One of the more common mental biases that affects people is known as “recency”. Recency is the tendency to consider the most recent information as more important when making a decision instead of weighing all information equally. This kind of thinking can be pervasive in the homeowner association environment. In the heat of discussion, the most recent hot topic can loom large and perspective lost. Recency causes skewed decision making driven by passion. How does this phenomena manifest itself?
Consider the enactment of a rule designed to control the scofflaws. An example is the guy that has five vehicles and only one parking place. After repeated notices to thin out his car collection, the board decides to take radical action, enact a no-nonsense tow on sight rule and smite the offender. This approach, however, also applies all including the occasional offenders and guests. The towing policy is not necessarily a bad one but needs to be approached with reason.
When it comes to rule making, rules need to be widely applicable. They should never be enacted to control the few. The few, frankly, could care less. When a narrow rule is enacted, the many that generally live in harmony with their neighbors are netted with the few that don’t. This is a bad mix and bound to create ill will or inconsistent enforcement of the rule.
Consider collections when they involve a habitual trouble maker. The board may react with “last straw” will and enact an iron clad collection policy punctuated by a foreclosure option. The manifestation of “recency” thinking again affects all members, including those that have a legitimate excuse for their delinquency (job loss, disability, etc.). Bottom line: The board needs to be careful in its “one size fits all” rules and policies.
Consider reacting to a member’s bullying at a board meeting. One of the great advantages of a meeting agenda composed in advance is that the board is given the opportunity to reflect on upcoming discussions, even if they’re controversial. If member concerns are required to be on the agenda to get board action, impromptu tirades can be deflected to a future board meeting. In truth, tirade passion usually dwindles over time and the board rarely needs to deal with these issues at all. Use the meeting agenda to avoid shoot-from-the-lip decisions.
When recent events stir the body politic, it’s usually time to put the matter on the slow track. Time heals all wounds and moderates hysteria of the moment. If the discussion takes on a personal aspect (like, “You worthless SOB!!!”), it’s time to adjourn to another time and place so that reason, and not recency, prevails. There are few issues in an HOA that require immediate board action. When the effects of recency begin to taint board thinking, shake them off and slooooow dooooown.
By Richard Thompson