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Issue Date: June 2007 Issue


Solve your conflicts — peacefully.


Heide Aungst

It’s tough to be diplomatic when the neighbor kids have trounced an expensive plant in your garden — even for a mental-health professional such as Cleveland Clinic psychologist Michael McKee.

His snap reaction would be to yell — or at best, sit and stew about it, he admits. But his wife does what a good neighbor should: Find a solution that benefits both sides.

“My wife goes out and says, ‘Hey, I just want to show you guys what we’ve got growing around here. It’s really important to us, and we just want to make sure you don’t step on these for the following reasons,’ ” McKee explains. “She really involves them.”

The two keys to a good relationship with your neighbor are compromise and collaboration, McKee says. So when it comes to who will mow that strip of lawn neither claims to own, take turns. But if the issue is bigger (read: involves money) — such as who will replace the rotting fence — then try to collaborate on a solution. McKee offers these tips before you approach your neighbor:
>Choose a good time and place to talk. Pick a moment when you both have time to come up with a solution, not 7 a.m. when you’re rushing off to work and he may be caught off-guard.

>Start with a positive. Say, “I’m grateful to have you as a neighbor, and one of the things I’m grateful about is I know I can talk to you.” >Define the problem and describe your feelings. Remain calm. State your case without emotion.

>Ask for a solution. Before you even make a proposal, stop and ask if your neighbor even realized there was a problem. If so, how would he solve it?

>Listen. Perhaps the most critical step of all: Stop after you’ve defined your view of the problem and listen to your neighbor. Listen carefully for both what your neighbor is saying and how he is saying it. That can give you a good reading on if there’s a common ground. >Stay flexible. If your neighbor’s solution isn’t the one you were thinking about, state your idea. It’s possible he never thought of it and would be willing to follow your plan. Even better, if your neighbor feels like you are going with his idea, but your goals are still accomplished, then you’ve found an ideal win-win solution.

“It’s the matter of having the courage to speak up, having the wisdom to listen a lot while you speak up, and having the flexibility to look for win-win positions,” McKee says.

One word of warning, though: Sometimes neighbors can be mentally unstable and totally unwilling to talk or listen. In that case, he says, it’s best to emotionally protect yourself and steer clear of the neighbor, calling the police if you fear for safety.

21.8% of people say it has been more than a year since their last dispute with a neighbor.

3.8% of people have had a dispute with their neighbor in the past six months.

 


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