Bury the hatchet

Co-ownership is the mother of all disputes. If you live or own a unit in a sectional title scheme and haven’t heard of this phrase — you will probably have experienced it in practice.

Living in close proximity to other people often with different backgrounds and cultural beliefs, as well as co-owning areas of the land and building about which decisions need to be made, creates ample opportunities for tempers to rage and nostrils to flare.

With acknowledgment to the Oregon Dispute Resolution Centre, here are ten steps to help you deal with conflict constructively when it arises in a sectional title scheme:

Plan what you want to say: Think about what you would like to say to the person with whom you have a conflict. Try to construct what you want to say so that the other person will understand your point of view. Concentrate on how you see the problem and the way that it affects you. Try not to point fingers and place the blame for the problem directly on the other person, rather attempt to help the other person understand that a problem exists and invite them to help you find a solution that suits you both. Be willing to compromise on your side too.

Choose a good time: Choose to talk to the other person when there will be time for you to have a thorough discussion. You don’t want to catch them leaving their flat when they are already late for work or with a group of their friends. Perhaps when they are at home or arriving home would be a more suitable time to chat constructively.

Speak directly: Speak directly to the person with whom you have a conflict. 'Skinnering' to your other neighbours and sending rude anonymous letters will cause nothing but trouble and ultimately will do nothing constructive to resolve the dispute. Meeting face-to-face is first prize, unless there is a threat of violence. Second prize is speaking over the telephone.

Speak respectfully and honestly: Speak to the other person in a respectful and honest way. Have a positive attitude about working together and finding solutions that suit both of you. Raising your voice and getting emotional makes it harder for the other person to listen to you and understand your point of view. It puts them in 'defence mode' and will make it much harder to find constructive solutions. Remain open to hearing their side of the story and seek to understand it from their side. Then attempt to reach a compromise.

Focus on giving information: Discuss your concern with a focus on how the problem affects you and how it might be resolved. Do not simply deliver a message of 'stop it or else'.

Listen: You've had your say, now hear the other person's side. Try to relax and understand how the other person feels about the situation. Summarise what you think they are saying and ask questions to clarify your understanding of their view of the problem. You do not necessarily have to agree with their view, but understanding it will allow you to come to a compromise more easily as you will understand what is important to them.

Talk it through: Once you have begun the conversation try not to leave out the details that you feel are too difficult to share or the minor details that might not matter so much but still bother you. You need to air all issues so that they can be addressed.

Consider possible options: Try to create an atmosphere in which you and the other person can put your heads together and brainstorm possible solutions or ways to alleviate the problems currently being experienced. When a solution comes up that you both think might work, discuss it from a logistical perspective and decide together whether or not it can be implemented.

Be specific about a solution: Once you have agreed on a solution that you both feel is attainable, spell it out clearly and make sure you are both 'on the same page'.

Follow through: Stick to your side of the bargain. If you said you would do something, organise something or not do or organise something — follow through. Contact the other person if you feel they are not sticking to their side of the bargain and communicate immediately if an unforeseen obstacle occurs which makes it impossible for you to uphold your side of the bargain. Once you have resolved the dispute, congratulate yourselves on achieving a respectful relationship with your co-owner.

Article by: Jennifer Paddock - www.paddocks.co.za