By Monica Lichtenberger, Phoenix Strategies, Inc, Murray Bain, PCAM, CCAM, Summit HOA Services, Inc., and Wes Wollenweber, Feldmann Nagel, LLC
Resolution of community disputes is no longer a task left for lawyers and trained mediators. Times are changing. Managers play a major role in helping resolve disputes and, as discussed below, that role will increase in the future. This spring, mediator, Monica Lichtenberger of Phoenix Strategies, Murray Baine of Summit HOA Services, and Wes Wollenweber of Feldmann Nagel, join forces to present their 8-hour continuing education program entitled, “Conflict Management & Dispute Training for HOA and Real Estate Professionals.” This program will be certified for eight hours of continuing education credit for both community managers, as well and real estate professionals. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation, is badly needed for community disputes. Future legislation may make mediation and other forms of ADR mandatory in housing disputes. As such, community managers, property managers, and other real estate professionals can benefit greatly from conflict resolution training. We all know that HOA and real estate professionals deal with all types of conflict. That conflict is on the rise as our societal conflict increases. Conflict resolution skills not only help resolve the day-to-day challenges of community conflict but also, will be in greater demand as the legislative landscape develops. Managers equipped with these crucial skills will be seen as a major resource once it is mandatory to mediate community conflicts.
Conflict resolution has been covered in prior editions but community manager feedback suggests that more and more managers are interested in learning new and additional skills pertaining to being part of the resolution process itself. This is encouraging because community disputes face many hurdles if they are not resolved prior to litigation. Community disputes, whether involving neighborto-neighbor conflicts, disagreements between neighboring homeowner associations (e.g. easement disputes), or homeowner association-member battles, can be very expensive both in terms of money and time. As so many of us know, they are often emotionally charged legal disputes, which can lead to significant legal expense. They are time consuming and take board members and managers away from the main task of sound governance. Further, the outcome of court cases does not always justify that expense. Aside from legal disputes, community managers can benefit greatly from conflict resolution techniques as a means to problem solve on a day-to-day base basis and end disputes before they get out of hand. These skills help solve issues between board members, boards and community members, as well as broader issues.
In Monica, Murray, and Wes’s training, managers will become familiar with the PSI Collaborative and the Facilitative InterestBased (CFI) model in order to learn best practice conflict management strategies and techniques. Collaborative strategies focus on the tenet that people in conflict usually have some type of prior relationship. Given the nature of community disputes, these strategies are crucial for managers because they help use existing relationships to resolve conflict. The level of volatility or peacefulness reflected in this existing relationship is not necessarily a result of the actual conflict but rather how people communicate with and treat one another during a disagreement. People are less likely to launch a formal complaint or initiate a lawsuit against someone they feel has harmed them if they are treated with respect. Collaborative conflict managers use strategies and techniques that help connect people and foster that necessary respect. Respect leads to trust, and this heightened care and trust enables parties in a community to collaborate as partners, analyzing issues and designing optimal and mutually satisfying solutions.
Facilitative conflict managers use approaches that empower, assisting people to make their own decisions. Empowerment is based the belief that disputants are capable of making their own decisions. People in conflict know the most about their situations, and what will ultimately work. In some disputes, people do not need someone telling them or pressuring them to accept ideas from outside their situation. However, others, such as managers dealing with a board dispute, can be helpful by asking questions and/or challenging certain ideas involved in the dispute. Empowerment happens when people involved directly in the conflict reach a full understanding of the situation and believes that they have the ability to make their own decisions. This approach is equally valuable to community disputes. A manager who can help facilitate individuals in conflict talking through their own issues is a high-level manager.
The interest-based method goes beyond the surface and the positions people take in a dispute (e.g. we want to enforce this policy that we have not enforced in some time) and delve into the deeper interest that area really driving the dispute (e.g. we need the policy now because of one individual that we take issue with). This method focuses on the true needs of the parties. Often, in community disputes, this method finds the true common ground or common interest between the disputants and focuses on solutions valuable to both sides.
No matter the method, conflict resolution training places another valuable arrow in the manager and real estate professional’s quiver of people skills. In addition, as mediation and other forms of ADR become potential mandatory, managers with this training and these skills will offer another level of service to this industry that will be invaluable.
Monica Lichtenberger, Phoenix Strategies, Inc. (PSI) President, has 20 years of experience as a mediator, coach, trainer, facilitator, faith conciliator and conflict management system designer. As a conflict management specialist, she has extensive mediation experience and has delivered Home Owner Association, workplace, faith conciliation, elder care, Restorative Justice, domestic, and business/consumer conflict management training.
Murray Bain, PCAM, CCAM, is the President of Summit HOA Services Inc.
Wes Wollenweber is a senior attorney at Feldmann Nagel LLC. He has represented HOAs for 17 years.