There is no shortage of stories from managers or board members outlining issues with difficult residents. In fact, many times, a board member will indicate this as a reason for leaving the board. That said, it is important to establish a method for dealing with difficult residents while still being able to focus efforts on serving the entire community.
To help minimize dissenters from the start, provide consistent communication options for owners. Less is not more and transparency is important. The board and management have a very clear picture of why certain policies, costs or decisions are made. Use websites, broadcast messaging, social media and newsletters to keep residents informed of the activities and issues within the community and why decisions were made. Conduct and publish meeting agendas in advance so residents may attend and get a comprehensive overview.
Another proactive step is to be sure you have a good customer service plan and follow-up procedure in place for items not able to be resolved through normal processes. Repairs that require bid solicitation, actions that need association professionals to weigh in, insurance claim filings, etc. Keep the resident informed at regular intervals. Outline what the next steps will be and provide a realistic completion time. Alternate Dispute Resolution varies from state to state, but overall there are many templates to use in an association. Use all available sources for resolving community issues.
There are times when transparency on issues, follow up and communication do not seem to dissuade the difficult resident. You receive a barrage of incoming inflammatory communications, meetings can be consumed and disrupted by the resident and the manager or board members get paralyzed. When you are faced with this resident challenge you need to keep the issue in perspective versus the person sending the message. Recognize that not all persons who disagree or criticize the association are or should be treated as dissenters. Keep your communication factual and professional at all times. Try and address issues reported in multi-emails and calls with one face-to-face meeting. If face time is not possible – one phone call. Avoid replying to each email individually.
There are also a few methods to deploy at meetings that will minimize disruptions. Establish a fair time each meeting for a public portion that is available for all owners at the meeting (ex: three minutes). Consider asking members to submit issues in writing prior to presenting at the board meeting. Offer to meet with the owner and board after the meeting to review their specific issue if needed.
Conflict resolution and dealing with difficult residents go hand-in-hand. When all else fails, remember the five steps to conflict resolution:
3) Build rapport
4) Communicate in a professional manner
5) Offer and utilize an Alternate Dispute Resolution process
Nancy S. Hastings, CMCA, AMS, PCAM
CEO Associa Mid-Atlantic