With many people staying (or stuck) at home right now, tensions can be high with family, and even neighbors. I've asked Amber Hill Anderson, an expert at conflict resolution, to weigh in on the subject. If litigation sounds too confrontational and expensive. Here's another idea to resolve an issue...and may actually be more likely to help keep relationships in tact.
Neighbors Finding Resolution through Mediation
It’s uncomfortable. Home is supposed to be our refuge, but when we have a conflict with a neighbor, we may lose that homey feeling. People in conflict often describe losing sleeping, acting irritably, and feeling overall stressed. Minor disagreements can blow up into major issues. Alternatively, people sometimes go out of their way to avoid confrontation, which sacrifices quality of life and prolongs the problem. No matter how we deal with conflict, when there is a problem with a neighbor, we can feel like we can’t get away. Neighbor disputes may involve property management, homeowners associations (HOAs), and the people next door. The good news is that there are choices for how to resolve conflicts between neighbors.
In our litigious society, the default assumption may be to file a lawsuit. There are times and places for this, yet it is helpful to think through some options first. Lawsuits will certainly catch the attention of the neighbor, but this method for resolving disputes can be very high conflict. At the end of the court case, there is usually a “winner” and a “loser,” but the tensions and relationship are largely unaddressed. Decisions get made by a judge based on the law and the statutes. The outcome may come as a surprise to people unfamiliar with the law. Fortunately, litigation is not the only option for resolving neighbor disputes.
Mediation addresses the conflict at hand as well as the dynamics between people. The process is more collaborative from the beginning and provides the opportunity for neighbors to communicate their perspective and needs. The neighbors involved are in control of their own outcome, rather than a judge. By being involved in the crafting their own solutions, people tend to be much happier with the end result. The relationship between people can also be addressed to avoid future conflicts. Mediation helps set people up for success with their neighbors.
I had a case as the mediator with two neighbors who had felt resentment for each other for years. Both were dog owners, but they had different assumptions about what “normal” dog behavior involved. While one neighbor worked in an office, the other neighbor worked from home and listened to their neighbor’s dog barking. They tried complaining to the HOA, Animal Control, police, and leaving notes, but nothing changed. At one point, they even got into a yelling argument with each other. Finally, the neighbors were referred to mediation and sat down to discuss their differences. In mediation they were able to talk about the barking, their communication and to brainstorm solutions. Some of the ideas were more agreeable than others, such as a citronella bark collar instead of a shock collar. They also chose to exchange phone numbers to connect directly and avoid future problems. In mediation, they heard each other stories and learned about what the other side was experiencing and thinking with all of the complaints to the external entities. One neighbor was feeling ignored while the other neighbor was feeling harassed. They found solutions that worked for both of them to live more amicably as neighbors.
The method chosen for resolving disputes has a big impact on the outcome. Neighbors are usually people who will see each other again. Therefore, an amicable method for resolving conflict, such as mediation, can make all the difference at home.
Amber Hill Anderson is the Division Director and Lead Mediator at Pesch Law Office. She works with families and neighbors to find solutions to their problems through mediation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-567-7922.