One thing is for sure serving on a homeowner association (HOA) board of directors is all about working with others. Which can be a struggle in patience and understanding because of the many personalities that are encountered. Fortunately, most HOA membership interactions are positive. However, within every HOA, interpersonal friction is inevitable.
Making these situations within an HOA even worse are that they normally deal with an individual HOA member’s home. Compounding this is the fact that the HOA board members are neighbors with people that they must deal with regarding unpleasant situations, such as HOA covenant enforcement.
No matter the situation, be it fellow HOA board members or the general HOA membership, people are prone to behave emotionally, and they may only see their point of view. It may be difficult to convince this person to let go of their own agenda and focus on what needs to be done to obtain everyone’s objective. Emotions can sometimes run deep in an HOA.
Keeping emotions in check can be easier said than done. However, it is important to remember that emotions can be a two-way street. So, it is important for at least one person in the discussion to maintain control of their emotions. Two people with unrestrained emotions are usually going to make the matter worse.
- Staying composed and factual when a member is being emotional is key to any discussion. No matter the emotional reasoning behind the HOA member’s reasoning, facts are facts. While many may state it is hard to argue with facts, to an emotional person, facts may be irrelevant. However, to others in the membership, at the end of the day facts are the basis of the discussion and must be the focal point. When facts are the focal point, that is a defendable position, and difficult to impeach.
- Being realistic on what can be done is another important point in dealing with an emotional member. All too often, the emotional argument is based on a matter that is unobtainable or unresolvable. For example, there are always items that are not addressed in the HOA CC&Rs, and attempting to enforce something that is not addressed can be an exercise in futility.
- Winning over the emotional argument, in the end, may not be possible; however, winning over the rest of the membership may be obtainable. Serving on the board of directors is not a popularity contest, but it is important that the membership know the basis of the counterargument. Frequently, the person who is heard and believed is the person being the loudest and most passionate. Loudest and passionate are the cornerstones of most emotional arguments. This is the point where the factual points must be laid out to counter the emotional argument.
Ten Conflict Resolution Strategies & Tactics for the HOA Board of Directors
1. When emotions run hot, back off, then cool off.
As what often happens when emotions get the best of people, rarely is anything positive accomplished. Typically, emotional decisions or actions lead to poor decisions being made and there being even more negative emotions. In an HOA environment as in many environments, there can be long-lasting consequences from emotions running hot and not be tamped down. Even if the other party wishes to continue in the emotional battle, remember the old idiom, ‘it takes two to argue.’
2. No personal attacks.
An easy way to tell in almost all debates or arguments, who has the weaker argument, is the person who falls back on personally attacking the other party almost always has the weaker argument. A smart debater realizes or believes they have a stronger argument; thus, there is no need to retreat on their argument or debase themselves by attempting to debase the other party. Smart debaters attack the problem and do not attack the other party. Smart debaters move beyond personalities.
3. Express your thoughts in a solid way, but never in a hostile manner.
The second easiest way to tell in most debates, who has the weaker argument, is the person who becomes hostile or defensive in their demeanor. Again, a smart debater believes in their argument and should never feel a need to become outwardly defensive to defend their position.
4. Express your opinion without passing judgment on the other party.
This can be one of the most difficult tasks for a debater. Even the most proficient debater can have difficulty in identifying with the other party in a debate. Because identifying or trying to identify with why the other party feels the way they do can be paramount in a productive discussion. This does not necessarily mean showing sympathy for someone else’s view, however, if the other party feels their argument, idea, belief, etcetera is at least not taken seriously, successfully mutually resolving the issue can be next to impossible.
5. Stay on topic and refuse to chase rabbits.
This happens many times because one party sees their argument evaporating and can no longer effectively defend their position. A good debater never falls for this trick and brings the original topic back to the top of the discussion. Some may consider deflection of an argument to another topic, not necessarily a victory on their original argument, but at least it is not a total loss.
6. Respect other opinions and attempt to develop common ground.
While similar to point number 4 above, this point is to be used as the basis of a resolution. In number 4 above the debater attempting to better defend their position, by understanding their opponents. By showing respect or concern for the other debater’s opinion is the first step towards a resolution. Even if a resolution is not possible, this type of step can show understanding for the other party’s concerns. For example. HOA President: I believe I understand what your concern is about the HOA clubhouse being too small for your needs. What is it that you would propose to resolve this to your satisfaction? HOA Member: I strongly believe the HOA should enlarge the clubhouse and that will be to the benefit of all the HOA members. HOA President: I understand your concern but there are at least two big issues with what you are wanting to accomplish. First, you would need to get 67% of the membership to agree to this enlargement by amending the governing documents. The second being the association does not have the funds to do this and we would have to get the HOA membership to agree to a larger assessment than what is allowed in the governing documents.
7. Agree on what is agreeable, then work on what is not agreeable.
All too often debates start with the hardest matter to get everyone to agree to as the first item. Work on the easiest item first. Positive momentum can be generated on having the matter that everyone agrees on, agreed to.
8. Everyone listens, without interrupting.
While many assume this point is obvious, it is probably the most abused or unfollowed of all the points. As a result, it can be very detrimental to a successful discussion outcome. If the other party believes they are not being heard, or worse yet, interrupted, why should they be agreeable to anything? Everyone deserves to be heard and without interruption.
9. Don’t bring up the past.
This point is closely related to point number 5 above and is many times used to deflect an argument. Very little, if anything, can be down about the past except unnecessarily antagonizing the other debater. Keep everything in the present.
10. Win-Win mentality
This can be a very difficult point to achieve sometimes in an HOA when so many issues are out of the control of the HOA board. However, going into all discussions with this mindset can aid in a successful outcome. An honest debate should never be viewed as a competition, with winners and losers. Work towards a win-win resolution.
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