You are serving on a homeowner association (HOA) or community association board and discussing hiring a new lawn care provider. Seems simple enough, right? Oh, except that there is a bitter divide between several members arguing about two competing companies.
Serving as an association board member, you expect conflict occasionally. After all, you are making important decisions that not only affect you as a board member and homeowner, but also impact your community at large. Whether you’re discussing the best company to collect trash, how to prioritize budgetary items, or even details of an upcoming community gathering, being able to be candid without hurting feelings or relationships is key.
If you work with a great residential property management company, you may be able to lean on your property manager for advice on how to approach potentially antagonistic situations. But what if you’re a self-managed community?
The following are five tips to help you avoid damaging conflict, unite board members, and agree on strong solutions to your community’s everyday issues.
1. Identify The Conflict:
What exactly is the problem? In the scenario mentioned above, an association board is having problems hiring a new lawn care provider. But why is that conflict happening? Is there a disagreement over who can provide better service? Is there a conflict of interest with one of the candidates and a board member? Or are the people who disagree in a struggle of personalities? All of these matters need to be analyzed with a clear mind, and if you are the source of the conflict, stepping back and letting cooler heads prevail is a good idea. Data-driven conflicts (For example, is one bid higher than the other? Does one company provide you with better recommendations?) can usually be resolved with calm, reasoned analysis. Personal, psychological, or value-related conflicts might be tougher to resolve and demand a more creative solution. No matter the conflict, you should proceed carefully, with a mind toward resolving the issue at hand, rather than being proven correct. In this way, you can avoid long-term strife or negative feelings amongst board members.
2. Communicate Clearly:
It’s important that all members have their say, no matter how they feel. Honest communication can help everyone understand the conflict better and lead to greater productivity. Though discussions may get heated, remember to really listen to what everyone is saying, rather than preparing a rebuttal in your head while someone else is talking. Members with past conflicts might immediately assume another member is out to get them. If you see this occurring, try to redirect conversations into more productive areas. Speak and respond with empathy. If there is a misunderstanding, ask clarifying questions rather than jumping to conclusions. Avoid preaching, acting judgmental, or talking down to other members. Above all, remind everyone that you are working towards a collective cause. Conflict can be productive, but if it's allowed to linger, it also can be destructive.
3. Identify Personality Types:
Your HOA board is bound to be made up of all kinds of people. There are “competitors” who are always trying to come out on top, “collaborators” who want to get into the trenches and work with other board members, and “avoiders” who will balk at conflict and will not contribute to the conversation. Knowing each member’s personality traits can help you identify what approach will work best, and prevent you from treading water during discussions. It can also help you get the most out of each member and draw on his or her strengths to help resolve a conflict.
4. Ask For Help When You Need It:
You might already know some board members who are not successful with identifying solutions to conflicts. If you work with a good property management company, they may be able to step in and mediate. In fact, they may have formal conflict resolution programs that could help restore harmony to your board. For example, FirstService Residential, North America’s leading property management company, uses an Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach that keeps the discussion and energy focused on the matter at hand and helps diffuse abrasive personalities.
5. Build Steps Toward Resolution:
Conflicts should not be left unresolved. At the end of the meeting, a decision must be made. There could be tension in the room, lingering arguments, or simply tired people who are ready to leave. If you are the clear-headed one, put the group on the right path. First, set the scene and remind members the decision at hand. Agree on what the problem is. Go through the possible solutions you have already discussed. Then, negotiate a decision that is balanced and fair. Remember, this doesn’t mean one side wins and another loses. The community benefits from your wise decisions, which means everyone wins in the end. Finally, remember to set time aside in the future to revisit the issue and ensure the solution you have agreed upon is working well.
Your board meetings aren’t always going to be harmonious, but they don’t have to be contentious. Following some simple advice can go a long way toward making sure board members respect each other and successfully accomplish the tasks at hand. If you are interested in learning more about how a professional property management company can help your association board be more successful, contact FirstService Residential today.