The headline of a recent Walpole, Massachusetts newspaper article read: “Fight between Walpole selectmen cuts meeting short.” The first sentence of the article stated, “Selectmen came to verbal blows on Tuesday night, prompting other board members to cut the meeting short as two of their colleagues took the altercation outside.”
It sounds like it could have been from an episode of a fictitious reality show entitled Boards Meetings Gone Wild, where viewers watch meetings that are out of control, overlong, unproductive or, as in this case, downright hostile. Even humorist Dave Barry said of meetings, “If you had to identify in one word the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.' ”
The scary part is that this is reality. In some cases, board meetings turn into ‘verbal blows’ and, in some extreme cases, even physical confrontations. Board meetings can get very heated. Different ideas, differences of opinion and different agendas can cause so much stress in a meeting where people want to give their opinions, solve problems, make decisions, vote and get back home to their families. As a result, board meetings should have a protocol or policy in place for when things get a little tense and tempers start to flare.
The most likely culprits behind contentious meetings, says Joseph Balzamo, president of Alliance Property Management in Morristown, tend to be the ones that hit homeowners in the wallet: fee increases, major projects like roofs and boilers, crime or environmental issues—“things that affect health, safety, and well-being.” Meetings can turn for the worse, he notes, when emotions, rather than fact, take center stage.
“If I know there’s likely to be a volatile meeting, I try to make sure the board members are prepared for that up front, and don’t let people get to you. They have to understand they’re going to be dealing with emotion,” he says. “If you’re going to assess people $10,000, they’re going to be upset. You have to make them understand why you’re assessing them $10,000. Don’t let them get to you in terms of emotion, but start discussing with them in terms of facts.