by Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM/ Published November 2014
If you gather a group of managers together, they most likely will be talking about the projects they have in progress and the obstacles to completing them. There will usually be two obstacles to those projects—time and people. Florida CAMs manage not only the projects, facilities, buildings, and grounds, but all of the social aspects of community association living, which includes dealing with people. Then add to all that the business of operating a multi-million dollar corporation and its meetings, budgets and financial reporting, collections, lien foreclosures, mortgage foreclosures, and keeping up with the ever changing laws.
While stalled projects and missed deadlines are a nuisance and eat up time, managers report there is a five percent deviant group of people in each community that causes 99 percent of their headaches. It’s that five percent that takes up an enormous amount of their workday!
Managers report some of the following strategies have worked for them:
Listen to them. While they are angry, don’t try to explain, justify, or defend yourself. Now is not the time to rationalize with them. Take notes to let them know you are serious about resolving their complaint.
Some managers report a high tolerance for loud, obnoxious, and abusive residents. Others have no tolerance and set guidelines for the angry resident about the manner in which they speak. Once those boundaries are set, if the angry resident crosses them, the conversation is over. Promise him you will listen after he calms down and if he is able to talk without cursing. Place a large mirror behind your desk. That way the angry resident has to look at himself while he is yelling at you.
Women managers report more verbal abuse and feel threatened physically more than men managers. Ladies, if you have no staff and manage alone, be sure to have a direct line to the police or sheriff department. Many ladies install panic buttons under their desks.
Do not be afraid to ask security to walk you to your car in the evenings.
Create a plan for your staff so that when the conversation of an angry resident escalates, other staff members “appear.” In most instances, the more people who witness the blow up, the more intimidated the angry resident gets. On rare occasions, the presence of additional staff gives the angry resident an audience and the “plan” backfires on you.
As the manager, part of your job is to protect your staff. Your appearance often turns the angry resident into a different person! They become so congenial. Escort the angry resident to your office so your staff can continue their work.
You must not let them abuse your staff. Residents who cannot be civil to youor your staff should not be allowed to communicate with you except in writing. A letter from your board or attorney or a restraining order may be needed.
Rarely dangerous, you can escort these out. Tell them you have to work now, and they have to go home. Basically, you have to treat them like children. Schedule a regular appointment with them. Refuse to meet with them except on that day and time.
This person has few social skills and does not pick up on social cues. When you keep looking at your watch or you’ve cleaned off your desk and turned out the light, they don’t get it. They don’t notice they are interrupting you or that you apparently have to go someplace. Don’t be afraid to tell them. You can’t hurt their feelings for long. They will return another day!
Coach your chairperson to stand when he or she senses the resident is becoming disruptive. Indicate to the resident that their position is clear to the board. Ask them to sit down by saying, “Mr. X, I am going to sit down, and I invite you to sit down too.” The peer pressure imposed with this statement usually gets the desired result.
Make sure the members on your board know they can move for a recess or to adjourn when a meeting gets out of control. Once recessed or adjourned, the whole board must leave the room, thereby removing the “audience” for the angry resident. Be sure your board has a plan for who will make the motion and who will make the second!
Have your board adopt meeting guidelines and rules as to resident participation at board meetings and membership meetings. Guidelines should include the formality with which the board is addressed, the place from which the resident speaks, the amount of time each resident may speak, and that there will be no cross talk and no one may make an address except through the chair.
Videotape the meeting. Most people behave better if they know they are on tape! Hire off duty police officers to be present at your meeting. Pay your attorney to be present.
Change the meeting time to the morning or to a time before cocktail hour. Move the meeting off campus, several miles away (but within 45 miles), after dinnertime. Hopefully, the intoxicated resident will have enough sense not to drink and drive.
For those managers who face these challenges on a regular basis, know that you are not alone. For those managers who rarely encounter a difficult person, be grateful and consider yourself extremely blessed!