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You are a volunteer board member serving on a condominium board and the discussion at a monthly meeting concerns hiring a new landscaping contractor. Shouldn’t be that difficult, or so you think. Unfortunately there is an angry disagreement between other board members who are arguing about who is the better of two competing companies.
Disagreement among board members is to be expected occasionally and can be healthy. It is important to consider all points of view when you need to make important decisions that affect not only you as a board member and homeowner, but also have consequences for the other owners and the community. Whether the topic of discussion is to determine the best company to clear the snow and mow the lawns, how to finalize budgets, or which company to select to prepare the annual audit, it is critical to foster respectful discussion that does not hurt feelings or damage relationships.
If you retain the services a professional property management company, your property manager will be a resource for dealing with potentially hostile situations. But what if your condominium has chosen to self-manage?
Consider these five suggestions to help you avoid destructive arguments, guide board members to a positive resolution and make sound decisions about the day-to-day operation of your community.
1. Define the problem:
It is important to understand the opposing points of view. In the example mentioned above, a condo board is having difficulty choosing a new landscaper. What is the reason for this difference of opinion? Do board members disagree about who can provide the best service? Does a conflict of interest situation exist between a board member and one of the contractors? Is a personality struggle between two or more people the reason for the disagreement? All of these possibilities must be evaluated with a common-sense attitude. If you are the person causing the conflict, it is a good idea to step back and let those less passionately involved make a balanced decision. Proposal-based conflicts (e.g., is one of the quoted services priced higher than the other? Does one company provide better references or more services?) are usually resolved with reasoned, respectful analysis. Personality conflicts or emotion-driven disputes are more difficult to resolve and may require resourceful solutions. Whatever the struggle, you should approach it rationally, with the goal of solving the problem you face, instead of being proven right. With this approach, it is hoped you can avoid destructive hard-feelings and long-term discord between board members.
2. Clear communication:
No matter what their view, it’s important that all members have the opportunity to present their point. Communicating honestly can help all parties understand the dispute better and result in productive conclusions. Discussions can become heated, but it is important to actively listen to what the others are saying. Don’t prepare your argument in your head while someone else is explaining their position. Members who have had conflicts in the past might mistakenly assume another is deliberately opposing them as a matter of principle. If this appears to be happening, the conversation should be redirected into more constructive discussion. Respond and speak with empathy. Rather than making assumptions, ask clarifying questions if there is a misunderstanding. Steer away from preaching, acting in a judgmental manner, or belittling other members. Most importantly, remind the group that they are trying to create a collective solution. Conflict can build productive and positive outcomes, however if it's not managed constructively, it may cause irreparable damage.
3. What are the personality types on your board?
As in life, any board will be made up of different types of people. The “competitors” will always try to win, “collaborators” want to get their hands dirty and work as a team, while “avoiders” shun conflict and rarely participate in the discussion. Knowing each person’s personality traits can help you identify your best approach, and engage everyone in the discussions, helping to achieve conflict resolution.
4. If you need help, ask for it:
Perhaps you have already identified board members who struggle with difficult situations. If your community employs the services of a professional property management company, they may be able to step in and arbitrate. The board may also decide to bring in a professional mediator whose approach will help to keep the focus of the energy and discussion on the issue at hand rather than the personality conflicts.
5. Work toward resolution:
If at all possible, resolve the conflict. After all the discussion, a decision must be made. Some members may still be angry causing tension in the group. Some may be fed up with the events that have transpired and tired of the discord. If you are the level-headed participant, try to redirect the group toward the right path. The first thing to do is recap the decision that has been made. Then solicit agreement on the scope of the problem and review the possible solutions the group has already discussed. Next, negotiate a balanced and fair decision. Make it clear that, this doesn’t mean one side loses and the other wins. The entire community benefits from fair and wise decisions; this means that, in the end, everyone wins. As a follow-up, plan to set aside a time in the future to review the decision and make sure the agreed upon solution is working as it should.
Condominium board meetings won’t always to be free from disagreement but they should not be combative. Approaching a problem in a balanced way with an even temperament can go a long way toward ensuring board members successfully accomplish the tasks at hand and respect each other in the end. If you would like to learn more about professional property management expertise can help your condominium board to more successful, contact FirstService Residential today.
Tuesday March 29, 2016