Monday, March 5, 2012

Negotiations 101 for Community Associations

The common definition of negotiating is to communicate in search of mutual agreement. We negotiate every day whether we realize it or not. Often, it is obvious especially when we are trying to purchase a service or a product. Maybe it is a little less obvious when we are negotiating at our workplace or even just dealing with relatives about where we want to spend the holidays.

If you walk into any bookstore, you will find dozens of books teaching successful negotiation techniques. There are tricks of the trade that increase your odds of achieving mutual agreement in less time and more painlessly. Since almost of all these techniques can be utilized in a community association setting, it always amazes me that more boards, managers and association members don't employ them.

How much more effective do you think your negotiations with your board would be (or with your owners if you serve on the board) if effective negotiators were involved in those communications? No matter whether you are an owner addressing a shortcoming of the board or a director or manager addressing an owner's violation, the first thing to remember is that taking positions does not work during negotiations. Looking at the big picture or end game is much more effective than starting a dialogue from an entrenched position. Humor can also be a very powerful and effective tool.

Here are a few more tips to remember next time you are negotiating with your board or your owners to solve a particular problem:

• Not everything is worth negotiating; some battles simply don't need to be fought;
• Warn in a respectful way, don't threaten;
• Be soft on the people and hard on the problem;
• You can't control a bully's behavior, you can only control your response;
• Don't strike back;
• Don't give in;
• Don't break off or walk way. Keep working towards a mutual agreement;
• Ask the right questions: "What will it cost if we don't reach an agreement here?";
• Acknowledge some expertise on both sides;
• Present your view in addition to the other side's view not as an alternative;
• Don't always respond with a like-kind response;
• Acknowledge differences with some degree of optimism;
• Consider options that allow your opponent to "save face";
• Do the proper reserach befor embarking on the negotiations. Don't threaten certain actions or repercussions that simply aren't feasible; and,
• Silence can be powerful.

Successful negotiation in a community association context is especially important because it is a "living together" relationship. Unlike typical business negotiations, in an association setting, you will be forced to contend with each other for many years after the negotiations are over unless one of the party leaves the community. Realizing that dynamic should make it more compelling for your board, manager and association members to learn how to effectively negotiate.

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