Five Steps to De-Escalating Conflict

Community association board members and managers often are thrust into the middle of conflict, often involving homeowner-to-homeowner, homeowner-to-board, or homeowner-to-manager disagreements.

All too often, the conflict escalates into a heated exchange that, under a worst-case scenario, may take place during an association-wide meeting with homeowners observing. One-on-one conflicts are bad enough, but when they spill over into public forums, the stakes may rise along with the tension.

To avoid engaging in a heated debate or conflict, we recommend adhering to the following steps:

1. As soon as you feel your heart start to race or face begin to flush, take a few moments to calm yourself. Take a deep breath. During this break you can either hone your arguments, create scathing comebacks, or rehash your point of view; or, you can acknowledge first to yourself that your buttons have been pushed and then to the other person that the conversation has taken an adversarial or aggressive tone. Attempt to bring back the conversation to a reasonable and respectful exchange by expressly stating such intention with a calm demeanor.

2. Attempt to determine what the argument is really about. Does the homeowner really care about the color of the bark used by the landscaper or reduction in hours that the pool is open, or does she feel dismissed or ignored by the board? Is the bigger issue a claim of lack of communication or transparency by the board?

3. Listen and repeat what the person is saying. People raise their voices, become emotional and repeat the same argument over and over when they feel unheard. Rather than counter an argument with another argument, repeat the other person’s argument back to them and ask if you’ve understood it correctly. Once you have confirmed that you understand their argument, you can formulate a more effective response; plus, you’ve communicated that you are listening. This methodology increases the odds that the other party will actively listen to your response.

4. If true, acknowledge and emphasize that you share the same common interests and goals of the other person. If not, as a board member or manager, highlight that you represent the interests of the entire community, and not a single homeowner. Though you may understand and appreciate the position of a single homeowner, part of community living is recognizing that sometimes owner’s individual wants and desires have to be compromised as part of the greater good.

5. Utilize appropriate and respectful spoken language and body language. If you are at an association meeting and stand over a seated homeowner, point fingers or refer to owners are “you people” or some other label suggesting a division between the board and other owners, then the homeowners will likely feel talked down to. Either step down close to where the homeowner is standing or invite them up to where you are located in order to engage in a polite (and not combative) face-to-face dialogue.

In this post, I merely highlighted five steps to de-escalating conflict. Feel free to email me the tips you find most effective in minimizing contention and conflict, so we all can do our part to increase harmony within our communities. You can contact me at www.barkermartin.com.

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