DON’T RUN TOWARD THE HOA BULLY, DO AN END RUN AROUND HIM OR HER
Well, October is half over and so are the blogs on bullies, soon enough. There are many other subjects waiting to be tackled. However, the idea of dealing with rogue or problematic board members will continue because of the simple fact that I continue to get emails and calls from individuals who are dealing with overbearing, immature, and bully-ish people at the leadership level in HOAs. And, because there is a case decision in California rolling around the highest California courts that could lead to closer examination in a litigation situation of the conduct of any particular board member or the directors as a group.
Is it any surprise that bad behavior is ramping up? People in America are discouraged by leaders who can’t seem to act rationally and can’t seem to figure out that positive approaches to problem solving are much more appealing to the American voters than bullying and digging at each other’s throats. It’s rather disgraceful. I am not a dramatically political person and haven’t as a rule been inclined to comment on politicians’ conduct, but this election is providing fodder for the late-night comedians and naysayers and negative personalities and little else is being accomplished. In the bigger picture political world of the USA, there’s little I can do but vote, and, of course, avoid getting down in the mud the pigs.
But in the world of homeowner associations, perhaps I can shed some light on how to deal with obnoxious people and bullies. With the help of author Sam Horn, and her book “Take the Bully by the Horns” and with my knowledge of the law and experience in negotiations, mediations, court processes, and 30 years worth of solving problems in homeowners associations, I hope what I offer you is helpful. I have done two blogs already on the topic of bullies this month, and plan to do two more, and plan to get an E-newsletter out next week, last week in October, with some more helpful information.
For this particular blog, I’m going to touch on some possible ways to deal with a bully on the board.
In my next blog, I will bring up some strategies for dealing with individuals that are dealing with bullies in their daily Association life and perhaps are the subject of harassment by a bully in the neighborhood and it is in that vein that I urge you to review some of the strategies in the book “Take the Bully by the Horns”. While the book is geared toward solutions for children being bullied by her children, and women being bullied by mates, bosses, stalkers, strangers, etc., it has some guiding principles that play well across the homeowner association forum.
So, here goes:
If the bully on the board is scaring other board members of shaming them into silence, someone needs to take that bully by the horns. I’m not really suggesting confronting the bully physically or emotionally, because people who have bullying tendencies just love a fight. Confrontation begets confrontation. I’m not suggesting you run away from the bully and either sit silently on your hands in a board meeting or that you leave the meeting because you don’t like what’s happening.
Educating yourself: one way to garner support from other board members and make waves go your way when there is a bully is to offer good information and asked meaningful questions about action items before the board. If a director carefully reads all packets prepared for the meeting and knows what is contained therein, it puts the director at least on the same footing as the bully in the meeting. If you listen carefully, people who are acting irrationally often step on their own toes or end up with their feet in their mouth completely. If you come across as the most rational and prepared person at the table and aren’t afraid to speak up, other board members may stack up behind you and eventually stand beside you. You don’t have to accuse the bully of being wrong, you only need to ask questions that help the other board members make the leap. If you educate yourself to some degree about HOA issues and understand simple parliamentary procedure, you can ask questions about the fallacies of arguments made by the bully or of gaffs in procedure in a rational way. If you bring good information to the table, the rational people there (even if it is only one other board member) will gravitate their interest toward you. If the bully tries to brush you off, you can ask that your questions be made part of the official record and if that doesn’t work, you can submit something in writing and ask that it be considered along with other information in the packet for the next meeting. In other words, you can etch away at the bully’s confidence and that the same time start bolstering the confidence of other directors in your smarts and abilities, and your rational way of approaching bad behavior.
If you were to attend a board meeting armed with a copy of the Davis Stirling Act all of which you can pull for free from the California state website, or even better, a copy the Davis Stirling Act in Plain English which is a book that is available on my website at www.Californiacondoguru.com, you could go in with passages marked that factually detail laws on topic as well as comments about how boards misperceive the written word when they can’t understand it. If you go to a meeting armed with a copy of the governing documents of the Association and have highlighted areas where proposed actions violate the governing documents, it is hard for the bully to argue with the written word. The written word is powerful and again, if anyone on the board is not listening, you can submit in writing and communication to the Association and asked that it be made part of the official records.
I could take a step back now and say creating a good rational written record will benefit you if at some point in time you decide to up your game and consider a legal challenge to actions of a board led by the nose by a someone you would consider a bully. It may not be one person, there may be a majority voting block that you have to deal with. Anything you can do to etch away at that kind of power, if it is being wielded in a harmful way, should benefit your attempts to make some headway.
Knowledge is power, education is power, experience is power, and when used in the right way can be your etching tool. It is used in the wrong way, it is deadly. Sometimes individual board members need individual counseling to help with approaches and sometimes they do have an attorney write a letter to shakeup, at least, other board members who are allowing bullies on the board to run the show. Because the bully personality gets in the way of people’s good judgment, there are often things that have happened that are just wrong and often irrational and it is important to develop a way of approaching such conduct with a rational counter response.
This may all sound like mumbo-jumbo, but I have counseled (isn’t that one function of an attorney?) a lot of individuals in homeowner associations in my time who have managed to get elected to serve on the board only to find it solid as any “old boys network” in politics, and they want to walk away. Once a person with experience has a chance to hear what is going on, there is almost always a path that can be taken to break up such a logjam.
In Sam Horn’s book, she talks about the benefits of being prepared you are going into a face to face situation with the bully and that goes for board members as well as children and women facing freaky abuse of power situations. And she talks about the idea of not giving in to despair when the situation seems hopeless.
She uses a well known figure’s words to support her point that “Dealing with a bully can be bad news, but as along as we’re alive, free, and learning, we still have alternatives and hopes of better days ahead.” She says “The primary message of this book is that as bad as things may be, there are still specific steps you can take to take back your life. And she quotes SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL: “Don’t wait to be rescued or for good things to happen; if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.”
Other points that are made in her book are don’t be sad, get mad, because bullies go straight for the easy marks and will keep coming back as long as they are easy. She says if an assailant is approaching you, don’t cry, say “please don’t hurt me”, or cower, but instead put your arm straight out, the hand up and shout “STOP!” Such a move shows the person that is approaching and shows them you are not going to cower and also, if necessary, gives you a chance to distract them momentarily so you can run.
At an HOA board meeting, you shouldn’t encounter physical threats and if you do, dial, or at least threaten to dial 911. If the threats are verbal, you have two options, fight the offensive words with rational and pragmatic words, or listen for a bit and then look at the other board members and say something like “Now that Robert has had his rant, maybe we can get on with business.”
Another good tip of Sam Horn’s book is to not be distracted in a way that allows you to become a target. She was talking in terms of being attacked in a parking lot when you are searching for keys in your purse. I see it as good advice. If you are not paying attention at a board meeting, maybe you are looking in your purse, texting, or making a grocery list, it gives the bully the opportunity to call you out, belittle you, make fun of you, and point out that you are not interested in the proceedings.
In coming and going from a meeting, it is good to realize there may be safety in numbers, so don’t arrive early or stay late if you have experienced the bully approaching you individually. If he or she approaches you outside of the meeting, use “the hand” – stretch your arm out, openhanded, and say “Stop-do not approach me. We are not in a board meeting.”
You can ask that a meeting be video or audio taped, although I don’t recommend that for a number of reasons. However, since the majority of the board has the say whether or not that will happen, by simply by raising the possibility, other board members might like the idea. They, too, may be looking for a way to engender more rational behavior on the part of the bully. A number of years ago, when I was doing court work which involves depositions in preparation, an attorney could ask to have a deposition audio-taped if they knew there was going to be a blowhard, egotistical, offensive, or threatening attorney or party in the room. This would serve as a deterrent to poor conduct, because no one wanted to “look bad” if the matter came before a judge.
The last thing I’ll touch on quickly and briefly is body language. When you walk into a room, especially the HOA board room, stand tall and straight, stick your chest out, look around, see who is there, and smile at people. Greet everyone with an air of positivity, including members who have come to observe. Don’t come in scowling, closed posture, angry, ready for a fight, or anticipating defeat before it happens, or it will surely happen. Right after I made it through law school, and was facing the California bar exam, I asked my brother who is an attorney, whom I considered very smart, how he passed the bar exam on the first attempt, how he did it. He told me that when getting ready every sing morning after law school, as he was standing before the mirror, he said into the mirror, into his own eyes, I WILL PASS THE BAR EXAM. If you have ever had to take any exams for certification after a difficult course of study, you know how fearful it can be that one test might stand between you and putting the education you just got sacrificing four, five, or six years, to work. So I did one better, I put sticky notes everywhere, on the mirror, in my purse, and my bar study books, and in the kitchen on the refrigerator that said, I WILL PASS THE BAR EXAM. I wanted that confidence so I could stop worrying about whether or not I might pass. And I did pass on the first try and realized that his kinds of positive behaviors could work for me just as well in dealing with any difficult situation the rest of my life.
I’m going to use one more example of how developing confidence can help and the benefits of visualization. I played sports as a youth and was strong in basketball, softball, and especially golf. It was in golf I really reaped the benefits of visualization. I played in lots of tournaments in my 20s and learned to visualize each shot landing exactly where I wanted it to land. When I was distracted by anything going on in life, or at the tournament, my ability to get that laser-like focus was difficult. But some days things just came together like syrup flows and I won tournaments and sometimes even broke course records. I only competed on a local and statewide basis since I was married with children and there were lots of distractions, but I knew a good shot was coming when I felt it down to my toes. And I knew I made it happen.
Before you can start any course of action to improve things in your Association and on your board, you need to work on your own attitude (mindset) and physical presence (body language). If you have a defeatist way of thinking, you will be hampered with a barrier that will keep you from moving toward a better situation in the future.
And, I will say it one more time, because I do not want the title of this blog be for naught. Don’t run toward a bully or confront them, look for a way to do a strategic end run around them to make your progress on the board and with the other board members.