“My neighbors are harassing me. How do you deal with neighbor harassment and difficult people like these?”
I’ve been asked this question SEVERAL times now, so I thought I’d write an article on the topic.
The word “neighbor harassment” is a very broad term. For different people neighbor harassment can mean anything from neighbors who are verbally abusive to people who are deflating your tires to neighbors who are just plain nosey.
It’s a little like saying, “My dog is misbehaving”. You wouldn’t start right away by working on your dog’s “misbehavior” in general. You’d want to focus on the SPECIFIC forms of misbehavior that are causing a problem, such as jumping up on people, or barking too much, etc…
So, the first thing to do is to identify the specific type of harassment or harassing behavior that is causing the problem.
For the sake of discussion let’s say that your neighbors are frequently rude or disrespectful to you and your family. They use a “hit and run” form of verbal abuse.
The next thing to do is… talk to them? (I can already hear you saying, “I tried that and it didn’t work!”) Let me clear about this… NO!
The next thing to do has NOTHING to do with talking to them.
In fact, jumping into action too quickly is often where people go wrong right off the bat. It’s almost guaranteed that you will DO or SAY the wrong things, which just make things WORSE.
No, the next thing to do is IMAGINE… more specifically, to visualize the way you’d like things to be with your neighbor instead of the way things are. In other words, set your goal and visualize it.
You might want to turn them into friends or you might want to have infrequent but respectful interactions. That’s ok. Just be very clear about your goal – as long as it’s constructive.
So, let’s say that you don’t want to move away from the neighborhood and that what you REALLY want is to end the harassment and for your neighbors to talk in a respectful way to you and your family instead.
Now, since THIS is what you really want, you should make a conscious decision that everything you say or do from now on will move things toward this positive outcome …and furthermore, that everything THEY say or do ALSO becomes an opportunity for you to take things closer to that outcome.
After you’ve imagined what a positive outcome might look like, you should then eliminate your anger, frustration and stress about the situation and feel calm, strong and confident about creating a positive change.
You can’t produce a positive outcome if you’re sitting on negative, angry or hostile feelings.
If you don’t know how to shift your emotional state, use the Wellspring Method, which I created to help you learn how to deal with difficult people and situations like this.
Armed with a feeling of confidence and determination to produce a positive outcome with the difficult person, start imagining what would happen if you were to meet with your neighbor… play out ANY scenarios that come into your mind.
There is not just ONE RIGHT WAY. You know your situation far better than I do and how your particular neighbor is likely to respond.
You might start off by paying them a visit and saying, “I noticed that you seemed unhappy about something when we last spoke, so I thought I’d come over and find out what it is that’s bugging you…”
It’s quite possible that they may not believe you and you may just get another rude response. But, you can persist… “Clearly something was bothering you and I’d really like to know what it is so that we can address the problem.”
You want to persist and be genuinely concerned and curious, so that your neighbor actually starts to feel that you are interested in what their issue is. Persist until you really understand why they are feeling the way they are… even if their concern is based on misinformation or an immature way of seeing things.
Once you understand what their concern is (no matter how rudely they expressed it), you can then start to think of a solution that could address that concern. Of course, if you are addressing their genuine concern, then they will also become more receptive to a friendlier relationship without the disrespectful language.
If there is really no underlying issue that is bothering them, or at least none that they will divulge to you, and they persist with rude language, you can take the approach of paying them a visit each and every time a rude episode occurs… each time approaching them with the same calm and genuine curiosity about what it is that is bugging them.
The more rude they are, the more concerned and curious you can be. Of course, you would need to be able to do this calmly and confidently because pushing your buttons and getting you to react is what they are TRYING to do!
If you continue with repeated discussions over an extended period of time, never retaliating or getting drawn into an argument and always pursuing the issues in great detail, the act of being disrespectful towards you will start to become a bit of a nuisance to your neighbor who will think twice about being rude next time.
He’ll know that hurling another negative comment your way or engaging in further harassment is just going to result in yet another long drawn out discussion in which the things that are bugging him will be put under the microscope for examination.
There are only two outcomes… Either your neighbor will eventually reveal what is really bugging him or her, which you can then address through some kind of win-win solution, or, they will change their tune and avoid being rude in order to avoid another discussion with you.
Let me guide you through a step-by-step process as you learn how to be assertive with difficult people and create the positive change you want.
Mark Lauderdale MD FRCPC
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr Lauderdale is a psychiatrist and personal effectiveness coach in private practice who has a special interest in helping people deal with stressful life situations and difficult people powerfully and effectively.