Many Singaporeans are hesitant to start chatting up their neighbours; they often can’t get past the initial shyness. Even after years of silent smiles of acknowledgment, some Singaporeans remain as unapproachable strangers with their neighbours.

Awkwardness aside, the busy pace of life in Singapore makes it difficult for many Singaporeans to approach their neighbours, let alone form friendships with them.

Yet a good relationship with your neighbours means that an available source of support is always close by. UK accredited mediator Jessica Lamb says that “the relationships you have with your neighbours can have a huge impact on how happy, safe and relaxed you feel in your home.”


Find out how to get over your awkwardness
and strike up a friendship with the people next door. Image: Corbis

We ask Singapore expert mediators Kamaria Djorimi and Jessica Lamb for tips on how to overcome the shyness and break the ice.

1. “WE’VE BEEN NEIGHBOURS FOR YEARS, BUT NEVER GOT PAST A FRIENDLY NOD OR SMILE.”
You’ve already built a positive rapport with your neighbour; the next step is to engage them in a closer friendship.

  • Festive periods are a great opportunity for you to get to know your neighbours better, by sharing festive goodies and offering well-wishes.
  • Be friendlier: If you’ve always avoided eye contact with your neighbours because you assumed that it would be awkward, sum up the courage to give them a friendly greeting the next time you meet. “By asking friendly questions about their work, children or hobbies, your neighbours will sense your warmth and sincerity, and be more likely to respond positively,” says Kamaria.

2. “WE’VE JUST MOVED IN AND DON’T KNOW ANYONE.”

  • Knock on their door and introduce yourself. Jessica says: “People generally respond positively to being asked for advice on places to eat or tips on the local area, so these are good conversation starters.” If you’re having renovation work done, Kamaria advises informing your neighbours of the upcoming work and apologising in advance for any inconvenience that might occur.
  • Invite your neighbours to your house-warming party: Kamaria says that you can organise a house-warming party and invite both friends and neighbours alike.

3. “ALL MY NEIGHBOURS ARE ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH EACH OTHER, AND I’M NOT SURE HOW TO BREAK INTO THEIR CIRCLE.”

  • Strike up a conversation with one or two neighbours from the group, by asking for advice on a neighbourhood issue. After establishing good rapport with a couple of your neighbours, they are more than likely to include you in their neighbourhood activities.
  • Organise an event: Alternatively, you can take the initiative to organise a communal event and invite all your neighbours.

4. “I’VE ESTABLISHED A FRIENDSHIP WITH MY NEIGHBOURS BUT THEY ARE STARTING TO BECOME OVERLY FAMILIAR.”
These neighbours that you’ve recently befriended have started asking for favours that you’re not prepared to oblige. How should you strike a balance?

  • Establish boundaries early on in a relationship. Instead of saying things like “Come round anytime”, she advises using specific invitations like “Would you like to come round for a drink on Saturday evening?”
  • Bring up the issue in a friendly conversation: If your neighbour starts to become inconsiderate, you can let it slip into friendly neighbourly conversation that his loud music in the middle of the night is disrupting your sleep, or that the corridor is becoming untidy.
  • Discuss the problem: Apart from explaining the issue, Jessica also advises coming up with a few ways both of you can tackle the problem together.

5. “WE’VE HAD MINOR DISAGREEMENTS IN THE PAST, AND NOW I’M EMBARRASSED TO APPROACH THEM.”
Maybe he came over once to tell you to lower down the volume of your TV, or you went over to tell her that her children were making a mess in the corridor. Now, you avoid making eye contact when you meet.

  • Make a visit and talk about it: Jessica advises going over to your neighbour’s home to clear the air over previous disagreements, and agreeing to have an open dialogue about any issues either of you have with each other. “We are not mind readers, so the best way to resolve disputes is to discuss them,” she says.

Kamaria Djorimi is a mediator from the community relations and engagement division of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the current assistant manager of the Syariah Court, which adjudicates Muslim divorce and other related marriage issues.

Jessica Lamb is a UK accredited mediator from The Counselling Place; the centre is located at 7500A Beach Road, #04-323, The Plaza, Singapore 199591; tel: 6887 3695; website: www.thecounsellingplace.com.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer March 2011.