Written by Richard Thompson
Communication is a lost art in some HOAs due to lack of basic people skills. Board members often get more criticism than praise and then along comes an abusive owner who makes unreasonable demands. But it works both ways. Sometimes it’s an owner that suffers at the hands of a domineering board.
The term “Communication” has a warm connotation. It denotes a form of fellowship. However, if you believe the media, HOAs are police states with warlord boards. While there is always an element of truth in the stories, they are selected because they aren’t the norm (like Elderly Owner Has Condo Foreclosed) but the stories give the impression that such is the norm. Often as not, homeowners with a “my-home-is-my-castle” mentality disregard rules and regulations to challenge the HOA. Boards that are confronted by these challenges can react with defiance. Anger begets defensiveness which invites retreat or counter attack.
Few boards have the ability to communicate “artfully”. This art includes reining in outspoken directors, schmoozing vendors, soothing the ruffled feathers of feuding neighbors and enacting rules that invite compliance rather than evoke defiance.
What is communication? According to Webster, communication is “to have or hold intercourse or interchange of thoughts; to give, or give and receive, information, signals or messages in any way, as by talk, gestures, writing, etc.” Here are some tips to improve HOA communications:
1. Take a class on dealing with difficult people. These are offered through various sources, such as local community colleges, where mediation skills are taught, web courses, and books in the local library.
2. Learn “active listening”, which is actually listening and paying attention when a person is talking to you. This technique doesn’t mean that you agree or disagree with what is being said it lets them know that you hear them.
3. Learn how to release the pressure. Visualize an angry person like a balloon that is blown up to its maximum. It can’t take any more pressure without popping. Now imagine letting some of that air out by listening to a belligerent person for a few minutes. Once people feel like they have “had their say”, the more open they are to receiving and compromise.
4. Don’t form assumptions about right or wrong. If you already have your mind made up, compromise is more difficult.
5. Respond to communications in a business like way and without anger. Ignoring communications from an owner who has an ax to grind often leads to more and stronger demands, and possibly personal attacks.
6. Count to ten. Take a walk, a break or a breather before you react. Answers given in anger rarely solve the issue and usually make the situation worse.
The art of surviving each other in an HOA environment has long term benefits which can help grow neighbors and friendships. This is an art worth perfecting, especially if you are in a position of leadership and authority. Excerpts from an article by Beth A. Grimm, Esq.