Addressing Conflict & Disputes on Your Association Board

Addressing Conflict & Disputes on Your Association Board

It is rare to find an association or society board of directors that hasn’t experienced conflict at some time or another. But how boards handle conflict says a great deal about the organization in general, and sound conflict management processes can help any group stay healthy and productive. Here’s the lowdown on managing conflicts and disputes within your association.

Why are board disagreements dangerous for your association?

Usually, waiting for a significant conflict will to resolve on its own will do your association no good. While you are “sitting it out,” your organization may become too distracted from its main goals. It may even cost your association money if events need to be canceled, grants go unattained or if fundraising goals are not achieved.

Further, if word of major disputes within your association gets out, your reputation may be at stake, making it difficult to enroll members or recruit new leaders; current board members may be reluctant to assume officer roles; and you may even experience unexpected board attrition, as members who grow tired of unaddressed conflict leave. Unfortunately, it’s not usually those who are directly involved in the conflict who exit but rather those who feel like collateral damage in a wearying battle.

What can you do if you are already experiencing board conflict?

If your board is already engaged in a dispute, resist the urge to take sides. It may be necessary to bring in an outside, neutral source or a professional mediator to resolve it. Don’t get caught up in side talk or politicking either, which can make everyone look unprofessional and can further fan the flames.

It’s never too late to set guidelines for how board members should communicate with each other. Beyond Robert’s Rules of Order, you might want to review the tenets of “active listening” for respectful discourse that can lead to greater understanding of each party’s viewpoint. There should be no shouting, belittling or sarcasm in board discussions.

Deal with toxic board members sooner rather than later. Sometimes divisive members need to be encouraged to leave the board or may even need to be formally impeached, especially if a legal issue or major conflict of interest is uncovered. If emotions are running high due to circumstances outside the association, such as career pressures or family crises, consider offering a leave of absence.

Finally, remind warring board members about their shared passion that drew them to the association in the first place. When disagreeing board members see what’s at stake and why dispute settlement is so important, they are more likely to seek a resolution that works for everyone.