peace and harmonyI wrote an article a couple of months ago about avoiding and identifying conflicts of interest within the HOA board and property management team. It was geared toward helping board members and property managers understand and address financial and other business conflicts (or perceived conflicts) that could impact their ability to make impartial decisions.

Peace on earth and good will to all HOA members

Since we’re in the holiday season, let’s take a more fundamental look at conflicts, meaning disagreements among board members, property managers, and neighbors. I spent eight years as the treasurer and president of my HOA, and 15 years working with other HOAs and community associations, so I’ve seen a few disagreements along the way.

Effectively managing conflict in your community

Here are six tactics that have been successfully utilized to quickly resolve (or at least diffuse) issues within HOAs and community associations. Try one or more of these the next time neighbors and/or board members are in disagreement.

  • Be proactive. In many cases, the sooner you address a concern, the easier it is to resolve. Problems occur when participants try to ignore the issues. Make the first move and open dialog before tempers begin to flair, rumors to propagate, and neighbors to take sides.
  • Listen. Ask for details of the issue or concern, and then don’t interrupt while receiving the response. Take notes if needed so you don’t forget specific points. I’m surprised at how many times a disgruntled resident or board member just wants to be heard.
  • Overcommunicate. Once you’ve identified and understand the issue, keep communicating until the conflict is resolved. If the issue is perceived to be a big deal, like a potential dues increase, you may want to expand communication to the whole community, not just to dissenters.
  • Take the high road. Especially if you’re in a position of authority like a board member, don’t fall into the pettiness trap. Be respectful. Keep calm. Maintain open communication. You can scream when you get home…
  • Stick to the facts. It’s tough to argue against someone with facts on their side. Seek the truth, rather than believing the rumors. As a CPA experienced in HOA matters, I’m often called in as a neutral party to conduct HOA audits that confirm sound financial procedures, resolving conflicts between neighborhoods and boards or property managers.
  • Apologize.  At the point you (personally or as a board member) realize you’ve made an error, it’s time to say, “I’m Sorry.” Even if you didn’t cause the problem, you may still be partly to blame, as in “I’m sorry that I didn’t address this with you sooner.” Sorry doesn’t cost anything, it may help diffuse a volatile situation, and it could lead to an apology from the other side as well.

Breathe in, breathe out…

I’ve always found a deep breath can be a powerful tool to help diffuse and resolve disagreement. Remember that many, if not most, disagreements are caused by a simple misunderstanding. By quickly identifying the source of the conflict, you can resolve it, shake hands, and move on.

Neal Bach, CPA