There’s an expression, “everything old is new again” and when it comes to communication at your condominium corporation, all you need to do is look back to kindergarten for some old lessons to provide a new approach. Here goes:
1. Use Pictures
The attempts made by children to express themselves through the use of pictures makes sense in the adult world, too. Busy people don’t even notice words, let alone read them. Pictures speak 1000 words, so make use of them as often as you can. Crayons optional.
2. Little Words, Big Impact
When we’re in kindergarten, there really aren’t too many barriers to good communication. Kids tend to say what they mean and mean what they say. They also say things very simply. I once met a guy who told me that he was a “transparent wall systems engineer” and it took me a minute to realize that he was a glazier – he installs windows for a living. That’s witty, but for most of us, keeping things simple is best. Elevator notices should be quick and to the point, with the basic facts. Any resident interested in knowing more can check their email for details.
3. Be Positive
Remember “The Little Engine That Could“? It’s the familiar child’s tale of a train engine that focuses on what he is capable of until he actually achieves it, and it still resonates in adulthood. The little engine gets all the way to the top of the mountain by constant reminders of what he can do, not what he can’t. Same goes for condo communication – help residents focus on what they can (or are allowed to) do and it will set a more positive tone and get better results. An example? Telling residents that they can’t put cooking grease down the drain isn’t as effective as letting them know that they can let it harden and scrape into a green bin, or soak up small amounts with paper towel and deposit into green bin. Positive options work best!
4. Say Please (and thank you)
“I’ll take one lottery ticket.” “I need 3 bags for my groceries.” “Tomatoes, pickles and onions.” “That’ll be $32.95.” “Give me a Bud Light.” Each one of these expressions is something we likely hear on an almost daily basis, as we visit the convenience store, supermarket, sandwich shop, or local pub. But what is each one missing? You guessed it, the magic word “please” which sometimes seems like it’s becoming extinct. “Please” is important in condo communication too, and while not always necessary when posting things like condo rules, it certainly helps set the tone of notices and encourages better cooperation from residents.
What’s even more important is to remember to say “thank you”. Run a successful water conservation campaign and then say thanks to let residents know it worked. When recycling efforts take place and save the superintendent some time, say “thank you”. Say “thank you” to the social committees, garden committees, all-sorts-of committees that volunteer their time and effort. Do it publicly and do it regularly. Please.
5. Be Nice
From the time that we are very small, we’re told to treat other people the way that we would like to be treated. It’s called The Golden Rule and even when forgotten, its more cynical cousin “you attract more bees with honey than vinegar” usually gets us by. Yet in the condominium environment, it’s not uncommon to witness rude behaviour on the part of residents, managers, board directors and contractors alike. It’s a people industry and sooner or later personalities may clash, so if that happens too often in your condo it’s a good idea to review your communication strategy. Every notice should be checked for positive words and tone and can even go one step further as a feel-good campaign. A client recently had a major flood that knocked out service on four of six elevators, so a campaign was broadcast that included famous quotes about patience. It doesn’t fix the problem, but if residents can smile while they wait instead of scowl… that’s a good thing!
6. Be Inclusive
We all know it’s not right to leave people out. Nobody likes to be excluded from a game, a conversation, a party. Often though, condominium communication neglects to address the numerous audiences that make up a building’s resident population. Does your building have renters? Be sure they are aware that they are welcome to take part in various activities. Have a faction of young folks who like to party? Design a series dedicated just for them, that lets them understand rules and liabilities while recognizing their penchant for entertaining. Prohibited short-term rentals occurring in your building? Future visits can be deterred if you include would-be guests as part of your audience. (Okay that last one means include to exclude but hey rules are rules.)
7. Education is Important
Kindergarten starts us off on a long journey to becoming more knowledgeable. Gold star stickers on our worksheets reinforce the notion that education is important and that idea transfers right through to condo life. The condominium world can be complex, so a good communication strategy includes lessons for residents about energy/water conservation, insurance, waste management and loads more. It can also include the basics about directing a condo, which can serve as a reminder to current boards as well as a good base for future directors down the road.
The #1 complaint at condominium AGMs is often poor communication caused when a Board of Directors neglects to let everyone know what they have been doing. Decisions get made month-to-month so it’s not unusual for residents to see contractors on the scene, things changing, new activity happening without ever knowing in advance what it’s all about. People generally resist change so surprises can lead to grumbling, conjecture and imagined scenarios that ultimately result in time wasted by boards and managers as they deal reactively with residents.
Take a page out of our kindergarten lesson book and share – not the juice and cookies this time but information. Share decisions as soon as they are made and watch what happens. At DigiNotice, some clients have us post their decisions as they occur – their elevator screens become a sort of digital newsletter and residents are happy to get the scoop in small “eye-size” amounts. Big project coming up? Share that info way in advance and it will work wonders. One of our clients had to remove numerous trees from their property in the fall, so they shared the arbourist’s report and board decisions in the spring prior, so when the chainsaws finally arrived, nobody panicked – they knew what had to go, why, and what would replace.
9. Follow the Rules
Kindergarten kids learn early and often that rules are important. They keep us safe and civil and generally are a good thing. The bulk of a condo’s communication strategy will include loads of rules and regulations so be sure to break them up, keep them easy to follow and remind residents of why they need to be followed.
10. Naps Are #1
Now I’m not suggesting that you nap at work, though wouldn’t that be nice? Rather, kindergarten teaches us to take a rest and that holds true for communication in your condo. No matter what information is part of your strategy, be sure to shake it up a bit. Take a break from rules and make it about the Raptors. Educate about insurance and then share tips on how to watch for leaks. Keep things fresh and change topics (take a rest!) to keep residents engaged and paying attention to what you have to say. Who knew we’d get so much out of kindergarten!? Till next time…. keep on building your condo-munity!
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