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Guideline for neighbour problems / PREVENTING: 2.2 Problem-solving approach to conflicts

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

Conflict [approaches] or styles refer broadly to how we attempt to resolve our disagreements and deal with emotional upset when interacting with one another (Hammer, p. 222). This specific recommendation is meant to help neighbours involved in disputes to come together by themselves in the best way possible. For example, in case neighbour A is bothered by loud noises from neighbour B, a certain approach taken by neighbour A in opening a channel for communication with neighbour B regarding the noise can help both neighbours in finding an amicable solution to the conflict. 

During the orientation process of the available literature, we identified the following approaches to open a channel of communication between parties to a neighbour dispute:

  • Problem-solving (sometimes referred to as engagement between neighbours), which involves a high concern for self and other goal attainment.
  • [Compromise, which also involves a high concern for self and other goal attainment, but is not necessarily targeted towards a win-win situation].
  • Contending (sometimes referred to as discussion between neighbours), which involves a high concern for one’s own goals and low concern for the other party’s goals. [This approach is often stimulated by the traditional legal system of claiming].
  • Yielding (sometimes referred to as accommodation by neighbours), which involves a low concern for one’s own goals and high concern for the other party’s goals. 
  • Avoiding (sometimes referred to as dynamic interaction between neighbours), which involves a low concern for self and other goal attainment.

Two dimensions of difference provide the foundation for how individuals solve problems and resolve conflicts: (1) direct versus indirect approaches for communicating about substantive issues (disagreements) and (2) emotionally expressive versus emotionally restrained strategies for dealing with emotional upset. 

According to available literature, the contending / discussion style and the problem-solving / engagement style are used most in the world (Hammer, p. 226). For that reason, we will compare these two interventions.

Contending / discussion style

The discussion style uses direct strategies for communicating about substantive disagreements and emotionally restrained or controlled approaches for dealing with emotional upset. This style resolves issues through a focused, problem-solving process in which objective facts and information are presented in a logical argument format. Clarity in expressing one’s goals or position is important as is maintaining emotional calm when tensions rise. This style follows the American maxim, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” (Hammer, p. 226). This style can also include indirectly coercive actions, such as threatening to call the police (Ufkes et al., p. 291).

Problem-solving / engagement style

The engagement style also emphasizes verbal direction in communicating about substantive issues. Unlike the discussion style, however, the engagement style couples this form of directness with an emotionally expressive demeanor. This style is comfortable with more emotionally intense dialogue and in fact participants feel that when each party “puts their emotion on the table” the resolution of the dispute is satisfactorily progressing. This style, because of its more emotional expressive focus, follows the Irish proverb, “What is nearest the mouth is nearest the heart.” (Hammer, p. 226). This style aims to approach the other party in a constructive way and find a solution that is acceptable to both parties (Ufkes et al., p. 291). Behavioral interactions in a problem-solving style include approaching the other party by saying: “Together with you, I would like to [shared beneficial outcome]”. (Ufkes et al., p. 297).

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For neighbours looking to open a channel of communication between them (meet), is engaging in a problem-solving approach more effective than taking a contending approach for their wellbeing?

Search strategy

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.

For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: conflict management, conflict resolution, neighbour dispute resolution, approaching techniques, interpersonal conflict resolution

Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

According to our research method, we grade the evidence comparing a problem solving / engagement style and contending / discussion style as low.

A considerable amount of research is available on conflict management styles – particularly in the fields of medicine and employment dispute resolution. There is a gap in the research regarding conflict styles that neighbours can apply in the context of a neighbour dispute.

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

A problem-solving style of managing disputes in neighbour disputes leaves room for emotional expressions. “Strengths from the engagement style viewpoint include an ability to provide detailed information and explanations and a sincerity and commitment to the other party through more emotional expressions and a positive sense that sharing one’s feelings is how conflicts are successfully resolved” (Hammer, p. 226).
Contending conflict styles have the least risk of misunderstanding between the parties. “Strengths from the discussion style perspective include an ability to directly confront problems and elaborate arguments so people do not misunderstand your views and a willingness to maintain a calm atmosphere” (Hammer, p. 226).
In managing disputes, a problem-solving style is most likely to lead to win-win situations. “A compromise by definition fails to give either party all that they wanted, thus it is inferior to a problem-solving style, where the goal is to create a win-win situation” (Rahim et al., p. 159).
“The [problems solving style] treats all [parties to the neighbour dispute] with maximum respect and seeks to accommodate all points of view without compromising” (Rahim et al., p. 159).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Even though the problem-solving approach leaves room for emotions, the problem-solving style can be seen as dominating and rude by some people. “From the orientation of other styles, the problem-solving style can appear unconcerned with the views and feelings of others and dominating and rude” (Hammer, p. 226).
A contending style can be seen as unfeeling. “From the perspective of other styles, the discussion style can appear logical but unfeeling and appear to overemphasize verbal clarity to the exclusion of recognizing other, more emotional and relational concerns that arise during a conflict” (Hammer, p. 226).
When neighbours stereotype, it can be difficult for them to try to apply a problem-solving approach. Where there is more stereotyping involved, it is more difficult to apply a problem-solving approach (Ufkes et al., p. 302) and therefore harder to solve a neighbour dispute.
“Forcing [or contending] is defined as acting destructively in a directly or indirectly coercive way. For example, neighbors can react by threatening to call the police” (Ufkes et al., p. 291).

Balance of Outcomes

The available research suggests that only problem-solving approaches to conflict resolution can lead to win-win situations. A problem-solving approach leaves room for emotional expressions and sharing feelings. On the other hand, A problem-solving approach can be seen as rude and dominating.

While a contending / discussion style can be very clear, it is not focused on creating a win-win situation. It can be seen as unfeeling and destructive.

Taken together, a problem-solving style to conflict management is preferred.


For parties to a neighbour dispute looking to open a channel of communication between them,  engaging in a problem-solving approach is more effective than taking a contending approach for wellbeing.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, the effect on well-being for all parties involved in a neighbour dispute, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For parties to a neighbour dispute looking to open a channel of communication between them, engaging in a problem-solving approach is more effective for wellbeing than taking a contending approach.

Table of Contents

2. Recommendations on CONVENING
2.2 Problem-solving approach to conflict resolution