Conflict Resolution in Neighborhood Associations

No matter how harmonious your beginnings, or how wonderfully you handle disagreements most of the time, sooner or later it is likely that your neighborhood association will encounter real conflict.   The alternative is to wither and die because the meetings become too bland when any hint of disagreement is dismissed and ignored.

In our experience, a low-conflict neighborhood association often is situated in an area that lacks problems or does not perceive its problems, so that is a possible reason for lack of conflict as well.  On this page, we deal with a scenario in which there is some disagreement.



Types of Conflict

Three types of conflict typically arise in neighborhood associations:

First, often neighborhood conflict spills over into the neighborhood association.   Factions may develop within your organization and cause enough hard feelings that people don't want to participate in your activities, at least for the duration of the broader debate.   Alternatively, if the neighborhood organization is aligned behind one position, and strong people or groups within the community take an opposing view, this causes stress on your association and might focus it unproductively on winning an argument instead of addressing real problems.  Either way, major neighborhood conflict can present a challenge.

Second, conflict may develop due to different styles within the organization.   Examples would be the older folks want traditional meetings and paper newsletters, while the younger residents want the organization to exist through social media.   Old timers in the organization want to keep the traditional logo, historic meeting place, and same parties, while the newer residents have a different style, want what they perceive to be higher quality graphics, think all communication should run on social media, like to socialize at trendy restaurants instead of the church basement, and so forth.

Third, conflict may develop because of personality conflicts between key leaders in your organization.  Sometimes these will be so strong that you begin to develop the Judith faction and the Michael faction, not really based on issues or even work styles, but just based on who people like more.


How to Approach Conflict in Neighborhood Associations

Resolving any of these conflicts enough that they do not sap the energy of neighborhood associations requires effort on the part of the board, president, and-or a strong leader or elder statesman.   Helpful approaches include:

  1. First and foremost, cultivate the will of the members of the association to stick together.
  2. Meet directly with the major participants in the squabble, one at a time.  To be most effective, these meetings are either conducted by the board, a small committee within the board, or that one strong individual within the neighborhood that almost everyone respects.  Purposes of the meetings are to plead for toning down the rhetoric and the anger, and to insist that the conflict will not be allowed to dominate the agenda of the neighborhood association.
  3. If necessary, ask leaders to step aside if they themselves are major parties to the conflict.  You might think that will not work, but a right-minded leader will do what is best for the neighborhood and the organization.  If you happen to find yourselves with a leader who puts ego before altruism, it isn't a bad time to find that out.
  4. If it seems feasible, have an open and honest dialogue with time limits on how much each person can speak.  For this approach to work, you must have a thoughtful and calm moderator, sit people in a circle, pick a time of the day or the week when people are least likely to be rushed or distracted, and pick a place that is private, quiet, and neutral on the contested matters.
  5. If both or all sides maintain good will, but cannot reach an accommodation, you could work with whatever community-minded, non-profit mediation services may be available in your community.  For mediation to work for neighborhood associations, both parties need to agree to enter into mediation.  Trained mediators can sometimes develop the will to trust the process, though, so don't give up too easily on this option.
  6. You didn’t expect us to say this, but maybe you should ignore it and it will go away.  In fact, in a strong neighborhood association, just let the disagreement play out as long as people still agree on basic principles and can disagree without becoming disagreeable.  Just don't select this option if there are personal threats, or if the conflict dominates a second or third or tenth meeting without plenty of warm fuzzy sentiments being expressed to counteract the divide.

To continue to the final page of our series on neighborhood associations, click the link for the third part, which deals with project or program selection, below.  You also can find your way back to the first page of the series if you click on the link to page 1.




> > Neighborhood Associations, Part 2


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