And you can't yell while you are holding a Donald Duck.
Well, now there’s an interesting title, right? You Can't Yell at a Manager While She is Wearing Minnie Mouse Ears, and You Can't Yell While You are Holding a Donald Duck.
One thing is for sure, you have never heard that before, unless you attended my recent Homeowner's Meeting.
Yep. I actually started the question and answer session of a crowded Homeowner’s Meeting with this statement.
Moreover, I literally put on my Minnie mouse ears, and was holding a Donald Duck when I said that statement. Then, I proceeded to say…
“And if you want to talk, you have to hold the duck.”
“But you can’t yell if you are holding the duck.”
And as my eyes looked around the room…I said: “There’s one more rule.”
A pause entered the air.
“I will stay as long as you want. I mean, I have four young kids, so I hope it’s not all night, but seriously, I will stay as long as you want. The Board will stay as long as you want. They might fire me tomorrow for saying that, but...seriously, they will stay as long as you want. We will answer what ever question you want. As long as….”
The residents all looked at me.
“You have to say it, in a polite, positive, and friendly way.”
And that, was that. The meeting went on, and we all lived happily ever after.
The room agreed actually agreed with me, literally. You cannot yell at a manager who is wearing Minnie Mouse Ears. I mean seriously, you can try, but I looked ridiculous and once you start yelling you just look at the ears. You can't help it. Your eyes drift to the ears. Moreover, you are cuddling a duck. Or shaking a duck and pointing it at me and you have to think to yourself, while I am telling you to give me the duck back and taking your turn to talk away from you, that you are being silly shaking and pointing a duck at me.
The concept of the theatrics was two fold. My Board Member, Allen Dowhie, had asked if I had any stuffed animals I could bring along. We didn’t want to pass a stick around for residents to hold. That might not be a good idea. But, holding a stuffed animal has a different psychological affect. Having four kids between the ages of 2 to 12, I have plenty of stuffed animals. This was not a challenge for me.
I added the Disney Ears. As a big Disney fan, I have attended several trainings provided by the Disney Institute, and for every staff I have ever had, I have implemented Disney Training at some level. Often, I buy them a set of Mickey and Minnie Mouse Ears to wear during training and remind them to have their ears on (literally or figuratively) while we are “out and about” in the eyes of the Residents. We have to present the “Disney Show” at every point and intersection with our Residents, whereas behind the scenes, or “behind the curtain”, is a slightly different story.
The Association’s attorney, Hal Barrow, was present. He had a recommendation to change the layout of the room from classroom style to a circle. I agreed. I never liked the traditional classroom. I often used a circle or semi-circle, and instead of presenting from a table or podium, I found myself pulling up a chair and sitting amongst the residents.
When asked why, I replied: “I do not look down upon Residents. I work with them. I work for them.”
Yes, a manager is a leader. Yes, we often do lead from the front of the class or a podium. But, we are here to serve. What better way to do that then to really understand the residents and sit with them.
Hal had another suggestion. He recommended splitting up the Board members amongst the crowd versus sitting together. At first, we all looked at each other as if this was a good idea, and then said, let’s do it.
Immediately, the atmosphere amongst the Residents was different. We now had a circle, instead of classroom style. We had Board members scattered throughout the room, being neighbors, sitting amongst neighbors. When residents walked into the room, there wasn’t a source of tension or displeasure. There was curiosity and neighborly discussion. Imagine that, a meeting of neighbors – and neighbors were talking. Neighbors were laughing, interacting, and enjoying each others presence.
I am not going to say I didn’t have to take the duck away once or twice. But in reality, the meeting stayed on task, and residents remained polite, positive, and friendly. Voices were heard. Opinions were respected. Yelling did not occur. And I think, neighbors enjoyed being neighbors. The Board was less stressed. The presentation was easier (or at least felt that way) from each of the Board members. And the residents seemed to receive it all better.
I know, after sixteen years of management, Donald is probably making a few more appearances over the course of the next few decades.
A special thanks to Allen Dowhie and Hal Barrow for their suggestions for a great and successful Annual Meeting. I hope that other Homeowners, Board Members, and Managers may take these suggestions and carry them into their communities.
Summary: It is okay to be different and think outside the box. Doing what was always done doesn’t mean it is the way that it needs to be moving forward. Sometimes, putting yourself in an awkward and embarrassing moment helps others feel comfortable with themselves. Showing respect first, will almost always return the favor in the end. Who knows, you may even have fun while you are doing it.
Community meetings do not need to be contentious. There is never a reason for a manager to yell, or for a homeowner to be just as upset at a meeting. We can be adults in a room having a conversation. We can agree to disagree on a topic, and still be neighbors and professionals serving a common purpose: the betterment of the community.
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