About 15 years ago, a neighbour decided he wanted to build a garage. There was a tree on his property line that he didn’t want to take down, so he figured he would just appropriate needed space from our rear lane parking pad to build his garage – apparently, we had plenty of land to spare.
A discussion never took place: I simply found the survey stakes one night after walking home from work.
The neighbour is not difficult, he’s just quite presumptive. It never occurred to him that I would mind and he was taken aback when I pulled the stakes out and threw them on his property.
Fast forward: Our home is rented to my son and the space issues continue. My son was talking to this same neighbour over the fence explaining how he was working on cleaning up the back parking area. Since my son works in concrete delivery, he gets a pretty good price on the product. He was hoping the neighbour could avoid parking in the alley while the concrete was poured. The neighbour said he could move the cars if my son agreed to extend the concrete onto his side of the fence – right up to that garage he still plans to build.
It seems almost laughable, but when you’re coping with a boundary-crossing colleague, a disrespectful partner, or a neighbour who feels no need to keep things on their side, you might not see any humour.
Often, we’re reluctant to establish a line when dealing with others because we don’t want to be seen as difficult. So we fail to have meaningful conversations that establish respectful lines and instead stew in our anger and resentment.
Learning to be direct in our communications before we become resentful is an important first step in conflict navigation. Instead of direct dialogue, we smile and nod, and assume that person is as sensitive and as considerate as we are, that they shouldn’t have to be told.
When they don’t read our minds or intuitively know that something is not okay, frustration builds. But we keep hoping they’ll miraculously come to their senses without intervention. The truth is, you’ll need to use your words before resentment takes over. The sooner you tackle a boundary violation, the less likely you are to blow a gasket over something minor.
People can be intelligent in all sorts of ways, yet genuinely not understand why they have upset others. If you need to hold your own line, consider this strategy:
- Alert the person that you want to speak to them. “I would like to speak to you about (the problem).” No blaming or emotional language. Stick to facts.
- State your grievance. Tell the person what the problem is. “When you repair your motorhome on the street in front of my house, it blocks my sightlines and makes exiting my driveway a real safety concern.”
- Sell the benefits of them behaving better. “In future, if you have repairs to make, perhaps you could pull it up onto your own lot rather than leaving it on blocks on the public roadway.”
- Agree. Seek agreement to do things differently in future. “Since parking is at a premium on the street, can we agree to some good neighbour arrangements that maintain good sightlines for each of us exiting the properties?”
Notice how clear this communication is. You’ve neither passively put up with their behaviour nor been so emotional that they can counter by accusing you of being insulting, yelling or losing your cool, which would only obscure the real issue.
In the case of the concrete, I advised my son to let the neighbour know how to get a great reduction in price if he collaborates on the project. The boundary line is the fence and the landlords won’t be paying for concrete that’s poured off their own property line.
A concise and direct communication leaves no room for assumptions.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
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