Usually this column gives advice to the president or chair of a meeting. Today, our advice is for the “loyal opposition”, those members in the minority. Let’s say you are concerned about how the Board is handling, or failing to handle an issue. How can you best advocate for your position at an owner’s meeting?
A central principal of parliamentary procedure is that the issue, not the person, is always what is under consideration. To be the most effective leader in support of your minority position, you should give factual statements and ask pertinent questions at the appropriate time on the agenda. Don’t make personal attacks. If you are running for election to the Board, then during your candidate statement, make clear policy statements, and explain why you believe in your position.
Too often, homeowner meetings become unpleasant when owners who disagree with the Board, rather than making logical statements in support of their position, instead engage in personal attacks on Board members or other community leaders. This usually results in those attacked becoming defensive, starts arguments, and alienates other owners who may not previously have had an opinion one way or the other.
This spiral downward into conflict by the minority is not only unproductive, but it wastes a valuable opportunity for leadership and improved decision-making. Democracy is most effective when multiple points of view are heard. A good “devil’s advocate” is an important person in any debate, who enables members to consider alternative points of view and therefore, helps the group make better decisions. Unfortunately, when those in the minority focus on personal attacks and starting arguments, they generally don’t help their cause.
A good leader of the opposition must have patience, persistence and flexibility, because the will of the majority prevails in a democracy. But over time, consistent and logical advocacy for an issue can change people’s opinions and shift a minority position to the majority one.
A confident meeting chair, knowing how important alternative points of view are to good decision-making, can use members of the minority like devil’s advocates. Instead of responding defensively to their questions and arguments, the chair should listen with an open mind, ask follow-up questions to help them focus on facts, and reframe their statements more positively, to give them the opportunity to present their point of view effectively. This kind of leadership by the majority builds rather than destroys trust in a community and helps keep a meeting from spiraling downward into conflict.