When and When Not to Build a Hay Wall

My 3-Step Approach to Persuading Tough Cookies

What can you do when you’re in a stalemate with someone who’s stubborn? I asked myself this question a few months ago when my plans for an Airbnb property came up against a group of unhappy neighbors.

As I’ve mentioned before, I own a farm that I’m turning into a wedding and event venue. I’m really excited about the project. There aren’t many (or any) places like it in the area, and I think it will be great for the neighborhood. But when my neighbors heard about the idea, they weren’t so thrilled.

The Case of the Unhappy Neighbors

My neighbors didn’t see the farm the same way I did. I thought the venue would be awesome, but they worried about bright lights and loud music late at night. They were also concerned about having more traffic on the roads after dark. In fact, they gave the project a big thumbs down; so, I had to ask myself, “Now what?”

3 Steps for Persuading Tough Cookies

I meet people who don’t agree with me all the time. Sometimes these folks are clients, sometimes they’re other entrepreneurs, and sometimes they’re members of my own family. We all have our own perspectives! Over the years, I’ve come up with a strategy to convince tough cookies to come around to my point of view. I decided to try it out on my neighbors. I hoped that if I played my hand right I could show them how great the venue idea was and find a way we could all benefit.

Step 1: Show empathy.

The first step in a good negotiation is to agree with the other side. This will catch them off guard and show them how reasonable you can be. When my neighbors told me they worried about the noise, light, and traffic, I said, “I totally understand!” My reaction disarmed them, and all of a sudden they were ready to listen. This step goes back to an old proverb: “You can’t have a war if the other side won’t pick up a weapon.”

Step 2: Propose solutions.

You can’t bring someone around to your side if you won’t compromise. So, I offered to hire a traffic control company to deal with the traffic from the farm, and I also reminded the neighbors there was already a noise ordinance in place in the area. We went back and forth like a game of tug of war, but soon almost everyone had opened their minds to my idea.

Step 3: Maintain a good relationship.

In addition to offering compromises, I went out of my way to be a good neighbor. I kept my lines of communication open, offered to use my mower to cut other folks’ grass, and invited people over to fish in our pond. It’s hard to keep arguing with someone once they become your friend. It worked! Before long, one couple down the road invited my family to church and brunch afterward. We went
with them and had a great time. Before we left, they even pulled me aside and asked if we could get together again and talk about more of my ideas for the community.

The Secret 4th Step

My three-step approach almost always works, but sometimes it doesn’t, which is where the secret fourth step comes in. That step is: “Never give up.” I had to use it for one last, stubborn neighbor. He wouldn’t hear my compromises for the noise and light problems. So, one night, I fixed them for him! I piled all of my hay bales into a wall between our properties so he doesn’t have to see the farm at all. Like any entrepreneur with a dream, I’m not giving up.
Do you have a method for changing minds while still listening to the ideas of others — so solutions can work for everyone? I’d love to hear how you do it, or how my method goes for you if you try it out. Send me an email or fill me in the next time we talk.

-Randy Sklar


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