The saying goes that fences make good neighbors. What that means is that having a clear line between yours and mine allows people to know where they stand. The same holds true for any relationship between people – friends, colleagues, family, neighbors, community – everyone needs to understand their domain and what are the limitations of their freedom to operate in that domain? A fence is simply a physical reminder of where people stand.

In life we all have fences under which we operate – processes, requirements, specifications, expectations, guidelines, rules – all of which help or hinder. In other words sometimes the fence fits our need and other times it is sending the wrong message. A simple, low, decorative fence sends the message that it serves a purpose more to look good than to seclude. A tall fence with sturdy walls and impenetrable posts sends the message that it will protect, keep things in and out, and should not be crossed without caution. The goal of the fence needs to coincide with the purpose it is working to fulfill.

I recently met with our county planning office to understand the official requirements for a couple future construction projects. In reviewing the specifics some were very clear and others were simply guidelines to follow. When the specifics and guidelines were put together as a whole there was a clear message of what will or won’t work, and of course there is an elaborate process to follow to get things approved. All along the way one person has the power to decline or disallow the project. The fence line is very clear in regards to who has the power and who has to comply. After that meeting I was very well aware of what has to be done to get our projects approved and now the fun begins. That being said, the county has the job of enforcing clear lines of how everyone who resides in the county needs to plan in order to keep everything up to code. They have constructed fences that both define and communicate exactly what is allowed and what is not.

Sometimes the challenges in our world come from poorly designed fences. One group thinks the other should do this or that and no one has defined or communicated that clearly. One person thinks this is important and the other person doesn’t care about that at all, so there is a disconnect and the line one wants is ignored by the other. Remember communication isn’t about saying things, it is about listening AND developing a common understanding between both sides of the fence. Just because you said it doesn’t mean people understood it in the same manner that you do. The fence may exist but be sending the wrong message to your neighbors.

If you find yourself in conflict with someone or something, what kind of fence was built to serve the purpose of both sides? Are you dealing with a decorative fence when you really need something more sturdy? Maybe the fence was over engineered and prevented people from communicating freely. Then again maybe there is no fence and it is time to build one to help define domain and who can do what. Fences do make good neighbors as long as the fence serves its goal and purpose.

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