August 28, 2023 - Blog Post

Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict

Condo Chat #3

First off, many thanks for the positive feedback on the previous blog posts.   It helps to know we are providing something useful and of value to our members.

So far we have had a quick look at the challenge of volunteerism and then the major challenges facing condominium corporations.  In the last blog I stated that one of the biggest challenges will be dealing with people’s behaviours, especially when they have different perceptions or expectations than you or the Board.  Conflicts may arise between owners, renters, the Board and an owner, between Board Directors, or even Directors and their property managers.  This can often manifest into bad behaviour such as rules being ignored, arguments, confrontations, threats, feuds and sometimes even violence such as what happened in Toronto last year (read here).   The episode in Toronto is still being investigated but it would appear that there were issues of mental health involved.  Mental health is a growing issue and Boards and property managers need to be better prepared in handling it, but that is for another blog (stay tuned).

Dealing with interpersonal conflict can be challenging, but it's an essential skill for maintaining healthy relationships, whether they're personal or professional.  In this blog we’re going to look at some steps you can take to effectively manage and resolve interpersonal conflicts:

  1. Stay Calm:  When conflict arises, it's important to remain composed. Emotional reactions can escalate the situation further. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself before responding. People you encounter may raise their voices or adopt a menacing posture most often because they don’t feel heard or when their expectations are different from what they are experiencing.  When faced with someone acting aggressively it is instinctual for us to respond in one of three ways: aggressively, retreating, or immobile equating to the fight, flight or freeze that is built into our DNA.  It is an unconscious chemical response to an actual or perceived threat.  We can, however, learn to recognize the onset of these responses and take action to counter them when appropriate.  It takes practice and you won’t always get it right but keep trying.  When you want to lash out or run away or freeze on the spot, ask yourself, “what threat am I facing and is it something I can deal with?”.  Your response can help you make a more rational decision as to how you will respond.
  2. Listen Carefully:  Listen actively and attentively to the other person's perspective.  When we are truly listening, we are listening for two things: what is the content of the message and how does the person feel about it. Make an effort to understand their point of view and emotions. Ask questions and perhaps paraphrase what the person has said and how they feel about it.  This lets the other party know that you either understand their situation or you don’t, allowing them to further explain if you don’t have it right. Keep listening. It does not mean that you agree with their point of view.  Avoid interrupting or formulating your response while they're talking.  More often than not if you listen people will tend to calm down on their own as they realize that they are finally being heard.
  3. Express Yourself Clearly:  Once the other person has had a chance to share, express your own thoughts and feelings using "I" statements.  Focus on your own experiences and avoid blaming or accusing language.  Look for common ground and find something to agree with.
  4. Choose the Right Time and Place:  If you can, find a suitable environment for the conversation where both parties can talk openly without feeling rushed or interrupted.  If you find yourself accosted unexpectedly in a common area let the person know that you want to listen and ask if you can move to a more private setting.  If you don’t have time at that moment recognize their issue, explain your situation and see if they will agree to meeting you at a later specific time in a private setting that is neutral to both parties (perhaps a common room).  
  5. Focus on the Issue:  Stick to discussing the specific issue at hand and avoid bringing up unrelated past conflicts.  Stay on topic to prevent the conversation from spiraling into unproductive directions.  If someone starts to stray ask them how that relates to the issue at hand and see if you can get the conversation back to the specific issue you started with.  However, be flexible as sometimes you may discover that there is a much deeper issue than the one they started with, which may actually be only a symptom of that larger problem.  Be curious.
  6. Acknowledge Emotions:  Recognize and validate each other's emotions.  Let the other person know that you accept and can sympathize with their feelings, even if you don't necessarily agree with their perspective.  Be careful of saying that you understand because chances are you don’t and even if you do the other person may not see it that way and it may result in worsening the situation.  The goal here is to build a rapport or connection with the person before solving the problem.
  7. Seek Common Ground:  Identify areas of agreement or shared goals.  Finding common ground can help shift the conversation toward problem-solving rather than finger-pointing.
  8. Ask Open-Ended Questions:  Encourage the other person to elaborate on their thoughts by asking open-ended questions.  This can help uncover underlying issues and facilitate a more productive dialogue.
  9. Avoid Blame:  Instead of blaming each other, focus on describing the behavior or situation that led to the conflict.  This can make the conversation less confrontational and more solution oriented.
  10. Brainstorm Solutions:  Collaborate on finding solutions that address the conflict in a fair and mutually acceptable way.  Be open to compromising and finding middle ground. Remember if you’re a Board Director, whatever solution you agree upon must be in accord with the majority of your other Directors, your Declaration, By-laws and Common Element Rules (CER).
  11. Use "I" Statements:  When expressing your concerns or viewpoints, use "I" statements to take ownership of your feelings and opinions.  This can prevent the other person from feeling defensive.  Remember you are trying to keep that connection open.  Once someone gets defensive the connection is broken.  At that point, you need to reconnect before trying to resolve any problem.
  12. Practice Empathy:  Put yourself in the other person's shoes to understand their perspective more deeply.  Empathy can foster better communication and pave the way for resolution.
  13. Stay Respectful:  Maintain a respectful tone throughout the conversation.  Avoid insults, name-calling, or disrespectful language that can escalate the conflict.
  14. Take a Break if Necessary:  If the conversation becomes heated or unproductive, it's okay to take a break and reconvene later when both parties have had a chance to cool down.
  15. Do a follow-up:  Check in occasionally and see how things are going and whether the solutions you agreed to are meeting their needs.
  16. Seek Mediation:  If the conflict persists, consider involving a neutral third party, like a mediator or counselor, who can facilitate communication and help find a resolution.

Remember, conflicts are a normal part of any relationship.  There are a few people out there who enjoy conflict (they have different issues) but most of us would rather not deal with it.  Unfortunately, if we don’t deal with the conflict, it can escalate the bad behaviour, destroy a relationship and may even, especially in condominium management, cost us a lot of money in legal expenses.  The good news is that any of us can change and learn how to be better at dealing with conflict but it does take practice, learning, and developing new habits.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to others asking for advice or learning from their experiences.  You are not alone.  Anyone who has been on a Board or managed properties has had to deal with conflict.  The ones who use the tools (suggestions) above have more success in bringing a conflict to a peaceful resolution.

Michael Kennedy
CCI Nova Scotia


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