This article is targeted at my fellow board members out there, but others may find this a useful insight to the joys of being on a condo board. Most Condo Boards are decently run, but their reputation for pettiness is often well-founded. The saying “The emotions are so high because the stakes are so low” always makes me chuckle because it is so accurate. That said, if you’re on a Board, likely you’re doing it out of a sense of duty or commitment and your desire is to have a reasonably well-functioning Board. However, often there is “that guy” or “that woman” – the one who doesn’t want to be “reasonably well-functioning.” A difficult condo board member wants to be argumentative, lead the Board down rabbit holes, doing the one thing everyone hates: wasting time. Here are some tips for attempting to manage them.
1. Do not antagonize them intentionally
This is always the starting point. Don’t poke the bear. That doesn’t mean don’t stand your ground – but don’t go out of your way to pick fights with them. If you’ve mentally classified them as “difficult board member” – that means they’re already net a negative to your life, and they’ve got more power to annoy you than vice versa. Don’t give them more power by baiting them or insulting them. While potentially gratifying in the short term, it’s not going to help in the long run. Be polite and respectful, and focus your energy elsewhere. Sometimes mutual respect goes a long way. If that fails, however…
2. Try to engage them constructively – challenge them to perform
In any team – and that’s what a Board is, like it or not – you need to try to get the most out of everyone, including the difficult people. Almost everyone has a passion for something. So whatever your difficult condo board member’s passion is – maybe it’s finances, or landscaping, or who knows what – challenge them to take ownership of it and be productive. If other Board members are exhibiting positive behaviors (engaging with Management, working with vendors, creating policy documents, etc.) – challenge the problem child to do the same. If they complain about something, ask them to develop a proposal to fix it. If they bring a problem without a solution, challenge them for a solution. You want to push them towards a “put up or shut up” situation. Ideally, this will make them more productive or at least keep them busy. And it is perfectly fair to hold them accountable to standards that everyone else is meeting. But if this fails and they refuse to work when others on the Board are performing, it will help unite the rest of the Board against them, which leads to the next action(s)…
3. Manage around them
If a difficult condo board member is just being completely intractable despite your best engagement efforts and they just won’t be useful or a team player, you’ll need to manage around them. I don’t like advocating for this, but the bottom line is your time is valuable, and destructive behavior can’t be tolerated. You’ve been polite, you’ve tried to get them to help, and they’re just not with the program. Time to escalate.
While sneaky, make sure all Board members are on the same page with shutting the person down. Then, as a group, make sure your problem Board member is limited in their ability to be difficult in meetings. If your Board is structured in its meetings (i.e., you follow rules of debate or something like that), use every tip and trick you have to minimize their speaking role and close debate. If it is unstructured, don’t let them talk more than necessary and quickly move to a vote on any issue they start to opine on. Bring unproductive and inane debates to a close and bring the issue to a vote, then move on. Note that this WILL antagonize them, but the difference here is you’re doing it deliberately – as a group – as opposed to just passive-aggressively and/or out of frustration.
4. Understand your options for removal – and try to remove them
Arguably, this could be attempted before #3. It depends on two things. One – do you want to actually kick them off the Board? Two – can you? As always, read your bylaws – they may not actually allow for the removal of a Board member in an easy or expeditious way. If they do allow for it, keep in mind this will be a time-intensive effort and it will be total war with the individual. If they’re the sort that wants to fight, you’re going to be devoting your Board’s time towards removing them as opposed to, you know, running your community. So think very carefully over whether this is worth the investment or not. It may be better to just stick with managing around the problem Board member, but that’s something you and your fellow Board members will need to decide.
Dealing with your difficult condo board member is no fun – but in the end, the short-term pain is worth the long-term gain. Just like a bad employee or a bad coworker, a bad Board member can quickly turn a situation toxic, and Board life isn’t exactly paradise to begin with. Bite the bullet and keep your team strong before things get out of control.