Have you ever sat through a community meeting that a few homeowners ruined by accusing questions and negative comments? Negativity fosters more negativity until it can suck all the effectiveness out of your meeting. These “discussions” can create bad feelings among neighbors and create the perception that the Board and committee members aren’t considering the best interests of the community. Learning to navigate through this turmoil is essential.
It’s even worse when it is directed toward a single Board member or HOA committee. When people feel personally attacked, defensiveness and retaliation are normal reactions. But, these reactions escalate turmoil instead of managing it. This can send a superiority message to residents that can have a long-term impact on community relationships.
Helping your Board and volunteers understand how to handle negative feedback can pull you through a difficult situation. Destructive feedback usually takes a personal tone and is hurtful, and it doesn’t accomplish a positive change. Reminding volunteers not to take it personally is the first step, but teaching them how to respond may help diffuse the anger.
- Stay Calm. Expressing any emotion will give rise to more anger. It’s ok to pause and take a couple of deep breaths to help settle your emotions before responding.
- Restate the comment in your own words back to the complainer to make sure that you understand the comment.
- If your complainer continues with negativity, it’s time to move on gracefully. Saying something such as, “We appreciate the feedback, and that’s something to think about going forward,” can help. This puts the volunteer(s) in the position of people trying to do the best job.
Education is an excellent tool to deter destructive criticism in meetings. Not only do you need to educate your Board and volunteers, but it’s also important to communicate guidelines to all homeowners. Publishing written guidelines about meeting expectations and enforcing them consistently is helpful in preventing destructive criticism.
Making sure that homeowners are kept informed about community activities can also dissuade tangents in meetings. Many people that wouldn’t normally react negatively may do so if they are surprised. Ongoing communication prevents those surprises. Regular get-togethers for residents can build stronger relationships, which goes a long way in stopping negative behaviors.
You have to take action to get unfair criticism in check. A calm approach, education and visibility can move you past it. It takes a little effort, but it’s a tremendous payoff—more productive meetings, better community relationships, and happier volunteers.