Imagine: You just finished up another stressful day working from home. You washed the dishes from all the meals you cooked and are about to wind down with a good book or glass of wine. Suddenly, you hear your neighbors clonking across their apartment, putting their music on full blast, or FaceTiming their parents so loudly that it sounds like they’re right next to you.
But you don’t have to just imagine it, right? Chances are, you’ve been listening to your noisy neighbors for the last few months of social distancing.
Noisy neighbors are a tale as old as time, but there’s a good chance tensions are at an all-time high nowadays.
“Most people have been spending a lot of time watching the news while they are cooped up at home, and that certainly feeds the fear,” says Erik Wheeler, mediator at Accord Mediation in Burlington, Vt. “Fear triggers the fight or flight response in the brain, which bypasses the logical part of the brain. When we are fearful, we are not making good decisions and are more likely to create or continue conflict.”
But just because you’re on edge doesn’t mean you have to ignite a screaming match with your neighbor. Turns out, it is possible to address the issue at hand—whatever it is—in a positive, respectful manner. (Yes, even during these times.) To help, Wheeler shares his tips for dealing with your noisy neighbors.
Better now than later
Let’s be honest: Nobody wants to confront their neighbors. It can feel a little awkward to tell someone else how to live in their home. The problem is that the longer we wait to have a conversation, the more frustrated we become.
“Many people avoid dealing with a situation [such as] a noisy neighbor or other conflict,” Wheeler says. “What you tolerate will persist. They keep tolerating it until they are really worked up about, then explode in anger at the other person.”
In order to have a productive discussion instead of an early confrontation, Wheeler recommends approaching the situation directly and early on. Simply texting your neighbor to turn off their subwoofer will resolve the issue quickly and keep the drama at bay.
Understand the situation
Having a noisy neighbor is a complete nuisance—especially if you’re trying to focus on a big work project or clock in some beauty sleep. While it’s easy to assume your neighbors are definitely inconsiderate, take a moment to consider their point of view.
“We forget to consider the other person’s situation and why they may be behaving this way,” Wheeler says. “It’s easy to fall into the attribution bias error and assume they’re behaving that way just because they are jerks.”
Not only might your neighbors be unaware of how their noise is traveling, but it’s also possible they have no idea that it’s bugging you. Before you start lecturing them on the fact that volume buttons do exist, find a way to connect before discussing the problem.
“When you approach the neighbor, ask some questions first,” Wheeler recommends. “Maybe the music is loud because they are celebrating. Maybe they had a rough day?”
Share your side
On the flipside, it’s also annoying to have your neighbors tell you to be quiet—especially if you’re trying to unwind after a long, hard day. According to Wheeler, the only way a productive, positive conversation can happen is if both parties understand each other’s perspectives.
“When we get angry and confront, we are often more focused on proving that the other person is wrong,” he says. “If we communicate our request and help them understand, it’s much more likely to go well and preserve the relationship with your neighbor.”
If you want to ask your neighbor to keep it down, Wheeler recommends explaining why you need some peace and quiet. Sure, this might be obvious to you, but spelling it out will lay the groundwork for open, honest communication. So, what exactly are you supposed to say? Wheeler recommends something like this:
“Hey, I don’t mean to be a pain, but I can hear your music and it’s making it difficult to go to sleep. I have to be up at 6 a.m. for work and I really need some sleep. Could you turn it down a bit?”
All you have to do is hit send or work up the nerve to knock.
Connect with your neighbors
If you don’t know a lot about your neighbors, it can be easy to get caught up in a tense text exchange or discussion. But before you hit send on that passive aggressive text, ask yourself one question: Would you speak this way to a friend? Or your in-laws? Or your boss?
“You’re less likely to make the wrong assumptions and explode at your neighbor if you know them a little bit,” Wheeler says.
While you don’t need to be best friends with your neighbors, it’s in your best interest to get to know them. Shoot them a text to see how their weekend was every once in a while. Never introduced yourself to them? Slip a note with your phone number underneath their door.
“Approach your neighbor before there is conflict, get to know them, spend some time with them,” Wheeler says. “It will pay off—when they are noisy, it will be easier to have a conversation instead of a confrontation.”
Not only will you feel empowered to have an honest, relaxed conversation about the volume, but it can also make those run-ins at the mailbox more enjoyable.
After all, isn’t that what being a great neighbor is all about?