One of the most unpleasant things that can happen during an annual homeowner meeting is an argument between two or more passionate and unhappy owners. When owners start arguing with each other, particularly when they start making unpleasant personal statements about each other, a meeting can quickly spiral out of control. As meeting chair, you know that listening is an important leadership skill and that everyone has the right to be heard on the issue under consideration. Your role is to encourage open debate. How can you allow open debate when the debaters don’t want to be civil, without sounding like a dictatorial parent?
A key tenant of parliamentary procedure is that the issue — not the person — is always what is under consideration. Immediately but graciously interrupt anyone who is beginning to argue with someone else in the audience and remind them of this rule. You may also need to remind them to “please address your remarks to the chair.” Repeat as necessary.
Rather than just attempting to shut down the people who are arguing, a respectful way to enable everyone to have their say is to ask them questions which redirect them back to the motion currently on the floor. For example, let’s say an owner starts to argue with her neighbor, “Why don’t you just admit that you hate children?!” Redirect that owner back to the motion, “We are debating the motion to build a play structure in the pocket park. What would you like to see done in the pocket park?”
As a last resort, if your meeting suddenly erupts in several competing arguments, a gavel wielded with a sense of humor can help you diffuse tension. Bring the meeting back to order and ask if the assembly wants to take a five minute recess before coming back to debate the motion. Usually most of your audience will want to continue, just without the arguments.