Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Controlling the Meeting

Corporate board meetings and government councils normally carry an air of formality rarely interrupted by shouting matches:  Not so with our homeowner associations!  All parties in HOA meetings have a personal stake (their homes), and Board Directors hold the responsibility for controlling the meeting in a fashion that is both respectful and productive.

Too often, a Director will choose confrontation that escalates anger in the room, or feels compelled to return a verbal jab made by an uneducated homeowner.  Very few people enjoy sitting in the midst of tension with no resolution, and the end result is homeowner apathy, or perhaps revolution. Here are some tips as to how to best address homeowner concerns, especially when things get heated!

When dealing with an upset person, assume that what he is saying is true and how it could be true, rather than scoffing.  Repeat back to the individual what is being said to ensure you understood him/her correctly.  Always be respectful and speak in a normal tone.
As you do this, match his preferred language of the senses.  We each have a dominant sense (sight, sound, touch) and our language choice reveals this preference.  Examples (with responses after each):

  • “The budget situation looks bad.” – “The way I see it, it is serious but manageable.”
  • “Are you listening to what we’re saying tonight?” – “I’m all ears.  Everyone sounds worried.”
  • “You need to stay in touch with jobless owners and contact them about payment plans.” – “I feel like that’s a great idea.”
Besides matching body language and using a calm voice, we should avoid our initial reaction to verbal attacks:  attack back, plead, start debating, use the “silent treatment”, leave the room.  Each of these reactions rewards the attacker by showing he successfully pushed your buttons and is in control.  This only encourages future confrontations.  You need to let this person know that bully tactics won’t work.
If a homeowner is on a verbal rampage, ignore the baiting.  Respond directly to false assumptions, rather than being dragged into an argument.  Examples (again with responses after each):
  • “If you really CARED about growing community spirit, you’d get off the backs of all us struggling paycheck to paycheck!” – “Of course I care about growing community spirit” or “When did you start thinking that I don’t care about community spirit?”
  • “You’re not the ONLY person that has PROBLEMS, you know!” – “You’re absolutely right.”
  • “I KNOW we would never dare tell you what to DO – but if you keep spending money on landscaping you’ll REGRET IT!” – “I want you to know how much I appreciate your courtesy.”

Sometimes a homeowner crosses the line on topics, or gets so aggressive that a direct response to any portion of his assertion will only result in a protracted argument.  In these situations, distancing works best.  One method is to ramble on about a lot of unrelated items, sending an underlying message that you know the person was trying to pick a fight, and it’s not going to be fun because you’re not playing.  For example:

“Why are you SO RUDE?” - “You know, I think it’s because of something that happened to me when I was little.  We were headed down to Destin, and…no, wait a minute!  It couldn’t have been on that trip, it must have been when we were coming back from my grandparents’ house, because that was the year the Braves won the World Series.  Well, we were stopped in Greenville on the way back and…”  Keep going as long as it takes, but avoid being sarcastic!

The second way to respond is to be completely unemotional and neutral, avoiding everything personal.  Speak in generalities and hypotheticals, and match with your body language:

“WHY am I always getting slapped with fines for VIOLATIONS from you people?  Do you HARASS PEOPLE just for fun, or WHAT?” – “It is always upsetting to receive violation notices in the mail” or “People get irritated when they receive violation notices” or “Violations are unpleasant for everyone in the community.”

Finally, sometimes a quoted truism (delivered in a humorous manner) is enough to derail an attack:

“You know, you can’t tell which way the train went by looking at the tracks” or “The more you run over a dead cat, the flatter it gets” or “All things being equal, tall people use more soap.”
Remember, the meeting is called to discuss and solve problems.  The more you work to diffuse the situation and keep irate homeowners on track, the likelier your success.  Acknowledging people’s emotions, while not giving in to bad behavior, is the best tack to take.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post! It's very nice to read this info from someone that actually knows what they are talking about.
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