by Hazel Siff
Community association board meetings can be intense. Strong opinions and clashing egos can make it difficult for boards to stick to an agenda and accomplish their objectives. Thankfully, there are ways to navigate these stressful situations and adhere to the business at hand.
Board members need to handle conflict with finesse and discipline rather than brute force, says David J. Graf, an attorney with Moeller Graf in Colorado. “Be respectful even when people don’t deserve it because it will pay dividends and keep people showing up,” he says.
Graf, president of CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers, recently led a webinar hosted by CAI in which he offered hard and soft approaches to handling difficult meetings. Some of his advice follows.
Be polite and respectful. Even if board members disagree with someone, they can serve as positive examples for their community. Maintaining a civil atmosphere will encourage residents to participate in future meetings.
Thank attendees for showing up and sharing their opinions. Graf points out that many community managers and board members have type A personalities, and that this can make it harder for them to interact with unhappy participants. He notes many people who attend board meetings are motivated by anger, stress, or victimhood. This can be hard for type A personalities to handle; they might find it difficult to communicate with those who are upset. Graf says boards can reduce attendees’ emotional load by thanking them. This will help ensure disgruntled participants feel seen and are comfortable opening up about their experience in a less aggressive manner.
Stay focused on the agenda. When things get heated, Graf notes, board members should remind everyone of the meeting’s objectives and stick to the schedule. This can help avoid getting sidetracked by irrelevant issues and prevent the meeting from becoming chaotic.
Empower homeowners. Board members should remind homeowners that they are co-owners of the enterprise. By doing so, participants will feel more invested in the meeting’s outcomes and be more willing to contribute positively.
Address concerns in a calm and rational manner. It’s important to remember that emotional outbursts are common. However, this doesn’t mean you should throw people out of the meeting. Graf recommends board members try to deescalate first. If that doesn’t work, communities should seek legal advice before taking any drastic action.
Handling conflict in board meetings requires a combination of respect, focus, and diplomacy. By maintaining a positive approach, sticking to the agenda, and empowering participants, board members can help create a productive and open environment. The most successful board members are those who can maintain discipline and finesse even in the face of conflict, says Graf.