Frank, Bob, and the Lemon Tree


The story


Frank and Bob are neighbors, and used to be friends. They lived side by side peacefully for many years. They shared things. Frank let Bob use his barbeque grill in the summer, Bob let Frank use his lawn mower. All that has changed.


Frank has a tree in his yard, right by the fence line, and a large portion of the branches reach over the fence into Bob’s yard. It is a lemon tree. At first, when the lemons ripened, Bob picked those that were on his side of the fence, and gave them to his friends. Frank didn’t mind.


Frank could not reach the fruit on the other side of the fence, and for a while that was ok. Those lemons that were overripe fell to the ground anyway, and rather than have rotten fruit all over the ground, this arrangement made sense to both Frank and Bob.


The issue


Then Bob started to take the lemons from Frank’s tree to the farmers market, where he sold them along with other vegetables from his own garden. Frank noticed, and didn’t like it. It was his tree, why should his neighbor make money from a tree that he didn’t own? Frank asked Bob to share the profits of what he sold at farmers market. Bob didn’t agree, since he took the trouble of picking, cleaning, and transporting it.


This was the beginning of their disagreement, and it got worse. It escalated to the point of a major conflict between the two, and they were so entrenched, that all they could see was “that dirty so-and-so”...


Frank saw Bob as the source of all his problems, and called him a thief. Everything Bob did was scrutinized, and interpreted as malignant towards Frank. Why should he let Bob get away with it? He was such a horrible person!


Bob saw Frank as a major aggravation, his enemy, and the one who was hindering him from living a successful life. Why should he have to listen to Frank? He was such a horrible person!


The issue was no longer the lemons, it was everything. It was war. Frank and Bob were no longer friends. They stopped speaking to each other altogether. The focus was now the character and attitude of he other person. Neither could do anything right in the other’s eyes. At some point they forgot how they even got there. They were just enemies.


What now?


Not all disagreements get to that point, but this is where conflict resolution comes in. It is a valuable tool, and the mediator applies conflict resolution principles to help sort things out. S/he shifts the focus from the person, back to the issue at hand. Both parties will be engaged to work together and sort out the underlying facts, so each pain point can be addressed.


Let’s take a look at each party’s pain points.


The Pain Points




It is Frank’s tree, growing in his yard.

He pays for the water to water it.

He pays for someone to come and prune it.

He pays for pest control when needed.

He pays for clean-up on his side of the fence when fruit falls to the ground.

He picks the fruit on his side of the fence, and sends it to a distributor who sells it. He gets paid for the fruit that the distributor sells.

He allowed Bob to pick fruit on the other side of the fence, so Bob could give it away to friends.

Bob started selling it and making profit.

Bob didn’t share the profits with Frank.




The tree branches come into Bob’s space in the yard.

He pays for clean-up on his side of the fence when fruit falls to the ground.

He collects what falls to the ground on his property.

He picks from the tree only what is on his own side of the fence.

In the beginning, he picked and collected the fruit, to give to friends.

Frank used to be ok with that.

He now takes it to farmers market and sells it for profit.

He cleans it, and transports it, and pays for the gas to get it there.

He doesn’t share the profits of what he sells with Frank.

Frank now calls him a thief.


How to find a solution?


Can a fair solution be found? Not putting any value judgement on the ideas for now, here are some options that would be considered:


  • Bob could give Frank a portion of his profits.
  • Frank and Bob could share expenses of pest control, tree trimming, or watering.
  • Frank and Bob could combine efforts and costs and make it a joint venture.
  • Bob could take all of the lemons to market, and pay Frank for the lemons.
  • Bob could pay for the tree trimming on his side of the fence.
  • Frank could cut the branches on Bob’s side of the fence, thereby eliminating the option for Frank to get any lemons.
  • Frank could cut the tree down, which would be a loss for both of them.


These are just some examples. Many more options could be found, once Frank and Bob start working on this issue together, as a joint problem, rather than attacking each other. The mediator can help them navigate, and provide a buffer to make the negotiations go more smoothly.


Think about expanding on options.

Would you add anything to the list?

What would you think is a fair conclusion?


The outcome


The mediator has a large part in helping the parties to find options. S/he guides them to work through each of their points, and facilitates the negotiations so Frank and Bob can make the best decisions together.


The desired outcome is that the solution will work for both parties,. A written agreement will be set up, so that the negotiated solution is documented, and they can both be accountable and refer back to it when needed.