Julie Adamen is the principal of Adamen Inc., a national consulting and employment firm specializing in the community management industry formed in 1997. She is a recognized expert in community management, community management compensation and association and management company operations. She is a prolific author, educator, motivational speaker and trainer for community managers and Boards of Directors. She is the author and publisher of online classes for managers, Community Association Management 101, a series of online classes for community association management professionals and volunteers.
To state the obvious: There is a lot of incivility and conflict in community associations. Why? Long ago, I recall a senior manager/exec telling me something like this: “Condo meetings almost always lend themselves to arguments because, just like a marriage, money is involved.” Ha! Well, that’s true, but a lot of conflict between Board members and owners has to do with a lack of policy on association communications. Add to that inadequate advocacy skills, no repercussions for bad behavior, the social media environment, ego, frustration and certain psychological disorders and you have all the ingredients for the average unpleasant association meeting. Amiright or amiright?!
Let’s look at what can take some of the fight out of fight night with some tips for Boards and for the owner-advocates themselves:
For the Board: Provide the overall platform for community discourse
Adopt Basic Parliamentary Procedures. All Boards should adopt some sort of basic parliamentary procedure so there is structure within which to conduct their meetings, including membership meetings. Publish and distribute procedural information to the membership and importantly, Boards, follow the procedures you adopt.
Always have an Open Forum on the Board meeting agenda. If owners wish to address the Board, there should be a designated time for them to do so, typically before Call to Order or after Adjournment. Each person should be allowed 3-5 minutes to speak. Adopt the Open Forum and it’s procedures as a part of overall meeting procedures and policies (paragraph above). Standard procedures that don’t change from meeting to meeting promote communication, transparency and give the membership confidence in the integrity of the Board. They also make meetings run more smoothly!
Communicate regularly via newsletter and website. One of the major reasons associations have problems is a lack of communication between the Board and the owners. When there is an information vacuum, it will get filled with gossip, innuendo and un-truths. This situation not only adds to the negative image of your association, but it also makes it very hard for a Board to remain credible in the eyes of the owners, despite good intentions.
For the owner-advocates:
Come forward early in the process. Position advocates should come forward as early as possible in the process. Gather as much information from management, attend meetings where the issue is discussed and ask pertinent questions respectfully. This method of advocacy – informed, involved and respectful is one on which minds can be changed and consensus built.
Have your ducks in a row! When speaking to the Board at a meeting, prepare an opening statement on why you’re taking the position. Explain your reasoning and cite facts and events. Provide successful precedents or actions. Anticipate objections, have answers to those objections and present them before anyone has to question you. Summarize your position concisely and reasonably and thank the group for listening. This method develops credibility for you and your cause.
Be willing to change your position in light of facts to stay credible. I was once at a Board meeting where a group based their entire position on an erroneous assumption that had been clearly and repeatedly explained to them; yet, in a stunning example of groupthink, they stuck to their original arguments and looked very foolish (and they lost). Duh.
Stay away from empty threats. Even at your most desperate, avoid threatening a lawsuit – as 1) everyone knows there’s about a 0.0001% chance you’ll follow through, and 2) savvy Board embers and will refer you to association counsel and not to speak with you from that point on. Consider yourself shot in the foot.
Let Go. Whether the position you are advocating “wins” or “loses,” you must let go and move on for the betterment of the community. Nothing is worse than a gloating victor, except maybe the spoiled loser. Either way, you lose credibility for the next position you may wish to advocate.
All You Need to Know You Learned in Kindergarten
As a former manager, current vendor and Board member, I still find it fascinating that people will do and say things as Board members or homeowners that they would never dream of doing or saying at work at home. It’s as if they need a little fantasy world where they can vent their frustrations and face no consequences; and they found that satisfying world in their community (and on social media :-0).
Robert Fulghum said in his book All I Need to Really Know I Learned in Kindergarten:
“Everything you need to know is in there (kindergarten) somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.”1
I emphasize the sane living part because this is what really applies to HOA world: Civil discourse within community associations is not only possible, it’s far easier than many would think if our associations would only follow some simple, clear, and common sense tenets.
It’s the responsibility of all Boards of Directors to provide a platform for civil discourse for their communities, and doing so starts with adopting parliamentary procedures, providing regular communication with owners as well as a consistent platform for owners to communicate with the Board at regular meetings.
Advocate-owners should be proactive, respectful, well-prepared, have their ducks in a row and be willing to adjust their position when facts don’t support it. And perhaps most importantly, those true “believers” need to let go once the issue is over – no matter whether they won or lost. It’s the graceful and classy thing to do and allows them to “fight” another day. Remember the things we learned in kindergarten.
Thank you, Robert Fulghum. I wish every association would make your book required reading for all owners prior to purchase.
c. 2019 Julie Adamen Adamen Inc. all rights reserved
1) Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (The Random House Publishing Group, Copyright 1986, 1988, 2003) p3