If everyone was a good communicator, this planet would be Utopian. No more confusion, no more misunderstanding, and best of all, no more passive-aggressiveness. It would be amazing! Sadly, this goal will be as unrealized as the Cubs winning the World Series – although they did give everyone a scare this year! Note – since this was originally penned, the Cubs have finally won a world series. Congratulations, Cubs Fans! When you’re a Board communicating with Owners – whether it be via email, message board, or in person, here are some big things to keep in mind to facilitate clear condo association communications.
What has changed?
Explain what is changing and how that something is changing. How is life being disrupted from the norm? Is there going to be noisy maintenance? Loss of an amenity for a period of time (maybe forever)? Are you modifying condo rules? Note the differences between the current state and the new state. If you’ve always had pet rules, but you’re tweaking certain parts – start by saying “We’ve always had pet rules. You can find them here. Here are the new draft pet rules. Some things we’re tweaking are X, Y, and Z. Everything else is the same.”
In particular, be very sensitive with anything to do with money – new fees, increased fees, whatever.
Why is this happening?
Telling people WHY is the most important part of communication – WHY are things changing. People will have knee jerk reactions of anger to bad things, but if given logical information that shows why something is going on and how it benefits them, they usually will understand. If you need to close the pool for maintenance, tell them what maintenance – give them enough information to realize it is important. For example, if there’s a leak that will cost the Association – and thus Owners – big money, say so! If you need to have disruptive maintenance – loud concrete demolition, for example – again, note reasons. Nearly all good reasons will link back to my Big Three. Make it clear and use the explicit reason of finances and safety when appropriate – i.e. “The roof renovations are critical to the safety and quality of life of the Association, so the noise and inconvenience is well worth it in the long run.”
Another important time to note the “why” is if there is a change in plans. For example, on Monday, your Management company emails all Owners that something is happening on Thursday – say, fire alarm testing. On Tuesday, they send a new email changing the plan and saying the testing is now next week. The new email needs to clarify the “why” – such as “The company cancelled on us” – and needs to clearly articulate “This is a change from the message sent on Monday.” People get annoyed when things change, and a lack of clear communication around changing priorities can project that the Board and/or Management don’t know what they’re doing.
What does this mean for me?
This is the real thing people care about. Will it cost ME time or money? Will it inconvenience ME? What’s the impact on ME? Be straightforward with the impact, and put it in perspective. For example: “You will endure a week of loud noises for repairs that will last five years.” “We are raising Condo fees by 1% – which less than inflation.”
If you’ve done a good job with the “why,” people will do the mental math that the inconvenience is worth the cost. If they decide the benefit is worth the cost, they’ll shrug and go about their day. If they do not believe that’s the case, they’ll be upset and may complain. And more importantly, they’ve earned the right to complain. Your job, as the bearer of (typically) bad news, is to make the case as to why your course of action was best. Your communication should be clear and effective enough to sway a majority on any given issue. Period.
Use multiple methods of communication, and be consistent
It is also important that the Board and Management politely, but constantly, remind people it is their responsibility to stay informed. Your Condo Association should have multiple methods of reaching people. In no particular order, here are some big ones:
- Email list serve – Make it clear residents (Owners and Tenants) should sign up when they move in.
- Physical postings in high-traffic areas – Train people that important news will be posted in areas such as elevators (elevators are the best – install a small document board in them, people are stuck and bored), elevator lobbies, mail rooms, garages, etc.
- Online message boards
- Monthly/annual meetings – This is for big stuff, not the routine stuff, since these meetings are infrequent compared to the pace of life
- Verbal – If you’re approached by an Owner, make sure that you and Management are clearly communicating verbally – particularly the “why.” You are the ambassadors in your building, like it or not
Consistency is key – you need to make sure Management is posting the same information to different venues, and that verbal communication mirrors what is written.
This applies to everyone and everything
These rules need to apply to all of your condo association communications – both Management and Board, routine announcements and special ones, and both those that go to everyone and those that go to individual Owners. If your Management isn’t producing condo association communications that are crisp and clear, coach them on the format you want to see. Clear communication is one of the core pillars to an effectively run Association.