Monday, November 10, 2014

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Whatever group of people you consider, it seems ‘3%’ is the magic number of perpetually dissatisfied individuals.  In homeowner associations, navigating neighbors with narrow-vision is an ongoing challenge for both Boards and managers.  Consider this real-life illustration of one manager’s workday:

·         This morning an email came in from a homeowner in an upscale neighborhood, upset that a candy wrapper was stuck to the asphalt outside her home.  The roadway had just been seal-coated.

·         This afternoon on a drive to conduct a property inspection, the manager was slowly inching his way through Atlanta's infamous traffic.  A man in an old Ford truck pulled up on the grass next to the manager and asked him not to brake so quickly, because it was making the man’s 70 pound dog slam into the dash.  Then the pickup driver went back to distracting himself with his cell phone.

·         This evening on the way to a Board meeting, the manager stopped at a low-end restaurant chain, only to have his meal interrupted by the petty bickering of grey haired siblings.  Despite demonstrating high vocabulary skills, things degenerated to “Mother loves me best” and "I hate you", with the siblings sitting back-to-back in adjacent booths.

It seems that some of us measure our lives by our losses, finding meaning in victimization: Perpetual martyrdom.  Accepting the belief that their value is directly tied into what has happened to them or what is being done to them.

As a Board member or manager encountering this type of behavior, it is important to remind yourself that each person is responsible for his or her own happiness and to not allow yourself to get pulled into webs of conflict. One must accept the notion that there are some people who are resigned to being “rebels with or without actual causes”.

Interacting with such people can be draining and extremely frustrating to say the least. When dealing with these types of homeowners, chances are if they weren’t upset about the present issue, it would be something else.

In an article published by Forbes Magazine in 2013, Kevin Kruse offered 8 poignant tips for dealing with difficult people:

1.) Don’t be dragged down - Do not absorb the negative energy of habitually negative people. It can be toxic and in the long run benefits no one. You do not have to be angry or unpleasant just because they are.
2.) Listen - Although it may be easier to just tune chronic complainers out, actively listening is still the best option. Hear them out and make a sincere effort to identify what their needs are and what they are asking from you.

3.) Use a time limit for venting - Although active listening is an essential part of effective communication, no one should monopolize your time. Limiting complaints to five minutes will allow a homeowner to vent and protect you from being overwhelmed.

4.) Don’t agree - As tempting as it may be to want to agree and quickly pacify a disgruntled homeowner in order to just make them go away, be aware that doing so may put you in the middle of a dispute between neighbors that has nothing to do with the Association.

5.) Don’t stay silent - When it comes to dealing with difficult people or situations it may feel easier to just ignore it or keep putting it off until you are energized enough to address it. Over and over again you may click “dismiss” when your reminder pops up. “I’ll send that email later,” or "one more day returning that phone call won’t hurt”, you may say to yourself. Remember that staying silent does not make the problem go away nor will it make the situation better. It is better to respond and be present than to ignore the person in hopes that they will magically change.

6.) Don’t switch extremes into fact - A common characteristic of negative people is to use extreme statements when discussing their problems. Be sure to pay attention to language such as “never and always”. Switch these into fact-based statements that more accurately reflect the issue.
7.) Move to problem solving - Chronic complainers and Debbie Downers often spend far too much time ruminating and have a difficult time transitioning to active problem solving. Offer ways to move from the problem toward resolution.

8.) Cut them off - Once you have done every reasonable thing that you can to assist a homeowner who is dissatisfied, step away. Accept that there is a great chance that their discontentment has very little to do with their gripes about parking, and that you have done all that you can. Disengage and create some distance from them for a while. Schedule your interactions and conversations with them in such a way that you are able to decompress and regroup after each difficult encounter.

It is inevitable that there will be challenging situations. There is no magic formula for guaranteeing 100% satisfaction. What is certain is that by learning to deal with difficult homeowners and maneuvering through challenging situations you can minimize the amount of stress and frustration that you carry. There are far too many things to get done to expend all of your energy and sanity on situations and people who are only willing to see the glass half empty no matter what. 

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