We all face highly emotional situations from time to time personally and professionally. Your approach impacts the communication throughout the situation, the relationships of the people involved, and long-term outcomes. Do you see yourself in either approach in the situation between these two neighbors?
Shortly after Trent moved into his dream home, he went next door to meet his new neighbor, Jack, who was also new to the neighborhood. During a friendly conversation, Jack explained to Trent that the construction materials in the yard were for a 2-story garage he planned to build with living space above it. As Trent listened to Jack’s plan, he became increasingly concerned that this new garage not only encroached on his border, but that it would negatively impact his view and the value of his house.
Trent went home that night and began looking into the ordinances to see if Jack was actually in violation, and if he was, what could be done. To save time, he called Steve, a close friend and neighbor who has had previous boundary disputes of his own. Steve was sure that Jack’s plans would violate the law and Jack would need to amend the plans for his garage. Trent planned to go back over and talk to Jack the following evening.
In the meantime, Steve continued to ponder the situation and became more and more angry as he thought of the impact Jack’s garage would have not only on Trent’s property, but on the whole neighborhood. Steve hadn’t met Jack yet, but he pegged him as a selfish outsider who wasn’t going to follow the rules no matter what. Steve went to Jack’s house and began walking around the garage foundation and taking measurements. Jack came outside demanding to know what Steve was doing on his property and things escalated from there. Voices were raised, profanity was flying, and lawsuits were threatened. Two other neighbors heard the exchange and were drawn in as well. It ended with a call to the sheriff and everyone going back to their respective houses.
Trent was disappointed when he heard that things had taken such an adversarial turn before he could talk with Jack personally. As Trent considered how to approach Jack, he thought about what he wanted to accomplish. Trent wanted to find a way that Jack could build his garage without negatively impacting Trent’s view or property value. He also wanted to preserve the relationship because he will live next door to Jack for the foreseeable future and their kids will likely play together.
When Trent saw Jack in his yard, he grabbed a bottle of bourbon, took a deep breath, and went to talk. As he approached, he said, “So, I hear you met Steve.” That broke the tension and Trent asked Jack if he’d like to talk about this over a drink. Trent spent most of the 90 minutes that followed listening. Jack shared details of his plans as well as his understanding of the ordinances. Trent began to realize that he wasn’t as “right” as he thought he was (and Steve was certain he was) and his perspective began to change. There was more to Jack’s plans than the garage, and Trent realized that this might actually increase, not decrease, the value of his property. He still had some concerns about the impact on his view that he shared with Jack. They made a lot of progress during their conversation, and agreed to keep talking.
While they didn’t resolve everything at once, two important things happened. First, Trent’s willingness to listen quickly diffused Jack’s anger over feeling attacked by Steve and calmed his natural reflex to attack when he feels threatened. Had Jack chosen a confrontational response, there would very likely be an ongoing battle long after the issue of the garage was behind them.
Second, Trent began laying a solid foundation for a good relationship for years to come that won’t involve attorneys. Trent demonstrated open, respectful communication and a desire to find a mutually beneficial solution. This enabled Jack to move from defending himself to a willingness to compromise. This foundation will pave the way to future conversations when there are disagreements.
Trent is a graduate of our Mastering High Stakes Conversations course and shared this experience as an example of how he applied the skills he learned during that course. If you’d like to learn how to diffuse situations like this and build long-term personal and professional relationships, we offer three courses that will help: