Every board and community manager has experienced it. The difficult homeowner that sees a global conspiracy behind every move of the board or violation letter sent. It is the most challenging part of governing a community.
To make matters more challenging, unlike a typical dispute with a customer who can just go elsewhere, the difficult resident is part of the community. There is no easy way to deal with such people and in some cases such folks are just locked into the role of contrarians. But, when approaching issues with the most difficult residents it pays, to think long term. Following are a few tips gathered from our expert managers across the county.
Most people just want to be heard. Try to put yourself in their shoes and always treat others as you would like to be treated. When folks feel that they are a target, there is a need to build trust. Trust building does not happen overnight. So, thinking beyond the current problem helps. Also, reaching out after the immediate concern is addressed to touch base, communicates your concern as a member of the board. It also serves to engage the resident in the community. This is not easy, especially if the member tends to be abusive, but in more cases the follow up helps.
When speaking with a difficult resident, let them talk. Giving them time without interruption to talk helps defuse the situation and get the emotions out of the way so that the core issues can be identified. Often the real issue is hidden behind a swirl of emotions and issues the resident may have with the response to concerns. Once the issues have been identified, it helps to repeat them back to the resident and list any action items you have committed to undertake on their behalf. If there is no progress by a promised deadline, call them and let them know the status and when an answer can be expected. Keeping lines of communication open and resetting expectations helps keep matters from moving backwards.
It is important to always resist the urge to hold past actions against a difficult homeowner. Don’t do it at all. We repeat…Don’t do it! Approach each issue with a clean slate, but use past experience to continue efforts to understand where the unit owner is coming from. At the end of the day, we each deal with frustration or difficulty in different ways. Some people explode, others clam up and others work to engage in a constructive way. In the final analysis of the situation, this helps build a consistent approach which lends clarity to the process and helps set expectations for the resident.
Success in life often requires one to be the bigger person. Remember that as a board member your duty is to all the residents, not just the nice ones. Think twice before responding and if necessary make notes of the points you would like to express. If the resident makes the issue personal, resist following them down that path. It is possible to acknowledge their frustration even if there is disagreement as to the cause.
In the final equation, you have to remember that difficult residents are part of nearly every community. Most, when approached with an understanding that bringing them into the community fold takes time, will come around. In some cases the biggest critics can become community champions when the proper communications are used. In a few cases, such folks may be set in their ways. Regardless, as a community leader, focusing on issue resolution and building community over time is one of the core responsibilities of a board member and community managers.
By: Andrew S. Fortin
Associa Senior Vice President, External Affairs