9 Ways to Improve Board Communication (Hint: It Starts With You!)
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The best communication skills require active listening and strategic responses. However, have you caught yourself zoning out at the end of a long meeting or formulating a response while the other person is still talking? It happens to the best of us.
Whether your board is communicating well with one another or facing some challenges, you can start improving communication skills by focusing on a few practical steps. The most successful boards invest time in communicating effectively internally to achieve mutual understanding, improve cooperation and strengthen relationships – all of which contribute to achieving the community’s or building’s goals and vision. We’ve also seen that healthy and proactive board communication is the key to having an excellent reputation with residents and ultimately enhancing their association’s property values.
Here are nine proven board communication techniques to consider:
1. Actively Listen Even When You Disagree
One of the most common (and human) reactions to hearing a different idea or opinion is to formulate a defense in your mind instead of listening. Sometimes you don't even notice until the speaker stops! Your fellow board members will have different perspectives on common issues that arise within your community. It's best to listen actively, take notes and try to see it from their perspective. This practice will help guide your discussion in the right direction as well as allow your fellow board members to feel heard.
Remember, having a difference of opinion can be a good thing to promote change and improvements. Learn more about effective board alignment practices in our article, Is HOA Alignment a Unicorn? 3 Boards Share What It Takes.
2. Speak Strategically and Encourage Discussions
Learning how to communicate strategically will go a long way in guiding your board’s conversations. Speaking strategically involves using the right number of words (be succinct!), using the right tone and asking the right questions. Here are some practical ways to communicate strategically at your next board meeting:
- Redirect questions and comments – Encourage other board members to engage in answering questions or comments (even if you want to answer them yourself!).
- Paraphrase – Actively listen (see tip #1) and then restate what someone else has said in your own words.
- Encourage participation from everyone – It's not the most popular task, but it's best to ask those who have not yet shared their thoughts to offer their views.
- Change the perspective – Encourage the board to consider an issue from other points of view by "playing the devil's advocate."
- Ask for divergent viewpoints – Foster problem-solving or the generation of different ideas by asking: "Does someone else have an opinion?" "What might those who are not here say?" or "Have we overlooked other ideas?"
- Solicit convergent viewpoints – Try to achieve consensus by asking: "Are there any areas where we all can agree?" or "What can we agree is most important regarding this issue?"
3. Recognize Communication Strengths in Others
Everyone has different communication strengths and recognizing it will help your board improve collaboration and improve engagement. You may have some board members who are very brief and to the point and another who prefers to elaborate. Some may be skilled at writing, while others may be skilled at public speaking. Be mindful not to overshadow timid board members or abruptly cut off others during discussions. Everyone wants to be heard!
4. Respond to Challenges With Proactivity and Preparedness
When a difficult challenge arises, or a crisis in your community occurs, it's better to meet it with proactivity and preparedness rather than a knee-jerk reaction. Take time to learn all the necessary information and explore all possible solutions before making a final decision as a board. Gather your information through research (online and offline), consult with your community management company, bring in association attorneys if necessary, to gain a comprehensive understanding and resolution of the issue. The more you proactively seek information, the more enlightened you will be, which will help you critically analyze situations and improve your board’s decision-making.
How can you manage community conflict and restore relationships? Read our article Mediation? Arbitration? Avoidance?! Best HOA Practices for Resolving Conflict to find out!
5. Practice Patience and Focus on the Bigger Picture
Be patient with other board members, particularly if they have just joined your board. Everyone is on a learning curve when they start something for the first time. Even if a new board member has participated on other boards before, they will still need some time to learn how your association works. If they are entirely new, they will need to familiarize themselves with working knowledge of local, state and federal laws that impact resident and board member interactions. There is a lot of information to absorb, so practice patience with yourself and your fellow board members. In time, your board will respond to situations as a cohesive unit and will work toward improving your community.
6. Understand Your Role and Expectations
Improving communication on your board often comes down to improving your understanding of your role and responsibility. Many people go into their role with the best intentions, eager to volunteer their time for a worthy cause, but they do not fully understand the role's expectations and requirements. Ultimately, your association is a professional business entity that requires efficient management and commitment. Local, state and federal laws, together with your governing documents, empower you to act in some areas, require you to act in others and in some cases, they can prevent you from making the wrong decision for your community. As a board member, it’s important to know your limitations for each of these scenarios.
7. Set a Deadline for Decisions
While it's best to discuss and investigate matters before taking a vote, your board should not linger in the process. Set decision deadlines for your board and clearly outline timeframes and target dates. This practice will help move your community projects along swiftly. Work with your association manager to help you set realistic timelines for board decisions and community projects.
8. Put Your Request in Writing
Most people do not respond well under pressure or without preparation (because they have different communication strengths! See tip #3). Put your questions and requests in writing before the board meeting. This allows them time to research, prepare their answers and save time (and awkward silence) during board meetings. It also serves as a tangible reminder for board members to input their request for a discussion topic. More often than not, your meetings may run shorter and be more productive!
9. Be Objective
Objectivity is the key to successful communications and gaining trust from residents and your community. As a board member, it's imperative that you remain objective when challenges or issues arise and that everyone on your board has the opportunity to express different opinions. Be sure to consider all points of view and what will benefit the community before finalizing a decision. Avoid making decisions that will only help you or one person on your board.
Board members are most effective when they communicate well with each other. By improving interpersonal skills, you’ll be able to create a thriving community, which can impact your association’s overall reputation and increase home values.