When to speak and when to listen is a challenge we all face. In daily conversations, the greater gift is the ability to listen. In community associations, board members and property managers deal with irate homeowners that can make the blood boil. The urge to strike back is natural. The person yelling at you is not only a shareholder in the association you serve, but also believes passionately in what has caused their anger. That person is owed a full and fair hearing. Your role in any exchange is to remain calm, listen attentively and discover the key to the conflict before you commit to any action.

Effective listening is the key to dealing with different personality types within the community. Listening without jumping to conclusions can be mastered by even a type-A personality eager to cut to the bottom line. Listening means really concentrating on what another person is saying and not just waiting for your turn to speak. Listen with both your eyes and ears. Let your body language show that the person speaking has your full and undivided attention. Show that you care about their problem.

Remember back in school when the English teacher stressed the importance of the Five W’s in compositions: who, what, when, where and why? Successful communication includes these same elements: Who is responsible? What is the issue? When did it start? Where is action is expected? Why is it being brought to your attention?

While the issue will often be emotionally charged, the effective listener focuses on the facts, not the emotion. Try this technique. Patiently listen while the person is speaking, nodding your head and saying, "Uh-huh" and "Mmmm." After the person has finished, pause and repeat back what has just been said. Then ask if you understood correctly. By restating the key elements of the conversation, you are clarifying their position while showing that you are listening without agreeing with what has been said. (There are occasions when no amount of diplomacy will win the day. When that happens, it’s best to revisit the issue after a reasonable "cooling-off"period.)

Now that you have softened any anger with your superb listening skills, it’s problem solving time. Choose your words carefully. Once spoken, an ill word cannot be retrieved. The word "but" acts like a roadblock to alternatives. Negotiate resolutions making the homeowner part of the process. Restate the key points discussed and what you both agree on as the correct course of action.

Effective listening separates winners from wannabees. Hear what I’m saying?

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