Debra H. Lewin
Introduction: Background and Key Points
Philosopher and educator John Dewey said, "There is more than a verbal tie between the words common, community, and communication." Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in a common-interest community.
As a community association volunteer leader, board member or manager, you communicate frequently every day—in phone conversations, small group discussions, casual encounters, writing specifications for vendors or letters to residents, or in formal presentations to a group. It's important, then, for you to have a basic knowledge of communications, an awareness of the imperative to communicate and an idea of the various ways to deliver your messages.
Communication is a dynamic process, one that allows us to exchange information in a variety of ways—we write, speak, act, publish, and signal our messages. Others receive these messages in different ways; they don't just hear the spoken word or see the printed page, they also have to process the message, analyze and understand it and sometimes act on it in a specific way.
Most of us have participated in the exercise in which one person whispers a statement in the ear of another, who in turn whispers it to another, and so on. By the time the statement makes its way around the group and is spoken out loud by the last person, it has completely changed. This exercise demonstrates in a fun way how easily our communications can be filtered, misinterpreted, increased or decreased or simply misunderstood.
As board members and managers, you can't allow your message to make its way around the association and get completely changed. That's why communicating effectively, appropriately and frequently is essential to the success and harmony of your community.
"Our community association is doing just fine without a newsletter or holiday parties," you might say. But remember, your association functions as more than a community. It also operates as a business, and strong communications are essential to the success of any business.
A comprehensive, proactive communications program is going to contribute to productive meetings, satisfied homeowners, balanced budgets, informed consultants, supportive residents, cooperative tenants, eager buyers, low delinquencies-and more. And while a killer website and a monthly newsletter are good placed to start, a truly effective communications program requires a broader approach.
Specifically, you will need a basic understanding of the dynamics that operate on a personal level and a sense of what is appropriate, affordable, feasible and effective. You will also need a general knowledge of the various communications vehicles that are available to you and the various audiences you want to reach. And for the best results, you want to communicate not only within your association, but also with the larger community—from your local real-estate agents to your representatives in Washington.
A common problem in communication is assuming that it is somehow just taking place by itself. Don't assume that everyone knows what you know or that they share your knowledge or opinions. Dispel this illusion by developing and implementing a cohesive communications program. It doesn't take as much effort as you might think, and the return on your investment will be well worth it.
- Few efforts will contribute more to your success as a manager or volunteer leader and to the harmony of the community than communicating effectively.
- Individual behavior styles, gender and body language affect communications. Understanding these dynamics contributes to effective communication.
- Communicating is a two-way activity in which receiving information is as necessary for understanding as providing it. Listening, therefore, is an integral part of communicating effectively.
- Writing is the foundation of all communications. A few basic writing skills are needed if the goal is to communicate effectively.
- Newsletters are a valuable and important way to communicate with residents.
- Community associations are increasingly making use of information technology. Websites, e-mail, intranets, and list serves are adding new facets to association communications.
- Associations produce documents like annual reports, resident handbooks, notices and even signs that are important parts of an effective overall communications program.
- Meetings provide an excellent opportunity for communication among community association boards and residents.
- Listening to an entire community is a different from listening to an individual. It requires surveys, town meetings, open forums, accepting suggestion, and other means.
- Community associations aren't discrete or isolated entities; they're integral parts of the larger community. Associations need to communicate with civic groups, local businesses, the media and government officials.