Going from Difficult to Reasonable

angerAs with any relationship in life, we all hope for harmony but, inevitably, we all will experience our share of “difficult” people. Some may remember their first encounter with that “other kid” at preschool who would always take the toy we were playing with. Others may recall the co-worker later in life who made every meeting unbearable with his constant complaints or comments. Serving on a board of directors or committee for a homeowners association (HOA) can be challenging in many ways; dealing with individuals who are difficult is part of the landscape. However, there are issues to consider, whether we are the recipient or even the cause of this negativity.

There are some fundamental techniques in dealing with these challenging personalities, whether you encounter them at an HOA meeting or just walking around a neighborhood. First, try to understand what motivates people to be difficult. Some owners may attend a board meeting because they received a covenant violation notice; realize that there could be other underlying reasons for the tirade. Second, don’t discount the value of criticism. There is sometimes value amongst all that negativity; perhaps if we step back from our defensive inclinations, we might find a great suggestion or solution. Finally, maintain realistic expectations. It’s true that an HOA has rules, but those rules may have just enough flexibility to enable you to work with the homeowner to come to a simple solution.

 

Of course, there are simple strategies for just getting along with difficult people:

  1. Listen for understanding – amidst all the turmoil of a rant from a difficult person, it may be difficult not to tune them out, but try harder to listen.
  2. Demonstrate empathy – understand the difficult person’s feelings
  3. Manage your attitude – you can be perceived as being as difficult as the other person.
  4. Control your emotions – it’s not personal, so remain as professional as you can.
  5. Begin with something positive – you may know what’s coming at a meeting so you can be prepared.
  6. Build on agreement – find that connective point and go with it.
  7. Avoid “why” questions – these can get accusatory if you’re not careful.
  8. Stay focused on the issue – it is easy to get off track but this only wastes time and makes the situation even more difficult.
  9. Avoid personal attacks – this is like the bottom of the barrel when dealing with a difficult person, so even if you are the recipient of the attack, don’t go there.

Remember, people are important – even the difficult ones – and we have a choice every day whether to have a positive or negative effect on them. Even more important, we may sometimes forget that, as board members or community volunteers, we might be the difficult ones based on how we choose to react to challenging people. Can we admit when we are wrong and accept constructive criticism? Can we overlook our own need to be right and recognize that there is an issue at hand to be addressed by both ourselves and this difficult person or persons? Granted, some of the strategies are easier said than done. However, when a person becomes difficult at an open meeting, practice the tips above and focus on the goal of converting that difficult person to a reasonable and happy homeowner.

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