Three Ways to Calm Hostile Owners in a Condo Association

As a Board in a Condo Association, there are times that you’re going to have to do some unpopular things.  You may fire a popular but ineffective staff member, issue a Special Assessment, get rid of a popular amenity, or maybe just plain screw up.  The net result is that you may find yourself facing a large group of frustrated and hostile Owners in a Condo Association.  Worse yet, they might even be armed with this article.  When an angry group of Owners crashes a Board meeting, it’s going to be unpleasant for everyone.  You’re going to have to take some verbal abuse and let people blow off steam.  These three tips will help you calm and effectively manage hostile Owners in a Condo Association, resulting in a more productive meeting for everyone.

Be Ready for Backlash

Even if the issue seems trivial, you should be ready to face down an angry mob.
Even if the issue seems trivial, you should be ready to face down an angry mob.

First and foremost, make sure you’re ready for the potential of a group of hostile Owners in a Condo Association showing up.  There are certain decisions you know will be unpopular.  For example, if you just dropped the news of a five-figure Special Assessment on your Owners and you’ve planned a Town Hall meeting, you know what you’re getting into.  Other things can swing either way.  For example, you might have a 2 AM fire alarm malfunction that evacuates hundreds of Owners into the cold.  That might turn into a group of angry Owners – or it might not.  If you suspect that you’ve got a chance of such an encounter occurring, make sure all of the Board and Management are on the same page.  Getting back to Communications 101, make sure you can answer the following questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. Why did it happen?
  3. What are you doing to make sure it does not happen again?

Have very crisp and clear answers to each of these questions going into a meeting.  

Let Owners Vent – in a Structured Manner

Sometimes you just need to let the pressure vent - just don't get caught in the scalding spray!
Sometimes you just need to let the pressure vent – just don’t get caught in the scalding spray!

There is some part of human nature that just wants to bitch and complain.  It may be to your friend, your spouse, or your Congressman – but for whatever reason, people like to complain.  People really like to complain to people in authority, too.  They may not even need you to do anything, they just want “someone important” to hear what they have to say.  Now, there’s also an unfortunate corollary to this.  People don’t like being yelled at.  I certainly don’t.  I tend to yell back, honestly.  However, in cases with Condo Associations, this ends up being unproductive.  You need to let people get their frustration out of their system.  

When you walk into a meeting full of angry Owners, set the ground rules right up front.  You want to structure the meeting like so:

  1. The Board will provide an explanation for what happened – use the blueprint provided in the previous section.
  2. Owners are allowed to speak when called upon.  Set the ground rules that the Board will call upon all Owners who wish to speak.  Say something like “Out of respect for your fellow Owners, the Board will be calling on all speakers to ensure everyone gets a chance to say their piece.  Further, we will not allow someone to speak a second time until everyone who wants to speak a first time has their say.”  This helps bottle up the chronic complainers who really want to beat an issue to death.  You must ruthlessly enforce this rule – in a polite way.  A great way to cut off someone who wants to hog the microphone is through politeness: “Sir/Ma’am, you’ve had a chance to speak, and you have many other fellow Owners who also wish to do the same.  As we discussed, we’re going to make sure everyone has a chance to speak before we come back to you.  We appreciate your respecting this rule.”
  3. Make sure to move on from the people who keep beating on the same point.  If the same issue keeps coming up and has already been addressed or is unaddressable, you need to politely shut down the topic: “Sir/Ma’am, we completely understand your frustration and unhappiness.  We’ve updated you as to next steps/why this had to happen/etc.  In the interest of giving everyone a chance to voice their concerns, we’re going to move on from this topic.”  You can also direct particularly frustrated Owners to send correspondence to the Board so you can continue the dialogue offline.
  4. Challenge Owners to be constructive.  If appropriate, ask them for ideas, input, etc.  Make them a part of the remediation process, if possible.  This is particularly important in Special Assessments.  

Wait them Out

I feel a little dirty suggesting this, but ultimately frustration is a battle of wills.  As covered in my Fighting Apathy article, most hostile Owners in a Condo Association will lose steam after a week or two.  This is particularly true in cases where they realize the Board has the right approach, they’re just upset about the inconvenience to them.  Unless you’re doing something very wrong – in which case, shame on you – most hostile Owner encounters fade.  This is because, as discussed, people are mostly just venting.

Conclusion

Dealing with hostile Owners in a Condo Association is unfortunately part of the job.  If you’re being polite, communicating your plan, and making sure that people don’t hijack the meetings, you’ll be able to get through the experience.  But remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Having robust communication plans will help defuse many of these situations even before they start.  


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