Ask Amy: Board members are afraid of confrontation
Dear Amy: I sit on a community board. All board members are volunteers. Most have professional careers and are adept at having healthy and respectful discussions.
One person on the board has become aggressive and uncooperative. He puts down other members' opinions, sends hostile emails, and presents his own opinion as the only way to proceed.
The other board members have discussed how to handle this person so that we can do our work in a healthy, respectful environment, but no one wants to say anything to him for fear of engaging him in argument.
Your suggestions on how to handle this situation?
– Board Over a Barrel
Dear Board: The first thing to consider is what might be at the root of this person’s dissension. Is this board member attempting to advocate about one particular issue, or has he become disruptive across all topics? Is he wrestling with health issues or cognitive decline?
If there is truly no one on this board who is capable of confronting this issue, then you should all face the possibility that this hostility and disruption at the board level may damage your institution overall and could actually sink your organization altogether.
If the mere possibility of engaging in an argument with him is too frightening for any of you to contemplate, then he wins.
Isn’t your cause important enough for board members to stand up for it?
Your board leadership should deal with this quickly, and in-person. Two board members should meet with the person, present copies of offensive or hostile emails, and tell him that while his opinion on board matters is valuable, his hostility is undermining both his point of view and the important work of the organization.