Before approaching your neighbour it is important to plan ahead. This means thinking about the issue so that you are clear about what the problem is and work out what you want or what you would like them to do. This will make your conversation easier. Is your neighbour the right person to talk to?

Depending on the issue, you may need to clarify whether your neighbour is the owner of the property or a tenant. For example, if the issue relates to a fence, then this is the owner’s responsibility. If the issue is to do with noise, then you can discuss it with the tenant who is making the noise. To find out who the owner is, either ask the tenant or contact the local Council. If you’re not sure about which local Council area you live in use the Find Your Council (External link) search at the Department of Planning and Community Development website. 

Ice-breaker techniques

It’s important to approach your neighbour in a friendly way and try to build a working relationship with them. If you don’t feel comfortable knocking on their door, wait until you see your neighbour outside and then introduce yourself, or leave an introductory note in their letterbox and then follow up in person later on. Try to:

  • pick a time when both of you have time to discuss things without rushing
  • look for common interests as a conversation-starter
  • talk about general topics before getting into the specifics of the problem
  • find points of common concern, e.g. a tree that is likely to drop branches could injure their children as well as yours

Effective Communication

No matter what impressions you may have formed about your neighbour, approach them in an open way without making any assumptions about how they will respond. Treat them with respect, no matter what their personality is.

Remain calm

Try not to be too emotional when talking to your neighbour.

Be clear and focus on the issue

Try to focus clearly on the issue, rather than trying to interpret their behaviour or make personal remarks. Don’t bring in irrelevant details. Be clear about:

  • what the issue is
  • why it’s important, e.g. if a branch breaks off a tree it might injure children who play in your backyard; if the fence is broken your dog might escape
  • how it might affect your neighbour as well, e.g. if a branch off the neighbour’s tree injures someone, that will create a problem for the neighbour

Listen

Give the other person the opportunity to express their point of view and listen to what they have to say. Don’t make assumptions about their motives. Try to see things from their point of view. They may have a good reason for not agreeing to do what you want. 

Look for solutions

Point out the benefits to the neighbour in addressing the problem at hand. Work co-operatively with the other person to find a mutually acceptable solution. Try to come up with suggestions that will accommodate your neighbour’s needs as well as your own. 

How the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria can help

If you would like to talk to someone about how to approach a neighbour, you can contact the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria on 1300 372 888. The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria provides free and confidential mediation services funded by the Victorian Government.