E-mail battles between an HOA Board member and a homeowner are more common than we would like. What’s more is that these battles can escalate into a war. How does this happen? As people become focused on their viewpoint, it’s tempting to push back when someone has an opposing view. E-mail discussions are very different from face-to-face discussions. These battles are not productive, rarely result in resolution, and can create negative feelings and perceptions.
We see Board members get drawn into unproductive communications with homeowners who are looking to provoke a fight. E-mail battles occur more frequently in self-managed communities, but it can happen in any homeowner association.
Let’s look at one of our recent examples. We witnessed a Board member and a homeowner email back and forth six times between 11:00 pm and 2:00 am. It’s apparent that they lost sleep. Our counsel to the Board member was to stop responding immediately. Before you do anything, consider your response and if it accurately reflects your goals and objectives for the HOA.
This pattern of back and forth emails is a classic argument where neither party is listening. When you stop advocating your own position, you can “listen” to the other person and analyze the situation. In face-to-face communications, it’s called reflective listening, where you watch body language, internalize what’s being said, and then paraphrasing the point to make sure you understand. Unfortunately, electronic communications lend themselves to knee-jerk reactions, and that often leads to e-mail battles.
E-mail wars can rage for days. The opportunity to stop a battle before it escalates to a war is to back off and stop e-mailing. When you refuse to take the bait, there is no battle. By taking the mature route and thinking through the situation, you do damage control. You then can take the time to prepare a response that clearly reflects a resolution that is within HOA guidelines.
Meeting physically and talking through the issue(s) is one of the best things you can do. Sooner is better because you don’t want to give negative feelings time to grow. People have justifiable differences in opinions, yet they can still reach a resolution in a face-to-face discussion.
The next time you find yourself tempted to engage in an e-mail battle, stop and analyze the situation. What are your goals? What are the objectives for the HOA? How can you resolve the situation within those guidelines? Non-verbal clues that we take for granted in face-to-face communications will always be missing from e-mail discussions. Strive for a face-to-face meeting so the two of you can find a resolution and move on to focus on common community goals.