Twenty years ago, when I was asked to teach negotiation at the Arizona State University College of Law, my predecessor suggested my students negotiate an exercise involving a neighbor who consistently blared loud music at night.
It sounds like an easy negotiation – just ask them to stop, right? Or suggest they put on headphones. But what if they refuse? What if they love loud music reverberating around their house after a hard day’s work?
Neighbor disputes can actually be quite complex and challenging.
What should you do? Here are some suggestions, which can also be helpful in other situations involving diverse parties who must constantly see each other.
1. Find the right time and place to talk
The environment in which you communicate is critical. Find a time and place when you all can relax and talk without many distractions or deadlines. And don’t do this by e-mail or text. Talk in person, as it’s harder to say no in person than by phone or e-mail or text. Talking in person will also lessen the likelihood of miscommunications.
Also don’t do it when you’re angry and might say something you will regret later.
So if you know your neighbor likes to socially drink and you do too, bring over some beer or wine and see if they have time for a drink and to talk. Perhaps invite them over for coffee if they don’t drink.
2. Start with small talk and rapport building
Don’t discount the small talk rapport-building phase of this conversation, especially in situations like these. Set the right tone and atmosphere. Explore some common interests. Perhaps you both have kids or like a certain sport.
One of our neighbors used to live in Wisconsin – where my wife grew up and where I went to college – and they went to college in Indiana where my wife went to law school. Their son is also our son’s age with similar sports interests. Lots of common interests.
3. Share how you feel and your interests
In a matter of fact way, let your neighbor know you have significant concerns about the loud music they have been playing. Share with them how it makes you feel. Tell them that you’ve always had an interest in the quiet nature of your home and in feeling at peace there. Express that their loud music has added stress in your life and is causing you to lose sleep, etc.
Use words like “I am sure you understand how I feel” and that “I suspect you might feel the same way if you were in my shoes.” Be empathetic.
4. Acknowledge the legitimacy of their interests
Find out and acknowledge their interests, too. They probably have a privacy interest in listening to their own type of music in their own home. They likely also have an interest in being a good neighbor and not causing others’ problems. Maybe the high volume decreases their stress.
Listen carefully and deeply and make sure this is a two-way conversation. You don’t need to agree with their interests – but you should acknowledge and appreciate the legitimacy of them.
5. Explore creative options that satisfy your mutual interests
Ask your neighbor to suggest how the two of you can satisfy your mutual interests. Perhaps they will suggest headphones or earphones. Or perhaps you could work out a schedule so they only play loud music when you are at work or stop it at a certain time.
6. Avoid name-calling, blaming, threatening, and/or being adversarial
Doing any of these would likely lead to escalation and tit-for-tat – and not be in either neighbor’s interests. You may be neighbors for a long time.
Latz’s Lesson: Picking the right time, place and atmosphere – and discussing options satisfying your mutual interests – will lead to good neighbors.
Published November 1, 2015 The Arizona Republic