In early 2022, CINC conducted a survey of community managers, management company executives, and board members throughout the country, with the goal of determining the State of the Community Association Management Industry. The feedback and responses indicated several common concerns for the future of the CAM industry, and highlighted a variety of interesting issues including concerns about increased volatility in homeowners, and dealing with difficult confrontations.
Though homeowner apathy is on the rise, and homeowner engagement was ranked the top concern in the industry in the 2022 State of the Industry survey, not all homeowner engagement is created equal. Whether you’ve witnessed them in person, or just seen one of the thousands of videos across the internet, you’re probably aware of the latest scourge to daily life: the frustrated customer.
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While a lot of the videos online show these strangers getting heated in grocery stores, airports, and restaurants, there seem to be just as many showing people screaming at someone on the street in their own neighborhood.
If you’re scrolling through Instagram videos or TikTok, maybe you’ve seen screen recordings of vitriolic emails, or heard recordings of angry phone calls or voicemails. When it comes to confrontation, some people have found a lot of creative ways to make themselves heard. Sometimes this is directed at a complete stranger; other times it’s at another community member. Regardless, homeowners have shouted many an obscenity at board members or community managers simply trying to do their jobs.
Whether it’s a nasty email, an angry phone call, or an in-person shouting match, angry homeowners exist and can create conflict in any community. If it happens in your HOA or condo association, knowing how to safely and efficiently mitigate the situation is crucial.
3 Tips to De-Escalate Community Conflict
Dealing with conflict is a universal skill, but it can take a lot of effort to be good at it. These three de-escalation tactics will help board members and community managers deal with difficult conversations and confrontational homeowners.
- Avoid getting emotional, and always look for a solution. This can be really difficult, especially if the person you’re dealing with is being verbally abusive, or asking for something the manager or board member can’t offer (like no more monthly payments, or some kind of financial compensation for their frustration). It’s easy to want to match their energy, but in the end, that will only make things worse. Instead, focus on your own calm demeanor to show that you’re open to hearing what they have to say and that you’re willing to find some kind of resolution for them, even if it might not be what they came looking for.
- Communicate transparently, and only deal in facts. Most times, these interactions occur because the aggressor is upset about something, and is seeking some kind of validation for their anger. But even if they have a valid frustration (like a bad vendor interaction or a maintenance impacting water or power is taking longer than anticipated) there is no excuse for disrespect. In these conversations, it’s important to acknowledge any friction point that exists, and calmly state (and sometimes restate) the facts of the situation, especially if you can’t offer an immediate resolution.
- Keep yourself safe, and document the interactions as much as you can. This might sound dramatic, but if the array of videos online prove anything, it’s that you cannot predict what someone will do when agitated. We trust our neighbors and homeowners, but everyone can reach a breaking point. If ever you are in a situation that looks to be getting out of control, simply walking away is always an option, and so is calling 9-1-1 if you feel that your are in physical danger. When dealing with homeowners who have a history of aggression, use the buddy system!
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Documenting incidents like these (and less explosive ones as well) can be very important. This is easy for emails or voicemails, but documenting the dates and times physical interactions or angry phone calls occur is a good practice to get into in the event you need to take some kind of legal action. Recordings are also an option, but remember to check your state’s local laws pertaining to consent if you’re collecting the recording for legal purposes.
The rise of customer tensions has left many people, across many different career paths, at a loss. It can feel like basic interactions now have to be monitored or recorded, and like every outburst can lead to something worse.
So as a bonus tip, just remember to give people the benefit of the doubt. We’ve all had really awful days where all we want to do is be heard, but all we can seem to do is shout and be angry. We are human, each and every one of us, and extending a little grace in a conversation can go a very long way to de-escalating a potentially explosive situation.