COLIN STEWART ROBERTSON MBA – MRICS – MCIArb COMMUNITY/RELATIONSHIP/NEIGHBOUR DISCUSSION PAPER
Accredited Mediator www.csraccreditedmediator.uk
Leeds North Yorkshire West Yorkshire North of England UK & Beyond
WHY MEDIATE WHEN YOU COULD JUST GO ROUND TO THEM AND SETTLE IT YOURSELF?
This may be the best way to take the initial heat out of a neighbour dispute but those unfortunate enough to have walked round to their next door neighbour, to have a polite and reasonable chat about a problem, and faced an abusive reception will know its limitations. Unfortunately, there appears to be a correlation between causing a neighbour dispute and not being receptive to objections about your behaviour. In more serious cases, the temptation to appoint Solicitors tends to firmly shut the door on a mediation resolution unless ordered by the courts.
How do Community/Relationship/Neighbour disputes start and why do they escalate?
The origins of community/relationship/neighbour disputes may be many and varied but they generally have a common theme in the change of one or more of the parties’ behaviour that isn’t understood, received well or appreciated by the other party(ies). Often this starts with a failure to communicate with others likely to be affected by a party’s actions either by omission or by a deliberate disregard for the other party’s enjoyment of their property. Typical issues can involve noise, parties/fireworks, parking, animals, hedges and trees, etc.
Disputes generally escalate because a negative reaction to the original behavioural change is also taken badly by the original perpetrator. Additionally, neither of the parties often understand (and sometimes don’t want to understand) nor appreciate what has happened and they retreat into their bunkers. We are, of course, discussing here behavioural issues that have not escalated to criminal actions, such as wilful damage or violence, both of which are not suitable for mediation. Also, community/relationship/neighbour disputes involving financial issues are not appropriate for this model which should be directed towards the more formal Commercial Mediation model.
Sometimes issues develop or expand into a street/road or community as a whole. Whilst these can be mediated they are generally the subject of a referral by a Local Authority or Housing Association/landowner.
So why can’t a simple ‘sit around a table’ with a neighbour/s sort this out?
1. If parties already have difficulties speaking or acknowledging one another then, if the parties can be persuaded to attend, the lack of structure to such a meeting will probably result in a re-run of what has happened and recriminations. Additionally, a more vocal or dominant party can use the meeting to score more hits, leading to more regrettable conversations and the inevitable break-up of the meeting. The expectation that the parties will be receptive enough to find a resolution to a long running dispute, without some outside assistance, is based more on hope than reality.
2. Whose table? Who will control the proceedings? The meeting, by its very nature, could lack balance by being held at the home of one of the parties involved, in addition to the personalities involved. The party providing the venue has some immediate advantage, being comfortable with their own surroundings plus the opportunity to set up the meeting room to their perceived advantage. Parties must feel comfortable to discuss the issues calmly and work towards a resolution that can be maintained. Joint Meetings are best held at a neutral venue but failing that the structured control of the meeting is more important.
3. Sometimes, the parties have the answer to their dispute without being fully aware of this and need the controlled discipline to focus on what has happened, plus why, and how they would like things to be resolved. Essentially, the aim must be to extract the relevant issues and explore a possible compromise as to what means most to them. Without the correct structure and professional control a meeting is unlikely to lead to the parties’ own measurable resolution.
Why is it necessary to have someone totally independent/impartial to sort our private/personal/domestic problems?
1. For the very reason stated in the question. A good Mediator is totally impartial, fair and balanced in their approach, as well as putting the parties at ease. Above all a good Mediator listens. The Mediator should be prepared to ask searching questions based upon what the parties wish to discuss and for this to be in complete confidence to ensure that only the parties are aware of the dispute contents. Nothing discussed between each party should be related to other parties, with the rare exception of the parties disclosing a notifiable event or crime.
2. The drafting of a short opening statement by each party (to start the Joint Meeting), concentrates the parties’ minds on what are the relevant issues.
3. Guided by a good Mediator, the parties are in control and if they agree may consent to the drafting of an informal agreement, with the aid of the Mediator. Each party should receive their own copy immediately after signing (in the case of f2f) or soon as possible, in the case of online.
4. The final, often overlooked, benefit of a mediation settlement is that it usually facilitates the resumption of the parties speaking to, or being courteous to, one another. Court procedures will inevitably result in residual bad feelings.
The purpose of this paper is to prompt discussion about the societal difficulties encountered today and how best to resolve community/relationship/neighbour disputes without resorting to costly legal remedies.
The author’s experience draws heavily upon what parties ‘perceive’ about one another’s actions and motives that led to the dispute and the consequential mistrust and bad feeling. This makes trying to settle serious relationship disputes extremely difficult, without help.
Colin Stewart Robertson – Accredited Mediator
The author has been involved in conflict resolution and negotiation for over 45 years; an involvement in mediation for 20 years and an Accredited Mediator since 2012. If you wish to discuss your own dispute then please see www.csraccreditedmediator.uk for further details.
© Colin Stewart Robertson 2009 - 2023
(Last updated 17 January 2023)