“There’s now’t so queer as folk.” So says the old English proverb, usually attributed to Yorkshire and Lancashire.
We all know the feeling. You do your best and people just don’t react the way you’d expected. Instead of helpful suggestion or even simple thanks for all the work you do to manage the block of flats you live in, you get complaints and criticism.
Of course, there’s another saying, from poet John Lydgate made famous by Abraham Lincoln: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Dealing with complaints and disputes can be time consuming, especially when you should all have the same objective: an efficient and financially well managed block of flats.
In a world that is populated with people of many and varied values, goals, cultural backgrounds, attitudes and life experiences, there are bound to be people who rub us up the wrong way, and vice versa, but sometimes we can’t just ignore them and walk away.
Fellow leaseholders, for instance! It’s up to us to manage how we react. So here are some ideas to getting along with the neighbours.
The cornerstone of dealing with people in general (and people we find difficult or challenging in particular) is empathy. That is the ability to share and feel what another person is feeling, as if those feelings are our own.
With the exception of psychopaths, humans are born with an in-built capacity for empathy, and that’s reflected in our ability to mirror behaviour. For example, when a baby cries, another baby will cry: when people yawn, we start to yawn.
As we grow older, of course, we develop much more complex understandings of how to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine their experiences and appreciate their reactions.
Of course, ‘understanding’ someone’s feelings is not the same as agreeing with them. It’s entirely possible to fully appreciate someone’s point of view and think them wrong, misguided, or maybe even malicious. But ‘understanding’ is the first step to be able to improve a situation or relationship.
Approach any awkward person, or difficult situation, by thinking about what’s driving their behaviour. Then you can address their real concerns and respond effectively.
See beings, not bodies
Rick Hanson the neuropsychologist and author argues that when we encounter someone, usually the mind automatically slots the person into a pre-defined category: man, woman, your friend Tom, etc.
In effect, the mind summarises and simplifies many details into a single thing – a human thing to be sure, but one with an umbrella label that makes it easy for us to know how to act. For example: “Oh, that’s my boss (or mother-in-law, or boyfriend, or waiter, or secretary of the residents’ management association)… and now I know what to do.”
This labelling process gets to the essentials, but it fixes attention on surface features of a person’s attributes such as age, gender, attractiveness, or role and leads to objectifying (e.g., the ‘pretty woman’, the ‘authority figure’). Our brain tricks us into thinking that this person comprised of changing complexities is in fact a static unified entity.
So, Hanson suggests that when we talk with someone (maybe a neighbour or someone from the managing agency), we should remind ourselves to be aware that they are many things other than the initial umbrella person our brain is labelling them as. Are they a son, brother, father, uncle, fisherman, donor to charity, reader of detective novels, etc. Finding common ground and interests is a great way of defusing a situation.
A greater understanding of the other person will encourage a more balanced and calmer way of interacting with them. After all, you might be living virtually next door for many years. As Hanson says, “the more significant the relationship, the more it helps us to see beings, not bodies.”
If none of this works? Well, you can always resort to the lease. Every leaseholder signed it and everyone is bound by it.