The sun was shining and the gardens were in full bloom. We had arrived at some lovely apartments designed specifically with elderly residents in mind. What could possibly be the problem?Looks can be deceiving. The two residents we were about to visit had been in dispute for over two years. What had started out as an amicable relationship had turned into what seemed like a nightmare for them.
Bob lived in a first floor flat and had always enjoyed good relationships with all his neighbours in the apartment complex. Everyone had always got along well and Bob was able to indulge his passion for music, often practicing with other residents with similar interests in the communal area of the building as well as in his own flat. Life was good for Bob, until Tom moved into the flat below. Things were okay initially for Tom, but as he settled into his new surroundings the noise from Bob's flat upstairs became more and more difficult to bear, particularly from the television late at night.
Tom wasn't sure what to do, should he go and speak to Bob? What sort of reaction would he get? He didn't want to make things worse, so he decided the best way to sort it out was to speak to the Housing Manager, who could have a word with Bob on his behalf. That unfortunately, is where the problems began.
There ensued a long list of complaints and counter complaints, police call outs and allegations of stalking and harassment. Bob felt victimised, vulnerable and constantly anxious and on edge. When we visited Bob, he explained that Tom was banging on the pipes downstairs at all hours of the day and night, slamming his doors and pulling the bathroom light switch on and off throughout the night. All this was disturbing Bob's sleep. He was worried about making noise to disturb Tom and felt like he was walking on egg shells in his home. He ended up sleeping on the living room floor where the noise didn't seem so bad. But Bob was 85 and this was extremely uncomfortable.
Tom just couldn't understand what the problem was, all he wanted was a bit of peace and quiet during the hours of midnight and 6.30am, but it just wasn't happening. Tom explained that Bob was up and about during the night and flicking light switches on and off, running water at 3am and tapping on the floor. Tom was convinced that Bob knew exactly where he was in his flat and followed him round during the early hours just to disturb him.
It became apparent that both Bob and Tom wanted the same thing. Peace and quiet at night that would enable them to get some sleep. Neither wanted to be friendly with each other, but they did want to be able to put the past behind them and make a fresh start as neighbours. Neither Bob or Tom wanted to meet face to face for a joint mediation session, however they did agree to a shuttle mediation. A date was set and we agreed to return and shuttle back and forth between Bob and Tom with a view to helping them build an agreement, develop understanding and make that fresh start that they both wanted.
The day of the shuttle meeting dawned bright and clear and we returned to meet them again. As we shuttled back and forth between the properties, we were able to help Bob and Tom develop understanding from each other's perspective, identify what they needed for a more peaceful future and make specific requests regarding what they could do to improve the situation for each other. This was not without its problems. Bob very much saw himself as the victim having led the complaints to the housing regarding the banging of the pipes, etc and being asked to complete diary sheets over the last 18 months recording every incident. Through a combination of being empathetic, building rapport, active listening, reframing and asking questions we helped Bob and Tom move forward and build an agreement that they were both happy with, that would help them enjoy a more peaceful future.
Two years of dispute bought to an end, a fresh start made and some peace of mind achieved for those involved. An earlier referral to mediation for these two neighbours could have saved a lot of heartache and upset and also could have saved the housing provider time, money and resources dealing with the constant complaints, counter allegations and numerous diary sheets.