Steve's 10-step guide to getting along with your neighbors and dealing with difficult neighbors
First, a disclaimer: your Community Association Board of Directors wisely implemented a policy against getting in the middle of neighbor-to-neighbor disputes. Therefore, nothing written on this page should be construed as anything related to getting in the middle of your neighbor-to-neighbor dispute. Also, every situation is different, so the suggestions made in this guide may not apply to your particular situation.
This guide is based on my many years of experience as president of your Community Association and in life in general. I will add to it as I think of new strategies that residents can use to resolve conflicts. If you have anything to add to this list or a recommendation for a modification, please let me know.
1. It is likely you will be living next to your neighbor for many years to come. Don't do anything to your neighbor that you might regret later. If that has already happened, then stop and pledge to yourself that you will do whatever you can to avoid further harming your relationship with your neighbor. For example, if you have a noisy project scheduled, let surrounding neighbors know of the dates/times so they can plan ahead for uninterrupted work, study, and sleep. Be sure that your project is conducted during normal working hours.
2. Do not be confrontative with your neighbor. If that already happened, stop and do meditation or something else that calms you down. There will likely not be any good resolution to your conflict if you approach it when you are angry.
3. Rather than confronting your neighbor, talk to a wise friend or friends who can remain emotionally separated from the situation. Heed their advice.
4. Don't put anything into writing. Emails, text messages, and typed and hand-written notes are easily misinterpreted, even if you think that you didn't write anything to which the neighbor could possibly take offense. It is amazing how an angry neighbor can imagine a negative tone when they read even a very positive note. Usually, it's better to talk to the person (preferably face-to-face) so that they can hear in your tone of voice your genuine desire to resolve the conflict amicably.
5. Don't assume you know what your neighbor is thinking. Avoid using words like "conflict" and "problem" and don't assume that your neighbor thinks there is a conflict or problem. If you want to talk to your neighbor on the phone or need their name(s), feel free to contact me. I can't give out confidential contact information, but I can ask the neighbor call you or stop by to talk to you.
6. What seems obvious to me may not be obvious to another person. We all have different perspectives and values. Who am I to say that theirs are wrong?
7. If the neighbor has a conflict with you, be sure that you clearly understand the situation. It is amazing to me how often participants in a conflict can have different interpretations of the same situation. Ask something like: "it is my understanding that your concern is __________________. Is that correct?" If so, then ask if there are any other concerns that the neighbor has. If not, then work toward a full understanding of the situation. You can't do whatever is possible to resolve a situation if you don't know exactly what it is. Be aware that the neighbor, for a variety of possible reasons, may not be forthcoming with the true and/or complete concern, so you may need to be patient with the neighbor while the full truth slowly comes to light.
8. Whenever a neighbor is angry at you for no apparent or justified reason, keep in mind that your neighbor may be going through a very difficult time with a personal or family health issue or loss of a loved one. Knowing this, do your best to avoid getting angry.
9. If the situation hasn't gotten to the point of significant tension, then consider a peace offering, such as an invitation for the neighbor to come to your house for a drink. Don't set any rules for the get-together, don't bring up the controversy, and, if the neighbor brings it up, stay calm and, perhaps, suggest that you talk about it at another time. Chances are that the neighbor will politely decline your offer to come over. If so, you will have still made an important and positive statement about wanting to be a good neighbor.
10. When talking to the neighbor on the phone or in his/her presence, do your best to stay calm and maintain a natural, friendly smile. It will usually go a long way toward avoiding an escalation of tensions.
I hope this gives you some ideas that can be adapted to your situation. Feel free to contact me directly, but I will probably not have any more advice for you than what I wrote here.
Best wishes for resolving your conflict with your neighbor.
Steve Epstein, President
(650) 777 7899 (home)