How to Handle Board Member Bullies

By Amada Merritt
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Do you have a board member who likes to push others around? Find out how to tame your HOA or condo board bully.

Some board members ought to come with mute buttons or protective gear for the rest of the board. They are the bullies. While most board members find ways to work together and settle agreements in a civil fashion, a few offer discord and intimidation. Bullies come in all varieties: the Get-a-Life types, the Intimidators, the Experts and, scariest of all, the Trolls.

The Get-a-Life bullies, who fill some sort of void by getting over-involved in the association, may be the most prevalent. The Expert bullies forgo shouting and intimidation for facts and special expertise to get their way. They don’t necessarily have expertise in community associations, and they aren’t independent. Liability laws protect boards that hire professionals, act in good faith and make decisions on behalf of the membership as a whole.

Trolls are the most dangerous of the bullying class, according to Toni Lynn Chinoy, an executive coach at Harlan-Evans Inc., in Virginia and author of Trolls, Bullies and You.

“It’s not about being convicted of the right path as much as it is about winning. They are immoral,” she says. They need to diminish others to make themselves feel more powerful.”

Chinoy coaches corporate leaders and says many of the same people who bully in the business world retire and repeat their behavior on community association boards. Most bullies are “usually straightforward once you figure out what they are trying to get for themselves,” she says. But trolls have a more complicated agenda because they are manipulative and destructive.

Association board bullies don’t leave black eyes behind, like the playground variety. But they do wreak other sorts of havoc for boards, staff, and residents.

For board members, bullies can cause the dreaded endless meeting with rants and even obscenities. The personal attacks can drive some members off the board. Staff members often get caught in the middle, especially with Get-a-Life bullies who think they should be running the show. And residents can feel like they are in a war zone in the sanctuary of their own neighborhood, especially if they are subject to high-volume Intimidators or Trolls fomenting dissent.

Some experts say the key to dealing with the bully is how you relate to them. Ask the bully what you can do to get him to stop yelling and using foul language. It helps, Chinoy says, to realize that bullies are insecure. “I don’t think confident, unafraid people ever have to bully,” she says. But insecure bullies “don’t think they will get their way any other way.”

Beware if you have an approval-seeking personality, she says, since that can bring out the bully in other people with strong personalities. Sometimes, she says, professional counseling is the best way to learn to deal with a bad

A tightly run meeting also can keep the bully genie in a bottle. Without a structured meeting, a bully can take over and intimidate, says Jim Slaughter, a partner with Rossabi Black Slaughter in Greensboro, N.C., and president of CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).

Meetings need starting and ending times and a clear agenda. Formal parliamentary procedure helps because it requires alternating between sides in discussion and limiting how long and how many times a person speaks. Board chairs need to make sure bullies and everyone else address the chair instead of attacking someone on the board. They can also encourage people to stand up to bullies by asking members to speak even if they haven’t raised their hands.

Try these techniques for taming your bully:

  • Confront a bully early; otherwise, it only gets worse.
  • Be specific about what behavior you want the bully to stop.
  • Criticize the behavior, not the person.
  • Document the bad behavior.
  • Train board members so they know their responsibilities.
  • Adopt a code of conduct for board members.
  • Keep board meetings tightly structured so bullies can’t take over.
  • Standing up to a bully can be the best way to represent the community.
  • In the worst cases, check the bylaws to find out how to remove the bully from the board.

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Amada Merritt

Amada Merritt manages all of CAI's social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Previously, she worked as a marketing specialist for a veterinary clinic in Virginia where she managed all of the clinic's social media efforts. Amada resides in Woodbridge, Va., with her boyfriend and daughter.