For most people, “foaming at the mouth” is just a figure of speech. Attorney Ellen Hirsch de Haan, a managing partner in the Tampa Bay, Florida office of Becker & Poliakoff PA, has encountered the real thing—and not at an animal shelter, but at a condominium owners’ meeting.
A former president who recently had been voted off the board began pacing angrily between the board table and the assembled unit owners. He got so upset he was literally frothing, Hirsch de Haan says, so she responded by “circling the wagons.”
“I gathered all the board members around the table, and we talked very quietly,” she explains. The man continued to rant and rave. After a few minutes, one of the unit owners piped up and said, “Hey buddy, would you sit down and shut up? We want to hear what’s going on.” The former board member responded by leaving, slamming the door on his way out. “The audience burst into spontaneous applause,” says Hirsch de Haan,
When Frasier Crane, the stuffy, TV psychiatrist played by Kelsey Grammer, ran afoul of his condo board president, much hilarity ensued. But as condo boards and management staff have to deal with increasing levels of anger—both in their day-to-day exchanges and scheduled meetings—it’s not exactly a laughing matter. Knowing how to defuse hostility and taking steps to prevent it in the first place are both talents that every board should have in its skill set.
As last summer’s town hall meetings on health care demonstrated so vividly, amped-up tensions are hardly exclusive to co-op or condo board meetings. The decline in civility in America has been widely lamented for at least the past decade, and has been in the works for much longer, according to P.M. Forni, a professor and cofounder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University. In an article that appeared last fall in the American Association of Retired Persons AARP Bulletin Today, Forni lays the blame for much of today's pervasive rudeness and quick tempers to post-Baby Boomers' overdeveloped sense of entitlement, but also to the sense of detachment our reliance on electronic communication and mass media has wrought.