, etc. If you cannot catch them in person, then try calling. A personal approach is key!
First, talk about something else. Don’t jump directly into a discussion of what is bothering you. Catch up a little on their life by asking about their family, sports, their new vehicle, upcoming holiday, or even the weather! Set the stage and show interest in them as a human before tackling the substance of the matter.
Introduce the problem as a common concern. Instead of marching up to your neighbor and yelling “Why can’t you trim that tree? Don’t you see the damage it’s causing?!”, just look up at the tree and possibly say “Wow, I didn’t realize that tree has grown so large. My how time flies! Aren’t you afraid one of those limbs may fall?” Another scenario may be “The weather is so much cooler this month and it’s wonderful to have my windows open, too. Do you think we should turn down our televisions, so we don’t disturb others?” Through conversation, the neighbor may help solve the problem and you may avoid the confrontation entirely.
Be part of the solution. By offering to help, we show a willingness to help resolve our concerns. Being part of the solution may create a closer relationship with your neighbor which can have tremendous personal value and facilitate any future issue which arises. You may even be able to team up and help each other with another neighbor issue and keep the positivity flowing!
Sometimes you just have to say it. There will be times when you’ve exhausted your ability to enter the discussion lightly. At times, you need to be straightforward. However, you can take a minute to craft the speech in a way that leads to the discussion rather than an ultimatum. Most people are sorry to have to complain, so if you apologize at the beginning of the message delivery, then it’s easier for them to also.
Have a solution to the problem. It’s smart to have a goal formulated in your mind and be ready to offer it. For instance, “Would you be willing to trim this tree before it causes damage?” or “I’m willing to help or share the cost of trimming the tree,” will inspire a more positive response than “Trim that tree or else!”
While we all want to believe that issues between neighbors won’t arise or will be constructively received. By preparing ourselves in advance, we can reduce less anxiety and set the stage for a pleasant discussion and positive outcome. Practicing ways to resolve conflicts in a more harmonious manner can build relationships with amazing benefits!
By Bernie Guthrie, MBA, CMCA, AMS, PCAM
Bernie is a Regional Director and Large Scale General Manager at FirstService Residential and has been a well-respected community association professional for almost twenty years. As a member of WMCCAI since 2004, she remains active as Member Services Council Chair, author, lecturer, the 2018 recipient of the President’s Award, and a past Board Member.