Need to prepare for an inevitable, and sometimes ugly, clash

Published: 4/30/2010 12:01 AM | Updated: 4/30/2010 6:25 AM

Those of us who earn our living attending board of directors and owners meetings, and volunteers who do so in their capacity as directors, routinely conduct our business and then go home.

All in a days work, as they say. Sometimes the meetings are short or lengthy but they usually follow a set script (agenda), and everyone who is attending in some official capacity knows exactly what to expect.

Sometimes, either expectedly or as a shocking surprise, the meeting does not go according to plan. People in attendance are angry about something, and want to express these thoughts to the board without permission to speak. The tea party movement is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on in associations for years.

A well-prepared board can enlist the advice of counsel and their manager to try and diffuse "hot" issues before a meeting so it does not turn into a lynch mob. Sitting down with the opposition or just having a conversation before a meeting will usually keep the burners low on the tar, while the feather-plucking ceases.

However, more often than not, the meeting you anticipate will be easy, is not, and the one you think is going to be bad - you are not far from wrong! Mentally, this can cause undue stress, stomach upset and sweaty palms. In reality, some of these meetings are so far over the top, you just have to shake your head and ask, "Why do these people behave this way?"

When decorum breaks down and it appears chaos is going to reign, you need some simple rules to help you get through the meeting without the need for a paramedic or a billy club.

• The louder they talk, the softer you respond. If you are involved in running the meeting, you do not operate on the same emotional level as the more vocal spokesmen. Keep cool, calm and collected and then you win. If you scream back and become volatile, you lose.

• You are not a policeman. Neither is the lawyer or the manager. If you anticipate a meeting where the board is being threatened, or if there is an incident at a meeting, call the police.

• Don't plant your feet in wet cement. Sometimes, no matter how obnoxious or distasteful the speaker, they may actually raise a valid point. If you refuse to accept this, and are totally unwilling to listen, it is going to make for a very long night, and the meeting will not be the end of it. The board may have to take a step back and at least agree to reconsider its position, regardless if it does not change in the long run.

•Learn how to leap off a burning ship. Sometimes boards take a position on an issue that it is really not invested in, and even though it is ultimately the board's decision, it is better dealt with homeowner input. The board may take a position that is unpopular, and is really a lifestyle decision and not a pocketbook issue, e.g., what color to paint the lobby, laundry room hours, to put a bike room in some empty storage space, etc. There is a time to go to war, and time not to; this is when you don't. Ride the popular wave in these instances.

• Do not force people to take on jobs they do not want. One percent of the people do 99 percent of the work, anyway.

• If you are not running the meeting, and not involved in a particular dialogue, sit down, listen and keep your mouth shut. No possible good can from joining one side or the other. You will also get home earlier.

• When things are really out of control, "have an out-of-body experience." You are not there, you are just watching a TV show - a bad one.

• Never argue with an idiot - and never get in a fight with a crazy person.

• Whether you are walking or driving home, after it is finally over, have a good long laugh.

When the founding fathers of condominium living conceptualized this lifestyle, no one imagined the need for training in human dynamics, psychology, economics, accounting, finance, etc. They thought it was just another subspecialty of real estate law, and all you had to do was write covenants, resolve the title issues and everything would take care of itself. If there had been foresight, no association would ever have been caught short and not had sizable reserves on deposit and a long-range plan in place.

This is all hindsight, however. When new board members are elected, they need to be trained, and everyone who lives in an association, even if they never plan on attending a meeting, still need to be trained in how to behave at a meeting, as well as how to respond to bad behavior, and survive it.

• Jordan Shifrin is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to him at This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel. Past columns can be read at