The world is full of irrational people. Sometimes, you’ll get stuck living next to one of them. If you’re in the midst of a dispute with your neighbor, you might be advised to enter into a negotiation or mediation to resolve the conflict. Negotiation and mediation are, of course, all about compromise. But how can you possibly compromise, you might wonder, with someone as irrational, antagonistic, or just plain wrong as your neighbor?
Compromise can be difficult, even when both parties have merit to their arguments and are completely rational actors. Consider large companies with teams of smart attorneys engaged in protracted litigation. Even for those companies, where dollars and cents are what ultimately inform strategy, settlement is elusive.
It becomes immeasurably harder when emotions are involved. A sense of right and wrong can often form a wall preventing settlement. What do you do when your neighbor is 100% certain that he or she is “right” and you feel you have nothing to compromise?
First, consider whether you are arguing over something objective, like whether or not a particular statute allows your neighbor to grow certain plants in the front yard, or the value of your property that your neighbor damaged during home construction, you might be able to reason with your neighbor by relying on third-party benchmarks.
A third-party benchmark is a source, not from either of you, that can objectively make a factual analysis. For example, if your neighbor says that local regulations allow growing a farm on the front lawn area, and you believe they say otherwise, you can go to a third-party source (perhaps a local attorney or municipal leader) for an advisory opinion.
Or, if the neighbor’s contractors accidentally damaged your car while doing home remodeling work and your neighbor believes the repair costs are lower than you believe they are, you can agree to get the damage appraised.
The advantage of such third-party benchmarks is that they are purely factual; you are relying on objective sources that do not have an “axe to grind” against either of you. If you say the damage to your car was $5,000 a neighbor who doesn’t believe you is much more likely to believe a third-party neutral “expert” who doesn’t know either of you.
If your dispute with your neighbor is subjective, your discussion will surely be more difficult. Your neighbor might argue that he or she should be able to play music in his or her apartment, even though you explain that the sound seeps into your apartment. Your neighbor might insist on putting up cheap-looking Christmas decorations that you believe lessen the value of the neighborhood. Or your neighbor might feed deer outdoors, which are then attracted to your property as well. In these situations, there might not be an objective right and wrong – a municipal code that governs your neighbor’s conduct, like what homeowners can grow on their property, or a “bluebook value” for a damaged car. These are situations governed by common courtesy – a courtesy that some people, unfortunately, may lack.
Don’t give up on negotiating, even when you believe your neighbor’s perception of reality is 100% wrong. Instead, it’s worth trying to come up with ways of attaching objective benchmarks to these subjective realities. What does this mean? Consider these examples.
If your neighbor still refuses to abide by these objective standards, see if you can offer compromises. For example:
You might feel that these ideas are unfair to you because your neighbor should refrain from the offending activities in the first place. This might be true.
But remember, it might not be worth your time and effort to initiate legal action. In the above situations, as in many others, your neighbor’s conduct is annoying but not necessarily illegal. Therefore, it might be easier and more cost-effective to bargain rather than sue.
If you complain to your neighbor about the music or annoying habits that are interfering with your enjoyment of your property, he or she might perceive you as easily annoyed – a person with a single axe to grind.
Your neighbor might be more willing to cave into peer pressure. If you were to speak to your building management company or neighborhood association (if you live in an apartment or a common interest development) about the problem, perhaps that larger administrative body would take up your cause. This also saves you from the awkwardness of having to be the person to negotiate with your unreasonable neighbor.