Is My Building Fractured or Just Cracked?
"When the chess game is over, all the pieces go back into the same box" - Italian Proverb
Families have a reputation for being a little dysfunctional, where siblings, relatives and spouses fight unnecessarily with one another. Similarly, lots of energy gets wasted in the conflicts that go on amongst the stakeholders of buildings.
I once heard someone say that every residential building suffers from “The CLAP” (Children, Landscaping, Animals and Parking). These kinds of community issues and bylaw infractions are the day-to-day stuff that drive property managers to the brink.
But this blog is about asset management for all types of facilities — so we will not spend any more time on the us-versus-them mentality of pet owners vs. non-pet owners; smokers vs. non-smokers. Instead, we are concerned about a very different kind of dichotomy — the split or division between strongly opposed groups caused by differences in opinion or belief.
Some opposing perspectives that are relevant in the field of asset management include:
- Optimistic vs. Pessimistic
- Proactive vs. Reactive
- Owner vs. Investor
- Lessor vs. Lessee
- Short-sightedness vs. Long-sightedness
Here are two techniques that I’ve used when presenting arguments to groups of owners that are split on how to make the right decision about their assets.
1. Foot-in-the-Door Technique
This is a persuasion technique that starts with something small, not too far from the status quo. This is done in order to gain a foothold from which to advance further.
Example: Let’s assume that we need to put more money into the operating budget or capital budget. This technique suggests that we make a funding request that seeks small annual increases to the funding level and later increases the amount. Typically the incremental increases are made each successive fiscal year.
Evaluation: Some of the merits of this technique:
- It’s a conservative approach that allows the owners to slowly acclimatize themselves to increasing funding levels;
- It’s a politically safe move so long as the increments do not deviate too far from the status quo funding level; and
- It’s most useful when the owners are in the denial and anger phases of their decision-making process.
Some limitations of the Foot-in-the-Door technique:
- It may be too slow to be effectual, particularly if the building has a significant backlog;
- It may give the owners the false impression that small changes are always acceptable and this is not necessarily the case; and
- It lacks courage to make real, deep change.
2. Door-in-the-Face Technique
This persuasion technique is intentionally over-the-top, so as to create initial shock that makes the real request look better in comparison.
Example: Let’s assume that we need to put more money into the operating budget or capital budget. This technique suggests that we make a request that asks for a significant increase in funding level (typically full funding), recognizing that this will very likely be negotiated by the owner group to a more tolerable level, which is the level that the requester had tactically sought anyway. This may take the form of a bolster levy or a large capital increase.
Evaluation: Some of the merits of this technique:
- It’s a gutsy approach that can have a tremendous return on investment by leveraging interest income and stabilizing future contributions. Something like: “no pain, no gain”;
- The approach, when successful, can help reduce the number of future meetings and therefore save everyone’s time; and
- As board members become more educated about financial stewardship they must ensure that the owner group at-large also climbs the learning curve at the same pace. If the board does not effectively educate the ownership they are setting themselves up for failure.
Some limitations of the Door-in-the-Face technique:
- Sometimes an incumbent board can get voted out for presenting a large increase to the owners who are shell-shocked and respond by “shooting the messenger”;
- People often need to advance sequentially through the seven stages of emotion when reaching decisions. Any attempt to rush a decision may derail the entire process;
- This approach requires a brave board of directors; and
- TheDoor-in-the-Face technique may be perceived as being disingenuous, resulting in a loss of trust.
Whichever technique you choose, there is more to persuasion than conservatism or courage. The Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to three kinds of appeals to persuade people:
1. Logos (Logic)
This term refers to persuasion by logic. We appeal to the audience with facts and data; we provide supporting evidence and examples; we use photographs, spreadsheets, and other empirical data as much as possible. The challenge, however, is to get people to actually read the facts; to read the spreadsheets; and to look at the photos. And when they do, they may see something different than what was expected.
I’ve presented hard facts at meetings and watched as emotional eyes look right through me. The emotional mind behind those eyes is typically thinking of something other than the facts being presented.
2. Ethos (Credibility)
This refers to persuasion through credibility. We appeal to the audience through the tone of our message. We emphasize the speaker’s expertise, education, and reputation. The challenge here, is that people may not be aware of the speaker’s credentials and may not consider them to be pertinent to the situation.
I’ve spent years trying to advance my education and expertise in my chosen career of asset management. I have a very long way to go. It’s extremely difficult to reach true credibility–and, by that time, we are probably closer to retirement. Everyone these days professes to be an expert, diluting the concept and making it harder for an audience to identify those who are–and those who are not.
3. Pathos (Emotion)
This refers to an appeal based on emotion or feelings rather than logic. These appeals try to resonate with the audience on a personal or intimate level and make them identify emotionally with us. The challenge is, an audience that is angry often does not want to identify with anyone, and their anger may be masking a deeper emotion, typically fear.
I’ve personally found it hard to couch the hard facts of a client’s situation in a touchy-feely way. It feels disingenuous and disrespectful to the audience.
How is persuasion different from manipulation?
This is a tough topic and I’d really appreciate hearing some suggested techniques for persuading a fractured group to resolve their differences and reach decisions in their mutual best interest.
David is a certified professional reserve analyst, and a specialist in building maintenance and planning.