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Community Q&A: Encouraging Neighborly Dialogue

To help more of our readers with their crucial conversations, confrontations, and behavior change challenges, we recently introduced the Community Q&A column! Please share your answers to this reader’s question in the comments below.

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I live in an apartment complex built around a grassy area and parking garage. Ten boys between five and ten years old (including my son) live in the complex and love to play together on the grass. Sometimes they get a bit too noisy, which upsets many of the neighbors. Those annoyed neighbors wrote an angry e-mail to management telling them to “do something about the boys.” Ironically, those annoyed neighbors never speak to the boys’ parents about their concerns and even come out to tell the boys off when the parents are inside and run away when the parents come back out.

I want to build a community spirit and get people talking, but I don’t know where to start. How can I get my neighbors talking so we can resolve this issue without involving management?

Seeking Neighborly Dialogue

8 thoughts on “Community Q&A: Encouraging Neighborly Dialogue”

  1. Hi,
    Having raised two boys, I know where you are coming from. I say plan, plan , plan. Invite all the other boys parent/s over to discuss the issue with the neighbors and plan a get together.
    Keep it simple, plan coffee and cake for the get together(don’t use the word meeting, it will turn into a complaint session).
    Extend a personal invitation, knock on doors, be friendly invite them to the neighborhood get together.
    Prepare flyers to put on the doors the day of the get together/meet and greet, as reminders, list a agenda of discussions, if you like, ie.; get to know your neighbor and the boys playing.
    I don’t know all the circumstances, but be prepared, you are not going to be able to please everyone. You may want to suggest times the boys play in case there is a neighbor that works the night shift and sleeps during the day on weekends. Form a play group for the boys to go to playgrounds with one parent and take turns on outings. Set a curfew for play at night(I am sure with the age group you already do, but voicing it may help the other neighbors)

    Good Luck

  2. It seems to me that the offended neighbors are acting in both silence and violence. In addition to Donna’s comments, I’d suggest approaching these offended neighbors using crucial conversation techniques, with an eye and an ear to listening to their real concerns. I suspect the kids themselves may be less a part of their major concerns than you think, but that they have deeper underlying issues that you’ll need to listen for.
    Approach each offended neighbor individually, remarking that you know there’s a problem with the noisy kids, that you’re sure the kids aren’t trying to cause a problem, they’re just being kids, running off energy, then ask what the offended neighbor thinks might be a good solution.
    And get the kids involved. All of them, together. You’d be surprised at how ingenious kids can be when it comes to solving problems. You may find that all you need to do is get the ball rolling, set out the problem and a few ground rules for how to run the meeting. Show them how to start a brainstorming session and let them run with it. Finally, encourage the kids to befriend the offended neighbors and to use crucial conversation techniques with these neighbors (in ones and twos, with a concerned adult watching – you or another parent).
    I hope my suggestions get your ball rolling. I see this problem as a great opportunity for you to get everybody involved in building a community. And I think my suggestions can be only a beginning.

  3. One path forward is to make opportunities for stakeholders (parents of the boys and other neighbors) to talk about this. There are a number of ways you might be able to do this, such as:
    — Get the parents of all of the boys together, and brainstorm ways that the concerns of neighbors about noise might be addressed (for example, set specific times of day for play, and make sure any play before or after those limits is “quiet only” play). Once you and the other parents have a list of at least 3 – 4 possibilites you are comfortable with, then arrange a meeting to which you invite all of the residents of the complex. At this large meeting, share the possibilities from your list, and invite neighbors to offer other possibilities. Discuss all suggestions, and try to come to consensus.
    — I think this next possibility is less likely to work than the first possibility, but I include it to give you some idea about the range of choices. Arrange a community meeting — perhaps a potluck picnic on the lawn if the weather is good enough. On the flier announcing this picnic, say that one topic which will be discussed is the noise of children playing on the lawn. Another topic could be any other issues people want to bring up. Set a specific time to address these issues, since people typically come and go to a picnic at various times.

    I think the key to starting a constructive dialog with your neighbors on this topic is to let them know you think their concerns are valid, and you are willing to work with them to find a mutually acceptable solution.

  4. I think all the suggests so far are great. I’d like to add – gather data and find the truths. How big is the space, how often do the boys play there, is there adult supervision, how loud are the kids, is there any property being damaged, how close to the parking area is the play space, are the kids playing among the cars, how late do the kids play, what could the neighbors be concerned about, are there other places to play…. Take a look from many angles, imaging what the possible issues are and find two or three possible solutions. Then use some of the suggestions for dialoging with the neighbors. Maybe start with some homemade cookies delivered to their door. Good luck.

  5. Hi, I took a lot from this sentence “those annoyed neighbors never speak to the boys’ parents about their concerns and even come out to tell the boys off when the parents are inside and run away when the parents come back out”.
    I wonder whether the neighbours feel that no adults are in attendance do the supervising and so they have to take on that role. I agree with the suggestions to get the parents together and agree on some time rules and supervision roster – then share with neighbours and seek input about suitable hours and any issues.
    Also, having some contact details for the parents could help so the neighbours can report any problems to the supervising parents rather than rousing on the boys.
    I think a quick fix rather than a long protracted process should get this started faster. All the best.
    And from this, hopefully better communication and community building can follow.

  6. My advice would be to organize a yearly neighbor party with a barbeque etc. People will start to know each other and get symphaty for each other. In this way barriers to discuss issues will be lowered and tolerance for each other will grow. If the kids are present on the party as well, relationships and mutual respect on that level can grow as well. This even could result in a situation where the kids are washing neighbor’s cars, bringing their waste to the waste area,etc. (my son earned a lot of money with this kind of little jobs). Now you are not just starting a dialogue but you also start a community. Onother gain for the neighbors might be, that in five years time the kids are in puberty and hard to control. If they have good relations with the neighbors, less issues will arise.

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