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Article:   Learning To Get Along With Your Neighbors

By Janet Pfeiffer
AIM Jefferson
Oct. 18, 2007

After living near a busy highway for more than two decades, I was thrilled to finally be moving into a new home on a quiet dead-end street. Peace and quiet at last, I thought. But imagine my dismay when I discovered that I lived two houses away from a teenage wannabe heavy metal band! As day turned to evening, the silence my country haven was replaced with what sounded like the unmerciful torture of innocent drums and guitars in a nearby garage. This went on well into the night, irregardless of the fact that I arose at 4 am to go to work. A mere five hours of sleep a night didn't cut it with me.

I was angry to say the least. I phoned the police to see if this racket exceeded the town�s noise ordinance. Not even close - just enough to keep me from maintaining my sanity.

I tried closing my windows, but in the heat of the summer it became unbearable to sleep. I tried earplugs but those little pieces of foam were no match for the gazillion decibels of cacophony that filtered into my bedroom each night. I was really frustrated and quickly approaching desperate. Having fallen asleep behind the wheel and nearly totaling my car several years prior, I was not about to allow myself to be put at risk again.

I knew I had to 'confront the offenders' and try to resolve this on my own. But how? Knowing how upset I was, I decided that the first thing I needed to do was to calm down and change my attitude. If I went over there with a chip on my shoulder, surely that would be reflected in how I spoke to them and history reminded me that the outcome would probably be less than favorable.

I decided to look at the situation through their eyes: a couple of teenagers hanging out in a garage practicing music (I use the term 'music' loosely, very loosely). Not doing anything wrong, not doing drugs, not breaking the law, just having fun. Actually, that's a good thing, a very good thing. That helped me to change how I felt about them. After all, kids have rights, too, I reminded myself.

Next, I gave them the benefit of the doubt: they probably don't even realize that the volume (not to mention the genre, ok, I did mention it, but not to them.) of their music was offensive to one of their neighbors. I couldn't fault them for that.

A simple shift in my perception of them changed my attitude completely. Instead of being furious, I began to feel a sense of understanding. Now I needed to decide what I wanted to accomplish: to convince them to 'dis-band'! Hmm, was I being fair and reasonable? I had to be totally honest with myself on this on. After all, don't I mow the lawn on Saturday mornings? Couldn't that sound be offensive to them? What teen do you know that is up at the crack of dawn on the weekends? And yet, no one ever complained to me about it. So, what changes could I reasonably request from these kids? That was the big question.

Once I had that figured out, the next thing was to decide the best approach to take. Approach, not confrontation. Approach sounds much less intimidating than confrontation, which sounds like I'm ready to fight. I wasn't ready, or willing, to fight, that is.

So, I got up my courage and went to their house the next time I heard them practicing.

"Hi," I said. "I'm your new neighbor. I live in the grey house two doors down."

One of the boys responded and introduced himself.

"Sounds like you guys are really serious about your band. You practice a lot."

Yeah, he replied, they had a 'gig' coming up, hoped to make it big someday. (Ah, yes, every young boy's dream - to be a famous rock star!) Who was I to squash that dream?

"Music has always been one of the most important things in my life, too," I continued. "I really feel bad asking you this, but I get up early for work each day. When you practice late into the evening, I get very little sleep and have a difficult time getting up in the morning. I hate to ask you, but do you think you could either end a little earlier or turn the volume down a bit?"

The whole time I spoke, I kept my tone polite and respectful knowing that that is how I would like to be spoken to.

"Sure," the one boy replied. "Sorry."

"Thanks so much. I really do appreciate it." (I really did. He didn't have to honor my request. After all, legally he wasn't doing anything wrong.)

Now, that wasn't so bad. In fact, it was actually quite easy. The problem was resolved and I discovered that I shared a neighborhood with a very nice young man.

So, the next time you have a problem with a neighbor (or anyone else) perhaps the following tips for resolving the dispute would help:

  1. Watch your attitude and approach. They will ultimately determine the outcome of the situation. Leave your ego and anger at home.
  2. Polite yields polite, respect yields respect. Be the first to offer it and most likely it will be returned. Ghandi said: "I must first be the change I want to see in others."
  3. Begin by introducing who you are. Establish common grounds such as, "We're both homeowners who live in this beautiful neighborhood." This acts as a bonding agent.
  4. Ask if they are aware that there is a particular behavior of theirs that you are having an issue with. (Remember, the boys didn't realize that their music was offensive to me.) Give the other party the benefit of the doubt.
  5. Do not accuse, threaten, judge, name-call or yell. Instead, ask questions to learn more.
  6. State your request, what you would like to see happen. Make sure it is fair and reasonable. After all, would you be receptive to someone making that same request of you?
  7. Keep the ultimate goal in mind (to improve the situation). Stay focused on what it is you set out to accomplish and the best way to do that.
  8. Be willing to compromise if necessary. Both sides need to be satisfied with the outcome or the problem (or a new one) will resurface.
  9. Show your appreciation for their time and effort. "Thanks so much. I'm really glad that we were able to resolve this. This is such a great place to live!" We all respond well to recognition.

Conflict resolution isn't hard. Most of us were never taught how. But with the new tools you've just acquired, hopefully now you'll feel a little more comfortable the next time a situation arises. Just remember: "We cannot be a world at peace, Until we are first a people of peace."

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