GEICO is known for its funny, if somewhat sarcastic, commercials, and HOA board members and management personnel are a target in a recent ad. This GEICO commercial with nearly 8.5 million YouTube views introduces a stereotypical, overzealous HOA board member named Cynthia. Let’s just say Cynthia is not the most patient and understanding person. But is there something we can learn from her?
The commercial opens with new homeowners brimming with pride, noting, “The HOA has been very involved.” That turns out to be quite the understatement. Cynthia, assumably an HOA board member, is then pictured measuring shrubs, checking recycling bins, and cutting hanging plants down from a front porch while repeating, “Violation!” (Even her clipboard-toting assistant can be seen smiling with glee by her side.) The commercial culminates in Cynthia using a chainsaw to cut down a homeowner’s mailbox, because as Cynthia notes, it’s “two inches over regulation.”
Some members of the HOA community have not reacted well to the popular commercial. The Community Associations Institute (CAI), a Washington D.C lobbying group representing volunteer board members across the country, is “deeply disappointed.” In a statement released earlier this summer, the CAI called the ad “disrespectful and insulting to the millions of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of professionals who work tirelessly and proudly to build communities people are proud and privileged to call home.”
The CAI makes a point. The Cynthia ad makes fun of hardworking members of homeowners associations to get a “cheap chuckle.” Managers, employees, board members, and other volunteers spend countless hours working to improve the lives of the people in their community. Aesthetic standards matter, improving the attractiveness and monetary value of the community. Ensuring every member of the community adheres to these rules promotes values of fairness and equality. Plus, it’s not easy being the bad guy. It’s not fun to send out violation notices or speak to community members who are not adhering to binding covenants.
But before we get our feathers in a ruffle, maybe this sarcasm can point out something of use. Cynthia is somewhat of a trope—a commonly used literary character that is used to make a criticism or point out a flaw. She is aggressive, brash, and overscrupulous. So, admittedly, this ad pokes fun at HOA board members. But this ad wouldn’t be so popular if there wasn’t a seed of truth embedded in it.
So what can we learn from Cynthia?
Well, the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” just might be true. Some call the skill of sweetening your communication emotional intelligence. Forbes describes emotional intelligence as “empathy, inclusion and respect – traits that are more important than ever at a time when managers and employees have no idea what challenges their colleagues are facing amid a pandemic and a massive economic contraction.” In the workplace, this skill enables employees and subordinate staff to feel valued and understood. In your HOA, this skill enables you to make homeowners feel the same and be more likely to work with you to achieve your goals.
Improving Emotional Intelligence
Take ten to fifteen minutes. Sit down with a keyboard or pen and paper, and ask yourself these questions to evaluate your emotional intelligence (and see if you can avoid some of Cynthia’s downfalls):
How well do you know yourself?
The first step of the process is acknowledging your values, strengths, and weaknesses.
How well do you adjust to new information?
Cynthia was not very good at managing self-control. How about you? Do you respond immediately without thinking or take time to reflect? Do you allow your feelings to dictate your actions?
What’s your preferred way of managing conflict?
Do you show up at the homeowners property with a hedge clippers and chainsaw? Or do you find ways to communicate effectively and improve the chance the homeowner wants to work with you?
Do you know how empathy feels?
Are you seeing the issue through Cynthia’s eyes or the eyes of the homeowner? Are you enabled by your clipboard-toting assistant? It’s not easy, but knowing how other people feel in a given situation allows you to maximize compliance.
If you’ve heard about emotional intelligence before, have you actually sat down and written down the answers to the above questions? This exercise is not a waste of time. When you see a violation, how do you treat the homeowner? When dues are late, what message does your notice letter convey? Maybe they have been recently laid off due to the pandemic. Maybe they are trying to work from home while schooling their children there too. Perhaps they have even suffered an unexpected death in the family. Increasing emotional intelligence in your communication can not only improve your relationships—it can improve your results.
According to sales and marketing professionals, “When it comes to business, how you communicate is as important as what you are trying to say.” It’s not just about being polite. It’s about having a genuine appreciation of how the homeowner is feeling. If you are looking for more guidance on improving your emotional intelligence, check out these simple exercises.
So the next time Cynthia graces your screen, don’t take it too personally. Allow it to be a gentle reminder that you have the power to control and improve communications with your homeowners.