Gotta Love the Condo Association

Fall is HOA meeting time, and it always results in questions about difficult people. A Delaware Wave reader emails that her new HOA president is just plain obnoxious. He barks orders like they’re in boot camp, talks WAY too much, and has taken to sending nasty letters for the slightest infraction (or what he sees as an infraction). She says that he ruined her summer, and asks what she and her fellow board members can do – other than vote him out of office next year.

First of all, nobody can ruin your summer without your permission. There are lots of hours in the summer, and this guy need only be part of a few of them. Yes, you’ll need some strategies for coping with him while you’re in his presence. But the rest of the time you’re free to mentally pick him up and put him on a shelf somewhere (or wherever else you’d like to visualize him — probably best not to reveal that).

Second, in the interest of giving him the benefit of the doubt, is there any evidence that he shares at least some of your goals? Do you both aim for the same result, only by different means? If so, it might or might not help to point this out to him. It will also help to point it out to yourself as the summer progresses. I know that in the typical condo association, most people want the same things: quiet and pleasant surroundings. Find the common ground and seek it out with him. Ignore his nonsense. If he says something annoying, try not to show a reaction, at least to his face. I suggest this because some people run for condo president (or any presidency, now that I think of it) because they have an unhealthy need for power.

In the context of a condo association, power often includes a desire to get reactions from other people. A comedian, for example, elicits reactions through professional techniques that bring joy to people. Your power-hungry condo president, on the other hand, just wants to get a reaction, not really for any constructive purpose. Why? Because it makes him feel alive. Neurotic, unhealthy behavior is fueled in part by a need to shock, anger or irritate others just for the sake of doing so. Most of us feel alive by living life to the fullest, doing good work and the like. Not so with an obnoxious neurotic.

I’m certainly not suggesting that this describes everyone who seeks office. The real issue here is what causes his behavior. Because obnoxious people can’t get validation from within themselves, they seek reactions from others by being blowhards. It’s something they’ve found that works. And such a person would be happy to know how annoyed you are by his behavior. That’s why I stress that you don’t let him know that he irritates you. Human behavior isn’t always a pretty picture.

Be realistic. That means not expecting more than this man can deliver, but it also means not writing him off. While a few people are thoroughly obnoxious, most have a few rational elements left that you can work with. To test this, make a list of what you’d like to achieve with your association. Remind yourself that you might not accomplish any of them, but that’s OK because next year you can vote for somebody different. If you try to keep in mind that you and he might actually share a few goals in common, then work together on those. In the interest of getting things done, compliment and flatter him if you like. Some progress is better than none.

Some obnoxious people mean no harm and are just trying to do things right. They drive people away, and when they sense this they panic and get worse. This is sadder for him than for those he annoys. After all, we can (literally or figuratively) vote such people out of our lives. But, sadly, they still have to go on being who they are, long after you’re done with them.