“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.” – Francois de la Rochefoucauld
Every association membership is different, but there seems to be one constant: there are always members who seem to take a non-positive view on issues that the board addresses within the association. Board members often cite this negativity as one of the most frustrating factors of serving on a board of directors.
Through our 30 plus years of association management experience, we have encountered many challenging people and challenging situations. We have experienced members who seem to be critical of every action that a board takes, and members who refuse to cooperate for the good of the association. Avoiding or hiding from these members might be possible, but it may not be a long term solution to challenging members. Being confrontational with challenging members may not be effective either.
We have found the following 8 points are helpful in dealing with challenging members:
Point 1: It goes without saying, but always be respectful of the member’s concern. No matter how benign or ridiculous the concern may or may not be, no one likes to be treated with disrespect. Generally, if you treat the member and their concern with respect, their treatment of you will be reciprocal.
Point 2: Seek counsel of others. It is imperative to speak with others who may have had experience dealing with the member or a particular situation. Your property manager and other board members can be a great resource. Former board members as well can be a great resource. Other parties may provide new perspectives that will aid in a solution.
Point 3: Communicate your position. Letting the member know your intentions will often diffuse the situation. Refusing to discuss the matter or putting them off may be like throwing gasoline on a fire. Before communicating your position the member may believe you are the one being difficult. Explaining a particular decision, and the reasoning behind the decision, may allow them to understand the situation.
Point 4: Try and comprehend the member’s intentions. This may seem like another obvious point, but you never know if the member has all the facts of the matter. For example, there are always some in a membership that believe the board is paid for being on the board. Or most often you will encounter members who feel they are not receiving anything at all for their dues. The member may not realize there are common expenses.
Point 5: The past is the past. If a member had an issue with a prior board, committee, etc., for whatever reason acknowledging what happened or what the member perceived happened may go a long way in smoothing the issue over. Many times a person will realize that harping on an issue with someone who had nothing to do with the issue will be a waste of time, especially if you acknowledge the issue.
Point 6: Remain calm at all times. This may seem like another obvious point and many times easier said than done however, losing control and flaring out at the member may lower you to a level you do not wish to be on. Also, a confrontational attitude is not conducive to establishing common ground. Anger generally is only effective in selective situations and a calm persona is most effective.
Remember, you may not just be communicating to that particular challenging member. By you being the reasonable board member, you may be setting an example to the majority of the membership. If you are seen as calm and in control you may not gain the challenging member’s approval or understanding however, others in the membership will generally deem you in a more favorable light.
Point 7: Escalate the matter to third parties. When you have exhausted all of the above in attempts to resolve the matter, rely on your property manager to address the member. This can come in as many forms as having your property manager chair the annual meeting or having your property manager communicate with the member. Many times fresh blood can defuse difficult situations. In extreme matters, and when legal matters come into play, the association’s attorney can be brought in to assist in clarifying legal issues.
Point 8: Last Resort. If you have exhausted all the avenues to resolve the matter and the member is still being difficult, as a last resort you may want to reiterate your position or the board’s position and tell the person you are no longer going to address the matter with them. After all, if you have worked in good faith to resolve the matter, what else can you do? There may be underlying reasons that are motivating the member to act this way and if the motivation is not apparent it may be impossible to resolve.