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According to this weekend’s New York Times (“The Co-op Board Wars” by Vivian Toy), shareholders are most likely to stage a coup over maintenance fees, assessments, lobby revamps or stalled initiatives. Dysfunctional boards, meanwhile, are typically born of dueling personal agendas or personality conflicts.
The Times article prescribes a prophylactic course of transparency.
But what if there aren't enough communication skills and bully-proof egos to go around? Before things hit the courtroom, give a volunteer mediator a try.
We’ve blogged before about how Safe Horizon Mediation Centers—a non-profit community dispute resolution program located in Manhattan and Brooklyn--can resolve disputes between neighbors over things like noise. But the program’s free (did we say free?) assistance also works on a larger scale.
“It’s a relatively new service but it’s becoming more frequent,” says Elena Bayrock, the director of the Manhattan program. “Sometimes we see that a former board president isn’t satisfied with what the current president is doing, and may be rallying a faction of residents behind him to make trouble. Sometimes a resident who has caused trouble in the past claims they are being ostracized because of their reputation and they feel their maintenance issues aren’t being addressed because the board doesn’t like them.”
If you are the intimidated type, this approach is for you: Your Safe Horizon mediator will arrange and facilitate a meeting of everyone involved.
The mediator will even come in and do a presentation to convince reluctant board members to sign on. All sessions take place in your building.
"We're not advocating for anyone," says Bayrock, "even if one person initiates the call because they are feeling mistreated. We will make sure that all perspectives are acknowledged and part of the discussion."
She says that once everyone sits down at the table--granted, the hardest part--a full or partial agreement is reached about 80 percent of the time.
"Mediators are trained to facilitate a dialogue that includes all perspectives, explores underlying issues, and utilizes good communication," says Bayrock. "The effectiveness comes from the fact that any resolution is self-determined by the parties."