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We all know how hard it is to meet people in our community, especially as you get older. Oftentimes the best way to find like-minded people means joining a book club, softball league or a photography class. But one Texas resident, Kristen Schell, came up with an unusual and effective way to meet her neighbors: by placing a turquoise table in her front yard.
Schell used the picnic table, originally intended for her backyard, as a gathering spot for her neighborhood in Austin. It eventually became a place where dog walkers, joggers and other neighbors would stop to have conversations and get to know each other. What started as a small social experiment quickly gained traction — and now more than 40 states have turquoise tables in front yards to help build communities.
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It's a surprising trend in a time when 68 percent of Americans say they have a pet peeve with their neighbors, according to a poll conducted by Trulia last year. While we all can’t put turquoise tables outside of our homes, we can achieve a similar outcome by simply opening the lines of communication.
We spoke to Thomas Farley, aka Mister Manners, as part of TODAY's series called "Manners on the Move." He offered tips for starting off on the right foot and establishing good relationships with neighbors.
1. Be an ambassador.
Take the initiative and welcome new neighbors shortly after their arrival. Provide them with your contact information (cellphone, email address) should they have any questions about the community that you may be able to help them answer. Don’t wait until the moving sign goes up (again) to realize it’s been five years and you never got to know the people next door.
2. Be visible.
Spending your free time indoors deprives you of the opportunity to engage with your neighbors. Consider devoting some time to being in the front of your home — whether it's reading, gardening or playing sports with your children. You may not have a front porch (or even much of a front lawn), but passing time in front of your home will dramatically increase the chances of getting to know your neighbors — which in turn will help ease the awkwardness of having challenging conversations should problems arise.
3. Gather people together.
Whether it’s for a block party, an impromptu badminton game or a neighborhood cleanup, organizing a get-together for everyone in the immediate vicinity will build bonds and friendships that last — and neighborhoods that shine. And the benefit of being the organizer? You get to know everyone.
While these three behaviors will set you up for success in forging strong relationships, sometimes a conflict has already emerged and needs to be addressed. Farley revealed the biggest issues he’s heard from communities — and offered these tips on how to best approach the situation with manners.
Most people tend to hold in their anger and get passive-aggressive, says Farley. Whether it’s grumbling, blasting your own music in an attempt to show the noisy neighbor who's boss, or even hitting the ceiling with a broom, at the end of the day, these tactics are ineffective.
Instead, take a deep breath and think rationally. If your neighbor only has a party or gathering once a week and it’s still early — 6 p.m., for example — it's their right to have a party. If it’s too late (check your local laws about the exact time noise should be reduced), you do have the right to get some peace and quiet. You can approach it with a simple, “Hey, I’m sure you aren’t aware of how loud your music is, but if there's any way you can turn it down, I’d really appreciate it."
If you're still not having any luck, reach out to your community association, homeowners' association or local law enforcement.
And if you're the one having a party, invite your neighbors, or at least give them a heads-up. The more neighbors at the party, the fewer complaints you'll likely to get.
For those who work at home, silence is golden — but it isn’t always guaranteed. Your neighbor's adorable pups can slowly turn a productive day into an aggravating one with their constant barking. Farley advises framing the situation as a concern for the dog, rather than as a complaint. You could say, “I’m so sorry, I know you aren’t aware because you are at work usually, but I’ve been noticing that your dog has been barking all day; he or she sounds like they're in distress and I’m very concerned for your dog’s welfare.”
If that doesn't work, reach out to your homeowners' association or community association. There are laws on noise levels at certain times of the day that they can help enforce.
As parents know, little ones can have a mind of their own. Unintentionally, there can be situations where they disturb the neighbors by playing on their lawn, loudly running around or even climbing on trees or furniture on the neighbor's property.
The best way to approach this is to communicate with the parents, but don’t ever tell a parent how he or she should be parenting. Farley suggests opening with: “I’m sure you weren’t aware but I wanted to let you know that your daughter was climbing the tree. She’s more than welcome at our home anytime, but I’m just concerned for her safety. I just don’t want her to get hurt while on my property."
Sense a theme here? It all starts with communication. Get to know your neighbors and keep the lines of communication open. It's much easier to talk out a problem and come up with a simple solution rather than hoping it'll go away on its own.