Human nature is the problem
A condominium is a unique way of owning property because it forces you to work with other owners to make decisions affecting the common property. Human nature being what it is, this inevitably means conflict.
Potential for disagreement exists as soon as you have more than one person involved in making decisions. The more people involved, the greater the potential for conflict. Throw an administrative structure into the mix, and the situation worsens because some of those in the administration will perceive that they have “power,” and will want to exercise it. At the same time, some of those not in the administration will resent those who are, and will blame them for their problems.
These are fundamental truths about human beings, they exist in every condo everywhere in the world.
I believe this is such a fundamental issue that I gave it an entire chapter in my book, the “Jalisco Condo Manual” (Chapter 58 – Dealing With People).
People perceive other people as “difficult” when they strongly oppose their views. The more aggressive the other person is about this opposition, the greater the perception of them being “difficult.” This creates conflict, and both sides tend to “dig in” and to resent the other.
Just as it takes two to tango, it takes two to have a conflict. The goal of this post is to help members of a condo Board lower the potential for conflict by avoiding their part in it.
How to deal with communications from owners
In general, a condo Board is made up of owners who are volunteering their time to benefit their community. They’re trying their best to carry out a difficult job. No one likes to be challenged or criticised. When an owner confronts the Board with a problem, the natural reaction is to resent this.
However, the Board owes a duty of care to the condo. Part of this duty is to examine and answer owner issues. This can be summed up as follows:
If an owner sends a question, suggestion, or complaint to the Board, then the Board must consider it and respond.
In an ideal world, this would work smoothly.
Unfortunately, owners are people, and they have many different personalities. As a result, there are many approaches they might take to communicating their issue. Some will be better at this than others. It’s often the way in which the issue is brought to the Board that causes the conflict.
Tips on how a Board can deal with different types of communications:
If an issue is expressed clearly and reasonably:
Acknowledge receipt of the communication immediately.
Discuss it, but don’t treat this with a knee-jerk reaction. Give the owner’s views serious consideration. They’re important to that owner, and they took the time to address them. Does the owner have a valid point? If they disagree with a board policy or practice, consider whether they may be right.
Always be prepared to change if there’s a better way or you’re proved wrong. There ‘s no shame in this. Forget about pride and “saving face.”
Respond to the owner in a reasonable time-frame whether positive or negative. If, after due consideration, the Board isn’t going to act on the matter, or you don’t accept the owner’s views, then always say this, and always explain why (in as much detail as the original communication demands). Always be professional and polite.
If an issue appears silly or frivolous:
Remember that this isn’t the case for the person who sent it. To them it’s important. Respond in a way that let’s them down easily, explains why you’re not acting on their matter, and always do this with respect and in a non-insulting tone.
If an issue isn’t expressed well:
Don’t judge it harshly. English might not be the person’s first language, or they might not have good writing skills. Look past this at the content, and address that. If you need more information, ask questions.
If an issue is expressed in a profane, rude, or confrontational way:
A volunteer Board deserves to be treated with respect, and abuse or personal attacks are not acceptable. However, don’t ignore it, but do not respond in the same way.
Send a simple response saying something like, “We value input from owners. However, the tone of your email is antagonistic. The Board doesn’t consider or respond to such communications. Please re-state your issue in a polite and non-confrontational way, and the Board will discuss it. Thank you.”
Always phrase this response in a business-like and polite way. Resist the temptation, and do not respond to anything in the owner’s communication.
Some people are just angry at the world, they blow up disproportionately at the smallest things, and their communications can reflect this. Don’t drop to the level of these people. They need to be trained. Once they learn that this attitude will be ignored, they’ll be forced to change their tactics to get their issue heard.
If any of these people present their issue at a board meeting in the same tone (angry and abusive), the Chair must immediately shut them down, and tell them that the Board will not consider their issue until they can present it in a calm and polite way.
The way in which a Board deals with these issues helps set the tone in the community. If the Board appears to be arrogant, rude, or confrontational, then that’s what they’ll get back. It’s up to board members to take the high road, and set an example for professional, polite, and respectful dealings.
Managing owner’s perception of the Board
Sometimes, from an owner’s perspective, the Board appears arrogant, controlling, and unresponsive to input. The key to changing this perception is to always be open, transparent, and communicative.
Always invite owners to board meetings. Never meet in private. Send out board minutes to everyone shortly after the meeting (or post them on your condo web site).
Always involve the community in major decisions such as budgets or by-law changes.
Always deal with owners and each other in a calm, business-like, and polite way.
Always respond to non-abusive owner communications.
Always let the owners know what’s going on. For example, if something is broken on the common property, let the owners know that you’re working on it. As well as keeping them “in the loop,” this avoids multiple complaints or reports about the same thing.
Remove personalities from the equation
Adopt and communicate a policy to not accept verbal communications from owners to individual board members. It’s up to the board members to enforce this by politely asking an owner who tries this to, “please send something to the Board,” and politely refuse to discuss it.
Explain that the Board makes decisions as a body, and that all communications must be in writing to the Board as a whole. Owners can send an email to the Board, submit an issue through the condo web site, or submit a written statement at a board meeting.
Set up an email address specifically for the Board (such as VistaDelBasureroBoard@frogmail.com). Have owners send their issues to this address, and respond to them from this address. Emails from the Board should be signed from “The Board.” The response should be approved by all board members.
Avoid owner communications to and from individual board members. In particular, avoid multiple responses from different Board members on one issue. Agree to a unified response, and send that one response from the entire Board.
This policy removes face-to-face confrontations, that can escalate out of control. It also removes the “shoot the messenger” syndrome, where an owner will blame an individual for the actions of the entire Board just because that’s the person they got the email from. It trains owners to treat the Board as a body, rather than as individuals. It also goes a long way to removing the potential for personal attacks.
Difficult people on the Board
The entire Board will seldom agree on everything. As a result, some board members might consider some of their fellows to be “difficult people.”
The Board is a democratic committee, and the majority rules. If you’re on the losing side of an issue, you must accept it gracefully.
As a board member, you owe it to your community and your fellow board members to behave in a calm, business-like, non-confrontational way at board meetings.
If you feel anger welling up, hold your breath, count to 10, and don’t react.
If another board member loses it, and confronts you personally, don’t respond in kind. As a last resort, tell them that you don’t respond to personal attacks or anger, and then ignore them until they change their tone. Refuse to be drawn in.
I know this is much easier to say than to do, but, if you can learn this skill, it will go far in making your life on the Board more enjoyable and far less stressful.
Since there’s a certain percentage of people who’ll always react in exaggerated anger over even small matters, it’s also possible that there’s one or more of them on the Board.
If this is the case, remember that the Board is there to serve the community, and these people must keep themselves in check when dealing with owners and fellow board members.
If you have this problem yourself, and it’s causing friction on the Board and with owners, then maybe being a board member is not the right choice for you.
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