Preventing and Resolving Conflicts

According to the 2011 WWU Rental Housing Survey, students living of campus listed these as the top four concerns in their neighborhood:

  • Noise disturbances
  • Theft (especially car prowling, bikes, laptops and other electronics)
  • Parking (including lack of parking and blocked driveways and sidewalks)
  • Loud parties

These are most likely the same concerns as your non-student neighbors. You may have a lot more in common than you thought! When you stay in contact with your neighbors and your neighborhood it is easier to be on the lookout for crime and have proactive conversations about acceptable levels of noise and other issues. Most Western students get along great with their neighbors and have very little conflict with them. If you and your neighbors have taken the time to develop a relationship that is built on trust and mutual respect and if everyone abides by Bellingham’s laws and ordinances, you will undoubtedly enjoy living off-campus, free from conflict and confrontation. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and you may just find yourself in the midst of a conflict.

While you can’t always prevent conflict, you can learn how to effectively manage and resolve it to the mutual benefit of you and your neighbors. The following strategies can help you to greatly improve the likelihood that problems will be understood, solutions explored, and agreements negotiated within a relatively constructive and stress-free environment.


Clarify the Problem and Desired Outcomes

What is the root of the problem? For example, is it that unsightly old couch on your porch or the argument that you and your roommate had at 12:00am while sitting on it? We all have classes, work, and other obligations that can be negatively affected if we don’t get the rest we need – starting with the underlying issue is a great way to empathetically connect and move closer to a resolution.

Take a Listening Stance

When engaged in a conflict, we can have a tendency to get defensive immediately or think that others are unreasonable. The process of “active listening” is a tool that may help you understand where your neighbor is coming from, which can in turn help you to resolve the conflict. Being an active listener yourself can also facilitate having your ideas and feelings heard as well.

When listening to your neighbor, try taking an active stance by:

  • Listening to your neighbor completely before responding.
  • Asking for clarification if their statement is unclear to you (“Can you say more about that?”), instead of making assumptions.
  • Restating what you have heard (“My music after 10 pm bothered you”) so that your neighbor can confirm if you’ve understood them.
  • Validating their concerns, even if a solution has not yet been reached: “I really appreciate that we are talking about this issue.”

Build an Agreement that Works

In the process of crafting a solution to your conflict, make sure you and your neighbor take the time to agree to uphold the agreement. Here are some questions to help build an agreement that works:

  • Is it fair? Can both parties agree to it and actually abide by the conditions?
  • Is the agreement balanced? Does everyone have a stake and role in its implementation?
  • Are the action steps realistic? Do we have the time, energy, skills, and resources to follow through and implement this agreement?
  • Is the agreement specific enough to carry out? Does everyone understand what we need to do and when we need to do it?
  • Is the agreement future-oriented? In other words, have we considered what we will do if there are other problems or conflicts in the future?

If you both still agree with the solution, you have successfully navigated the waters of conflict resolution. Congratulations! It’s often helpful to build into your agreement the opportunity to check back with each other to see how well the solution is working. For future reference and to avoid any misunderstanding, you might consider writing down your agreement. The patience, flexibility, and respect that you showed your neighbor during this process will have long-lasting positive impact on your ability to live peacefully in your off-campus neighborhood.

If the conflict continues and you’d like some help dealing with it, contact the Campus Community Coalition, 360.650.6863 or the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center at 360.676.0122. The Whatcom DRC offers free and low cost mediation services.

Page Updated 04.04.2014