How to Deal with a Nightmare Neighbor
The neighbors many people are talking about the past few weeks are the ones portrayed by Seth Rogen and Zac Efron on the big screen in the movie "Neighbors."
Their attempts to (cough!) get along result in mayhem at a level you'll likely not experience as an everyday apartment dweller. (After all, you'd need a stunt double to safely get through some of those antics.)
Their silliness brings up a serious point, however. What do you do when you desperately want to get along with a challenging apartment neighbor?
Maybe you and your neighbor have a different idea of how loudly music should be played in the evening. Or perhaps your neighbor’s cooking is making itself a little too noticeable in your own apartment.
Small conflicts can exist, and the good news is they can be worked out when both parties come together and communicate. But here’s the challenge: you may have to be the one to broker an agreement.
With the skills you’ll read about here, you’ll be able to bring even a nightmarish neighbor to the negotiating table and work toward an acceptable outcome.
Start with “Hi…”
It's an observation of modern-day interaction that we seem to avoid other people whom we do not know. We may feel uncomfortable and unsure about approaching strangers. Is it in my best interest to keep my mouth shut, we ask ourselves. Is avoidance the safest option? Will they take advantage of any openness I share?
For adults who share a neighboring living space, however, the onus falls on them to bridge the distance and set that anxiety aside — especially when they need to make a respectful request.
A conversation is the order of the day, and it can start with a simple hello.
So, what do you have in common with your neighbor – besides the apartment community you live in and the quarrel you share? Continue your negotiation campaign by learning a little more about your neighbor beyond what you can observe.
How do you do this? Well, ask! Inquire about your neighbor’s interests. Note how you both drive similar vehicles; ask whether he likes his car. If a significant other or children are in the picture, share a detail or two about your own family.
When people understand each other and can find even a little common ground, they are less likely to dismiss the other’s point of view. Before you can expect your neighbor to see your side of an issue, you’ve got to be willing to take a look from their side. Empathy, or feeling from another point of view, is a key element in the process of addressing conflict.
This work at understanding is crucial. You must muster true interest, of course, or your efforts at empathy will fall short.
The moment of truth…
Ok, you’ve laid the groundwork for a constructive conversation with your neighbor, and the moment has arrived for actual negotiation about the issue at hand. Even with care, this could get tense. Choosing your words carefully has never been more crucial.
The skills of the professional counselor will aid you, here:
- Listen! For every point you make, take a breath and listen to your neighbor’s response. This models how they might also behave in return.
- Keep the discussion firmly on the topic at hand. If the conversation begins to veer away from the point, use your words gently to move back into constructive territory.
- Reflect your neighbor’s words back to her to positively indicate your understanding.
- Avoid the language of the absolute. An ultimatum will invariably provoke an emotional response that is unhelpful in resolving the dispute.
- If talk becomes too personal or demeaning, take a break. When you begin to argue from an emotional standpoint, you’ve likely lost the day.
- Catch yourself before you utter words like “you always…” or “you never…”
- Don’t avoid conciliation. If your neighbor makes a reasonable point — or you even find your position changing — acknowledge this.
- If brevity's all that's needed, keep the chat short.
- Don’t use profanity!
An important choice is leaving the option open for further discussion, should this be necessary.
Standing firm on shaky ground
Your level of investment likely varies depending on whether you are lodging the complaint or defending yourself against one. But maintaining mutual respect and staying away from emotionality should be your goal, in either case.
The goal in negotiating a complaint is to win, right? Perhaps…but not at any cost. Winning likely involves some compromise, and the bigger person embraces this fact. You’ve “won” the conflict when you can live more or less in peace with your apartment neighbor.