Gossip is harmful in all organizations, and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) are no exception. The spread of rumors and misinformation can cause division, hinder operations, and undermine productivity. As a board member, keeping gossip out of your community shows residents your commitment to peace, harmony, and easy living. Read on to learn more about gossip’s impact on communities and how to help yours stay gossip-free.
Why Gossip Hurts Communities
Many residents choose to live in a managed community because of the overall sense of belonging that’s cultivated. However, that cheerful environment can fade when there’s discontent and conflict in the neighborhood, including gossip. The following are four ways gossip hurts communities:
- It prevents board members from making business decisions. When board members are afraid of how residents will interpret or react to a choice, they’ll struggle to make decisions and progress on goals.
- It encourages emotional decisions. Gossip-filled communities fuel emotions that can sway board members and diminish their ability to fulfill their fiduciary duty.
- It creates confusion and unrest. Rumors obscure facts and make it difficult to objectively lead a community.
- It wastes time. Constantly addressing gossip and correcting misinformation takes time away from discussing more pressing matters.
Six Ways to Keep Your Community Gossip-Free
Gossip can wreak havoc on a community. To prevent gossip and maintain peace throughout the neighborhood, equip your board with these six tips:
1. Cover gossip in your community’s governing documents.
All residents are required to read and sign a set of governing documents upon moving into a neighborhood with an HOA. These documents are legally binding, and homeowners must adhere to the terms within. Gossip and harassment are topics that can and should be addressed in these documents. While residents have a right to complain and have discussions, HOAs can use this as an opportunity to state unacceptable behavior, define intolerable actions, and explain consequences, so expectations are understood up front. As always, consult an attorney if assistance is needed with drafting, revising, or interpreting governing documents.
2. Prioritize communication.
Effective communication may be the single most important tool available to a board trying to foster a happy and cooperative spirit within an association. Boards should communicate with residents clearly and regularly through various channels to promote transparency, build trust, and prevent misunderstandings. When delivering a message, use simple language, keep it short, and stick to the facts. It's easy for people to misinterpret a poorly delivered note, leading to frustration, rumors, and general contention.
3. Promote positivity.
There's power in positivity, and the more goodness you share, the better the mood in the air. For example, you can highlight exciting updates, positive news, and random acts of kindness in your community newsletter, bulletin board, or website. You can also show gratitude and thank volunteers and residents for their efforts at a board meeting or appreciation event. When you promote and recognize all the positivity in your community, the good energy will spread.
4. Encourage direct contact with the board and management team.
Encourage residents to bring their questions and concerns directly to the board or management staff instead of asking one another. As the community leaders and experts, board and management team members can typically provide clear and factual answers and successfully resolve concerns. If residents discuss issues and take the fact-finding process into their own hands, it often needlessly creates confusion and instigates rumors.
5. Lead by example.
As elected officials, fellow neighbors expect board members to represent them well. Board members have a fiduciary duty to remain objective, responsible, and reliable and act in the best interest of the association. To demonstrate the fulfillment of these duties and prove their investment in the betterment of the community, board members should be role models and lead by example—committing to a self-imposed no-gossip rule. When board members engage in gossip, it breaks the trust residents should have in the board and makes it difficult to maintain a peaceful and gossip-free neighborhood.
6. Address gossip quickly & professionally.
Community gossip shouldn’t be ignored. If it snowballs into a greater issue, it’s necessary that boards act swiftly, take it seriously, and address it professionally. When addressing conflict, board members should:
- Show empathy. Take a step back from your own emotions and beliefs and try and see the situation from the resident’s perspective before acting.
- Actively listen. Listen carefully, never interrupt, ask questions, and have a reasonable understanding of an issue before moving on.
- Remain calm. Keep a good attitude and stay positive.
- Communicate. Communicate resolutions and action items, leave open lines of communication, and follow up.
The board should present a united front and work together to find a result that’ll help everyone maintain a strong relationship. If the problem persists, consider seeking professional involvement.
By keeping these tips in mind and working to prevent gossip in your neighborhood, you're fulfilling your duty to the community, showing leadership, and paving the way for a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for the board and residents.
Resolving Community Conflicts
Anyone who’s served on a board knows that sooner or later, conflicts arise. While you can’t always control how these conflicts begin, the board’s response can influence how disputes end. Read our ebook, “The Pocket Guide for Resolving Community Conflicts,” for conflict resolution best practices developed specifically for community associations, and get ready to achieve resolutions with more success and less stress.