Handling Disruptive People at Difficult Meetings

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By Robert M. Nordlund, PE, RS
Association Reserves, Inc.
February 2016

In our last newsletter we shared a memorable board meeting story of an extremely unsettling experience with a man who relied on an aggressive act to show his displeasure with the Board. While we hope most of your Board meetings are peaceful and businesslike, we wanted to share some ideas for dealing with a disruptive and argumentative individual at an open meeting. This wise counsel comes from a recent conversation with Mr. Joe Wise, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, founder and General Manager of Wise Property Solutions of Knoxville and the Tri-Cities area in northeast Tennessee.

Majority Rules

Always keep the best interests of the association in mind. The role of the Board of Directors is to “direct” the association in the best interests of the majority. It is a mistake to run the association serving the vocal minority. Remember that it is not always necessary to engage the disruptive individual. Sometimes the person simply needs to “blow off steam”.

Divide & Conquer

Consider the physical dynamics of the situation. The Manager and the Board can work together to diffuse the situation with a simple move that demonstrates that the leadership is “in control”.  When a disruptive individual begins to make a scene or attacks someone leading the meeting, pro-actively re-positioning the Manager and Boardmembers to different parts of the room is a helpful approach. This positioning splits the focus of the attacks, and makes it more difficult to sustain. When the attention of other attendees is divided between numerous parties, the “energy” in the room is instantly cut in half. This is a consequence of the mental or physical energy required to pay attention to whomever is responding. If there are multiple parties engaged in the disruption, they will become fragmented as their target is divided. Time, and those with “cooler heads”, will prevail as the momentum of the disruption is depleted.

Remember the Big Picture

During the disruption, reflect back, and remind yourself (and everyone else, as appropriate) of the big picture. It is not “your” association. It belongs to all homeowners. Dissention and minority opinion is a hallmark of our democratic society. Compromises are a way of life. Boardmembers and Managers may get personally attacked a bit, but other times they are commended and thanked. Ideas presented by the Board or Manager may not always be approved, just as the ideas of homeowners may sometimes be dismissed. Of course, it is important that homeowners have time allotted to share ideas or concerns. But when the individual (or group) has had their say, thank them and remind them that the Board will move forward in the best interests of the community as a whole. This is where a guiding “mission statement” is helpful and a well-established and orderly meeting process shows its value.

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