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The role of “Conflict Junkies” in Body Corporate dispute

Most disputes within Bodies Corporate stem from ignorance and miscommunication. Sometimes, however, disputes are caused or perpetuated by “conflict junkies”. As the name suggests, conflict junkies are people that are addicted to conflict. They love sending long, threatening emails. They routinely demand total adherence to their views and wishes. They rarely ask questions, preferring instead to make statements. In our experience, conflict junkies are often responsible for the worst, most toxic, Body Corporate disputes.

How do you spot a conflict junkie?

Dealing with conflict junkies is one thing, but identifying them can be just as tricky. In our experience, here are some tell-tale signs you can look for:

  1. people who send long emails that use one or more the following words:
    1. “always”;
    2. “never”;
    3. “unacceptable”;
    4. “vehemently”;
    5. “blatant”; or
    6. “incompetent” (just to name a few);
  2. people who are keen to fix blame for the problem, but not fix the problem itself;
  3. people who reject solutions but don’t explain why or propose alternatives;
  4. people who claim they have “spoken to a lawyer about this who agrees with me” but refuse to name the lawyer;
  5. people who refuse to meet in person or even speak on the phone, but will happily send 1,500 word long emails; and
  6. (the best example of all) people who find new things to complain about just as their old complaints are being resolved.

Naturally, this is not an exhaustive list, but if any of these sound familiar to you, it may be that you are dealing with a conflict junkie.

Be professional and use professionals

It is important to remain objective and professional when dealing with a conflict junkie. That can be very challenging, which is why having a good Body Corporate manager or a good Body Corporate lawyer can be helpful.

Managers and lawyers can often create that much needed “arm’s-length” distance necessary to stop the conflict junkie from getting under the skin of other lot owners or the Committee.

Managers and lawyers are also more used to dealing with conflict junkies, meaning it is much easier for them to remain calm and professional.

Kindness and understanding

Be kind to your conflict junkie. Again, that is often easier said than done.

In our experience, many conflict junkies have lonely, unhappy, or unfulfilled lives, and conflict with people is one of the few forms of human interaction they enjoy. That is why they tend to hold on to disputes, because without the dispute there is often little else in their life to make it interesting.

Also, just because someone exhibits the traits of a conflict junkie does not mean that their complaints are without merit. Showing kindness and understanding may help you filter the legitimate complaints from the illegitimate ones. Legitimate complaints should be dealt with properly, even if the person making the complaint is a conflict junkie.

Resolution through education

Educate your conflict junkie.

Many conflict junkies assume (often incorrectly) that their understanding of Body Corporate law is superior to their Committee, their Body Corporate Manager, and the lawyers that have been engaged to assist the Body Corporate.

An excellent source of impartial and reliable information is the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management, including their website. Incredibly (but not unsurprisingly) many conflict junkies are unaware of the Commissioner’s Office. Therefore, directing them to the Commissioner’s Office’s website is often a good first step in educating them.

Less typing, more talking

Emails are perhaps the worst form of communication because they routinely lead to miscommunication. Conflict junkies love emails for this very reason. They also love emails because there are things that they will “say” in an email that they would never actually say in person.

Therefore, when dealing with a conflict junkie, a great thing to do is to simply speak to them, preferably in person. Some conflict junkies are so terrified of face-to-face discussions they will simply scurry away and take their complaints with them. Those conflict junkies that are prepared to sit down, will often be far more moderate and rational in person, which means that you are more likely to resolve the dispute or at least better understand what their legitimate complaints actually are.

If your Body Corporate is experiencing issues with conflict junkies or disputes within your scheme, please contact Mario Esera.

This article has been contributed by Mario Esera Partner, HWL Ebsworth.

Leave a Reply

  1. Nola Wood

    Thank you for this interesting article

  2. Rose

    What an odd way at looking at the written word. How can talking with someone have any creedence when there are issues to be resolved. It’s he say she says. Particularly if the matter is to be taken further. Always get it in writing. Never rely on someone’s spoken word. Is that how you do business? Nothing in writing. Good luck with that.

  3. Harry Roberts

    Agree 100% the problem tends to dwell in those lot owners who cant or do not want to understand what residential apartment living is all about especially those lot owners who will not fit in and become part of a friendly community of owners instead’ continually finding fault in everything including Body Corporate management but’ offer no suggestions or help in solving what they are claiming maybe affecting themselves personally or the complex in general. These lot owners also tend not to complete AGM voting papers/flying minutes.

  4. Sandra St Ledger

    While I cannot disagree with my “learned friend” that many body corporate disputes result from ignorance and miscommunication, as an owner for 20 years, a committee member for several years and a committee secretary, I will add mismanagement; engaging incorrectly licenced tradespersons; inefficiency; inaccurate financial data; more recently, the inability of some caretakers (with English as a second language) to communicate well enough with owners and tenants on everyday building procedures and, in particular, to organize contracts and instruct contractors with an acceptable level of communication (both verbally and in written form); lack of general committee knowledge of legislation and lack of the ability or desire of some committee members to have reasonable and respectful communication with the owners they are meant to represent, and finally owner apathy as being equally high on my list of problems……. but then I have been right on the inside of the industry for many years and not on the outside looking in.
    When it comes to the knowledge level of many committee members and caretakers I certainly don’t have “rose coloured” glasses. From both the inside and the outside of the committee, the industry knowledge level for many volunteer committee members and inexperienced caretakers is extremely limited.
    I agree with you re the BCCM information service. Their advice is invaluable. Seminars are a fantastic way of gaining knowledge, but I found the efforts of many committee members and inexperienced caretakers to acquire general relevant industry knowledge to be every bit as limited as the efforts of your much maligned “conflict junkies.”
    In some buildings, often experienced caretakers proactively seek out and actively promote new owners to the building as being “excellent for committee selection”. Such owners, who have never ever (or rarely) attended a committee meeting or general meeting; are on the rental pool and, if possible, live interstate or overseas with minimal hands-on knowledge, can be promoted while those of us with both industry and onsite knowledge are denigrated with very un-savory character reports to the rental pool owners.
    It has not been my experience that all onsite “managers” (caretakers) are capable of remaining calm and professional during conflict situations. I am fully aware that there are instances where caretakers have been so abusive and threatening, both at meeting and within the building in general, that owners have had little choice but to seek assistance from the police to try to establish a less threatening, abusive environment.

    Lawyers are paid to obtain the best outcome for their customers. That is their financial involvement in the industry. I find it hard to accept that all owners, and that includes those who are referred to as being “conflict junkies”, having paid to be Body Corporate members via both investments and levies, have not a greater right to express their concerns. They deserve to be credited with the same rights as the shareholders in any business. The right to have their say on important issues, be it in verbal or written form. The caretaker who may appear as the approachable Dr Jekyll in the legal office when expressing concerns and presenting their personal views to their best advantage, can unfortunately sometimes turn into the aggressive Mr or Mrs Hyde at the coal face.

    Committee membership is not an illustrious, elevated position that allows you prestige and privilege and the right to ignore “inconvenient” by-laws. It is jolly hard work but is worthwhile and rewarding for those who genuinely communicate with owners for the good of the building and truly represent owners and are not there for individual gain, personal influence, or an enhanced ego.

    You seem to have a very different experience to me with respect to “conflict junkies” being restricted to the written word. The owners I know speak up with their concerns frequently and would appreciate being heard and treated with respect. They are too often brushed aside and ridiculed for their concerns. Some committee members have a habit of talking AT owners and not WITH owners.
    I believe some buildings have excellent managers, and chairpersons and committee members who are genuine “owner representatives”. They talk with owners when onsite and allow limited and controlled discussion at committee and general meetings and I believe these meetings achieve far more. These buildings are generally unified with far happier managers, owners and committee member who all feel respected and valued.
    I am not saying owners are perfect and are not always “right”, but neither are caretakers or committee members or, dare I say, legal advisors.

    If you are sick of being termed a “conflict junkie” because you stand up for owner concerns and owner rights in a building where you are a legitimate shareholder, then please don’t feel you are alone. There are many “concerned owners” standing with you.

  5. Lee Taylor

    Unfortunately conflict junkies are often part of the committee where the executive members intimidate, harass anyone who holds them accountable because the committee seems they have to be right rather than understand that their behaviour is wrong. Committee members often write long threatening emails where the owner must engage a lawyer to deal with them. This especially happens when owners human rights are attacked by the committee because of the committees ignorance and refusal to accept that owners and their family are not sub humans and have equal rights and access. It’s an ever increasing issue and is overloading the tribunals hence the Royal Commission on the issue in Queensland. Some committee members believe their attitudes are superior and that they control the building and it’s occupants. They do not. The threats to owners can be overwhelming. Face to face conversations only work when the committee members are not using the process to intimidate the owner and their family and do it in good faith. However that seems to becoming very rare.

  6. Adam

    This is pretty terrible advice. Whether an owner is a conflict junkie or not is irrelevant and this labelling makes the problem worse. Also that owner has every right to join the committee (if not on it already) which just often heightens tensions. Most paid managers have next to no qualifications and using them as a buffer between committee and owners just makes things worse.

    Managers need to help equip committees and enable them to communicate with owners.

    This is disappointing and misguided advice.

  7. Cheryl Boneham

    Not all people labelled “conflict junkies” really are. I was labelled a “nuisance” for many years by a group within the body corporate. It was always after I pointed out that what they wanted to do was against very clear legislation. (The whine was usually “how will anyone know?”) And what really made them upset was if I opposed their proposals that benefited only themselves at the expense of everyone else.

  8. Brad

    I believe it’s disrespectful to label a co-owner of the common property in such way. A devils advocate is essential and invaluable in schemes and should be respected. That is because it is the only way to properly deal with groupthink which I believe is a serious significant problem and without taking such steps to minimise risk of harm may lead to negligence. Proper decision making is essential and that includes taking all relevant considerations into account and ignoring irrelevant ones. The caretaker/ letting agents power and influence is so overpowering that I believe it’s even hard to follow the rule of law let alone follow the process to make decisions acting reasonably and in compliance with the mandatory code of conduct. The inherent conflicts of interests make the devils advocate essential necessary and should be used to minimise risk of harm of bad decisions. Anyone who can speak up must be respected and considered in that context I believe.