News & Politics

How to Resolve a Dispute With Your Neighbor

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Our expert: Ambassador Wendy Sherman. As undersecretary of State for political affairs, she was a lead US negotiator in last year’s deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

1. Before talking with your neighbor, decide what’s most important to you and what’s really at stake. If the friendship is paramount, is a fence or tree on the property line that important?

2. In the first sit-down meeting, make sure the neighbor feels you’re hearing her out. Meet the person on her terms—in her home if she prefers—and, Sherman says, “understand what they’re hoping for, without giving up your own interests.”

3. Don’t do it alone. “It’s hard to both negotiate and reflect upon what’s happening in the room,” Sherman says. It’s important to have someone else hearing the conversation who can tell you later what he heard. In fact, both parties can bring a “listener.” Listeners don’t have to be objective—they’re just another set of ears and eyes.

4. “If the other person is getting heated, say: ‘You obviously feel really strongly. Let me leave and think about it.’ ” If you stay calm, it’s hard for the neighbor to keep the temperature hot, Sherman says. “So don’t take the bait.”

5. Don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision. If the solution is evident, go for it, but you can say you want to take your time and consult with family.

Read more advice, tips, and tricks from Washington natives in our Secrets of the City package.

This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Washingtonian.