Navigating tough conversations

Your neighbours are causing a nuisance but you’re putting off that difficult conversation because you hate confrontation..? How do you tell them about the problem without escalating the conflict? Here are some tips:

  • Decide where and when you will approach them. Ideally, it should be in a calm environment, away from distractions; choose the place that allows for flexibility in personal space; privacy. Only have the conversation when you feel you are not at risk of attack, violence or abuse. Pick the time that is convenient for both of you - if you’re not sure when that is, you might want to check with them first. Remember, early intervention is crucial in conflict resolution, so it’s best to tackle the conflict quickly, before it escalates beyond control.
  • Start the conversation by explaining the impact of their behaviour, replacing statements starting with “You” with statements starting with “I” - these are called “I-Statements”. Be specific: mention specific behaviour or actions that have been difficult for you. Focus on the issue (e.g. noise) rather than the person. For example, rather than saying “Your music keeps me awake at night”, you can say, “I feel stressed when I hear music through the wall past midnight, because I'm unable to sleep. I would like to make an arrangement regarding the music that would work for us both".
  • Listen to what your neighbour has to say. Be truly present in the conversation, rather than just waiting to speak. Seek to understand them (but not necessarily to agree with them) e.g. they play music late at night because they work late and they do this to unwind. Try to convey your understanding, or ask questions if you don’t understand. Show empathy; use active listening (e.g. summarising back), acknowledgement.
  • Watch your behaviour and body language. Tone of conversation: should be relaxed, calm, tactful. Pay attention to your facial expressions: they should be non-threatening, including smiling, nodding, looking interested. Eye contact - as appropriate and as much as feels helpful.
  • Look for the win-win. Brainstorm possibilities on how you can reach a mutually acceptable solution. Be assertive to what you would like to achieve but also sensitive to the other person. Finish the conversation on a positive note with how you will both try to make your solutions work.

This #ASBAwarenessWeek, WMS has partnered with Wandsworth Council to help tackle anti-social behaviour in the community. Each day we'll be posting conflict resolution techniques to help nip ASB-related conflicts in the bud:

Monday, July 19 – Navigating tough conversations

Tuesday, July 20 – Top 5 conflict styles and resolution strategies

Wednesday, July 21 – Using I-statements to transform conflict situations

Thursday, July 21 – How to become an Active Listener

Friday, July 22 – Default responses to conflict and how to overcome them

If you are entrenched in a conflict with your neighbour, you can get free help. At Wandsworth Mediation Service (WMS), we offer free community mediation to all Wandsworth residents. Two trained mediators will facilitate the conversation, help you listen to each other’s point of view and assist you in developing mutually agreeable solutions. Mediation is free, completely confidential and highly effective - most cases settle after the first meeting. Contact us for more information.

Grateful thanks to Sharon Crooks, Nick Adlington and Lizzie Haynes.