The headline of a recent Walpole, Massachusetts newspaper article reads: “Fight between Walpole selectmen cuts meeting short.” The first sentence of the article stated, “Selectmen came to verbal blows on Tuesday night, prompting other board members to cut the meeting short as two of their colleagues took the altercation outside.”
It sounds like it could have been from an episode of a fictitious reality show entitled ‘Board Meetings Gone Wild,’ where viewers watch meetings that are out of control, overlong, unproductive or, as in this case, downright hostile. Even comedian Dave Barry said of meetings, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.'”
The scary part is that this is reality. In some cases, board meetings turn into ‘verbal blows’ and, in some extreme cases, physical confrontations. Board meetings can get very heated. Different ideas, differences of opinion and different agendas can cause so much stress in a meeting where people want to give their opinions, solve problems, make decisions, vote and get back home to their families. As a result, board meetings should have a protocol or policy in place for when things get a little tense and tempers start to flare.
“I’ve seen board meetings where people yelled at each other, which is very inappropriate. And then they may bring cursing to the table. I’ve had meetings where people lunged across the table at each other, or almost came to fisticuffs,” says Cynthia Graffeo, senior property manager at Argo Management in Manhattan.
“In general,” she says, “it is the responsibility of the chairperson, be that the property manager or officer of the board, such as board president, to see that these situations are handled appropriately and that future meetings don’t contain those situations.” Surprisingly, she adds, it may take only a reminder “that we are all ladies and gentlemen” to calm a contentious debate and put the meeting back on track.