Conflict can happen in any household, within any family, and in any socio-economic setting.
But how come we don’t just sort out our disputes for ourselves, and why is it that conflict within neighbourhoods and homes creates such a big issue for us?
When I started out as a mediator, it was with a community mediation service in the West Midlands of the UK: mediating neighbour disputes around noise, pets, DIY, shared access to properties, litter, and general clashes of lifestyle. After completing quite a few mediation cases, I could see certain patterns in the ways that people (by which I of course mean me, you, and everyone else!) would approach conflict:
- People often leave it too late to speak to their neighbours about what is disturbing them: only when they get to boiling point do they go and hammer on the door or shout over the fence at the family who is upsetting them
- There is an expectation of a win-lose outcome in a dispute, so people tend to approach their neighbour with a certain level of aggression, or with a need to overpower them, trying to ensure that they themselves will win the expected argument and come out on top
- Rather than addressing the conflict issue assertively and positively, people either retaliate in a tit-for-tat way, or they wade in with a (positional) insistence that the neighbour stop what they are doing. Right now.
And we now know that mediation can be used as a great antidote to these kinds of behaviours: giving people a chance to walk towards conflict more constructively, to give one another a good listening to, and to put their heads together to come up with a shared solution to whatever the problem is.
Mediation began to be used in exactly this way for neighbourhood disputes during the 1970s and early 1980s in the UK, and over the years it took greater hold as more and more local services were set up. More recently, mediation has also come to be used for resolving conflict within, rather than between families, especially where a young person is at risk of homelessness or estrangement.
In fact, UK government figures1 have for a long time confirmed that 55% – 60% of people become homeless because of relationship breakdown, or because of being asked to leave their home by friends or relatives. Particularly with 16-17 year olds, the government recommends using mediation to bring about reconciliation between a young person and his/her family, to allow the young person to stay at home (provided that is the best place for them), and so to prevent adding to youth homelessness. Many local councils and housing associations now offer mediation in order to address this exact need.
When I started my company, UK Mediation, back in 1999, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to offer neighbourhood mediation: both as a service that we could provide, and also by training and qualifying mediators within councils and housing associations, so that they would have their own panel of mediators, with a rapid response to disputes amongst their own tenants. Evictions and other formal processes could be avoided, and neighbourly relations could be strengthened in order to preclude any ongoing difficulties.
And it works! We now run a large number of Service Level Contracts with housing associations, where we provide a mediator on an as-needed basis, coupled with an equally large number of partners in the housing sector where we provide the neighbourhood mediation training, case supervision, CPD and consultancy for the housing provider to run their own independent mediation services. In fact, one of our many partners, Derwent Living, has recently won the regional finals of the Tpas – Tenant Engagement awards for the great in-house mediation service that they have set up with their own staff and tenants as mediators. Derwent Living’s Resident Involvement Manager, Mitch Allseybrook, is pictured here with me at the regional award ceremony, and we’re soon off the national finals with everything crossed!
Conflict is common. And wherever we have to live alongside, above, or below other people whose values and lifestyles may differ from our own, disputes are possible. Mediation is a great way to resolve not just conflict between neighbours, but also to reconcile issues within families: preventing family breakdown, homelessness, and court action, and yet leaving us in full control of how we choose to manage and resolve our own conflicts.
1 Communities and Local Government (CLG), Statutory Homelessness: 1st quarter 2007. CLG Statistical Release 2007/0109