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The Cogs of Communication

The Cogs of Communication

It is something everyone does multiple times a day. Communication is like a pulley that moves things in two directions. It takes mindfulness to make sure that a knot in the line doesn’t upset the up and down or back and forth flow of the machine. Communication is a complex task that can take on many different forms and individual styles. Mis-communication has caused all of us grief or anxiety at some point in our lives. It is, therefore, not something to be taken lightly and should always receive careful consideration – like maintenance on a machine.

In the property management industry, we are often tasked with coordinating multiple parties with multiple interests toward a common goal. If we are managing an exterior project, we must communicate the project’s progression and payment requests with the Board; we need to communicate with the contractors to ensure that they have access to the areas that are necessary to stage and complete work. The residents need to be notified that cars or personal items may need to be moved to access and facilitate the work being completed. The residents also need to be warned to keep windows closed, even on a beautiful day, to keep unwanted dust and debris off their personal items within their units. The staff needs to know what to expect because they must share their break areas and restroom with five additional workers during the project… and on and on.

It is our responsibility to make certain we anticipate how different parties could be affected by an action or decision. Conveying this information properly can make the difference of acceptance and cooperation versus revolt. On top of this, there is an endless array of personalities with an endless array of expectations in the communities that we manage. Communication to address all these differing expectations is a skill that requires careful thought, planning and execution. Thankfully we have available to us many forms and methods of communication to accomplish this. Personal conversations, email, voice messages, speech to text and written notices are all lines of communication that we have available to us.

Since thorough communication is one of the most critical parts of a successful project, as well as day to day matters, it requires forethought and planning. Dedicating an adequate chunk of time will ensure that the amount of communication achieves the necessary goal and will control the amount of avoidable comments and questions will result in additional time. Controlling these after comments and questions saves time and anxiety for parties on both sides of the project. Always err on the side of over communication. The same message can be delivered in a variety of ways. Tactics such as email, physical posting of notices, mail or delivery of hard copies, text to voice, and phone voicemails can deliver the same message to multiple generations of people with varying amounts of technology savviness.

It might also be necessary to reach out to residents’ family members, caregivers, dog walkers, etc. to ensure that a resident gets the message. Making the effort is important, but it is important to confirm that it is received and understood. If the message is delivered but not received it is the same as not having delivered the message at all. Not only will the effort have been wasted, but re-delivering the message means additional time and possible delays. If Mrs. Winston did not receive or understand that her balcony needed to be cleared of plants for the railings to be painted, the project will be delayed, and inconvenience and stress has been placed upon Mrs. Snodgrass, the property manager, the staff, the contractor, and other residents who expected everyone involved to adhere to the schedule. Try checking her balcony the day before the project starts to verify her complete compliance.

If the association has on site staff, this creates another communication challenge. To further complicate this, different staff types (door, maintenance, garage), have different communication needs as well.

Again, here, it is recommended to err on the side of over-communication. Even though, for instance, the maintenance staff isn’t directly affected by a repair to the front door and therefore a change in pedestrian traffic flow, it helps for them to be aware of this. When everyone is informed, it fosters unity among the team members. By having a clear picture of what is going to challenge the entire team, it makes the team member feel important and creates cohesiveness. If the weather forecast calls for a severe thunderstorm, the door staff should be aware that cabs might be scarce and that folks might need additional help hailing cabs as well as entering and exiting while juggling personal belongings and umbrellas. The maintenance staff will need to know that more frequent mopping will be necessary to keep the lobby floor clean and dry, and the garage staff will have to deal with puddles in the garage.

Communicating effectively with boards of directors presents perhaps the biggest challenge. Boards of directors are as different as the range of communities that we manage, and turnover of even one board position, (which can happen every couple of years at least) can completely change the dynamic of the board. Each member has their own goals and often agendas, which may or may not meld with those of their fellow board members or management. To address this wide and changing assortment of personalities, your communication style must be very fluid. Your style may have to be adjusted from topic to topic. Some communication must be direct and clear, while other topics may require coaching and education to the members.

Another important aspect to communication is knowing when you need to bring in outside experts such as mechanical vendors or attorneys to educate staff and boards. They can often explain technical or complicated matters more thoroughly and succinctly than management might have with their more generalized knowledge (the message often received with more authority from a third party).

Management’s role is not to have expert knowledge on all topics and controlling this expectation from our clients is an important aspect of our role in community management.

It is important in all cases to make sure the lines of communication are running both ways – in and out. This means listening (or reading) the other party’s thoughts and ideas. Especially if you are dealing with an upset or angry person, just letting people know that they have been heard can take away the stress of many situations. Empathy has amazing power. Remember to pause, make eye contact, or re-read a

message to ensure that this two-way pathway is clear. Reflective listening means repeating the person’s words or ideas: “you sound very upset”, “I hear you saying…” or “That is unfortunate” are words that can communicate that you have been listening and paying attention to the other person’s ideas and emotions.

Forethought and mindful planning of communication is possible if dedicated the time. Stop, review and consider how the message is to be received from all involved parties. This will prevent most monkey- wrenches from getting caught in the gears of your association’s mechanics.

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