Handling conflict is a regular part of governing, managing, or advising HOAs, which are corporations but also neighborhoods. Unlike clubs or churches, when things get unpleasant, a member cannot simply resign, because it is one’s home.
Disagreement is normal but is a problem when it becomes destructive. So, it is important to learn how to “disagree without being disagreeable” and how to respond when someone else is behaving disagreeably.
DISAGREEMENT IS OK
Some boards feel that all votes must be unanimous, confusing unanimity with teamwork. A nay vote is not disloyal nor is it any reflection upon the motion-maker. Allow board colleagues the freedom to disagree, because every director’s view is valuable, even when in the minority.
Teamwork takes over after the vote is done. After the board votes, the corporation has decided, and the directors move forward. While the dissenting voters are free to express their opinions without retribution, they must support the corporation’s completed decision under their fiduciary duty of loyalty to the corporation.
FIND THE SEED
Some puzzles involve objects hidden in a larger background, where the task is to find the object camouflaged amid the distraction, and the challenge in reducing conflict is identical. A member may be seething and spewing rude remarks, but there may be a legitimate concern hiding in all that upset. An unpleasant way of expression does not negate the factual complaint expressed – perhaps anyone might be upset by their situation. Find the seed within the upset and respond to that instead. Responding emotionally in like kind simply escalates conflict.
When dealing with a disagreeable fellow director or homeowner, leave the past alone. Reminders of past disagreements fan the confrontational flames. Deal with the present or the past may distract from the present issue.
LET THEM SPEAK
Lend them an ear. Some situations can be defused simply by allowing persons to complete their comments without interruption. Most associations permit 2 or 3 minutes for open forum remarks. Allow neighbors their time to speak uninterrupted within their time limit. Sometimes just being heard is enough.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
Did you make the roof leak? Then why get upset because someone complains. Avoid defensiveness.
FOSTER A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT
Inappropriate meeting locations make business-like discussions difficult. Can attendees hear the board or is the room an uncomfortable or cramped environment? If the association has no suitable location to meet on-site, perhaps a location off site should be considered.
EMBRACE MEETING RULES
Associations should have reasonable rules for meeting conduct, which inform new members and others who do not regularly attend. Set clear standards of behavior and explain the meeting process.
NO MORAL JUDGMENTS
A normal bad habit is to conclude the person on the other side of the issue is stupid, dishonest, or even evil. This is unfair and wrong, and almost guarantees destructive conflict. Give them a chance – and give peace a chance by doing so.
Embrace the Community Associations Institute’s Civility Pledge, inaugurated in 2020, consisting of six points of commitment toward more peaceful communities. It can be found at caionline.org/homeownerleaders/civilitypledge. After years of uncivil behavior in our state and national capitols, consider if HOAs led a resurgence of civil behavior. Perhaps civility starts at the home(owner association)!
Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Partner of Richardson | Ober | DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com. Past columns at www.HOAHomefront.com. All rights reserved®.