When it comes to public speaking, are you a Nervous Nelly or the kind of orator who won’t stop talking until the microphone has been prised from your cold dead hands?
Do you relish the cut and thrust of impassioned public debate or would you shy away from expressing opinions to anyone but your closest besties, and only then via emails.
Or are you just an average Joe or Jo, who would rather avoid conflict and get on with your lives?
I ask because most of us in strata have strong opinions about the way our lives are run. But very few people get up and express them at the one forum where they are allowed to do so – their Annual General Meeting.
Judging by personal experience as well as posts to the Flat Chat Forum, apartment residents would rather sit in silence, worried that they might be publicly humiliated if they expressed an opinion.
I can fully empathise. I’m pretty comfortable speaking to large groups of people, whether it’s two or three hundred at conferences, or on radio or TV.
But standing up in front of 30 or so of my neighbours to express an opinion on a hotly debated, contentious issue, is a little too closely personal for comfort.
I can cope, but when tempers start to fray, how do reluctant speakers handle being shouted at, talked over, misrepresented and bullied by their neighbours?
Should discussion and debate be limited to those who don’t mind being a verbal punchbag, provided they can get a few shots in of their own?
Just flicking through the Flat Chat Forum reveals this is more common than you might guess. What does an average owner do when they have something to say but fear their views will be dismissed contemptuously and aggressively?
And who are they to question the wisdom of their committee and office-bearers? In the country of the blissfully ignorant, the half-right person rules.
For a lot of people in strata, the urge not to rock the boat is overwhelming. People will even vote against things they believe in, just to avoid being singled out from the herd.
And many decide not to be involved at all rather than silently observe, passively endorsing poor behaviour. That alone must contribute to the shockingly low turnouts at most strata schemes’ AGMs.
So what’s the answer? Do we let the bullies rule unchecked, or wait until they have messed up so badly that they merit sacking or a trip to a tribunal?
And how do we stop them anyway? Surely not by being louder, ruder, less honest and more belligerent than them?
Some kind of referee would help. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ask for trained independent observers to be sent to our strata meetings? Like UN Peacekeepers, they would note and report, and only intervene if things started to get out of hand.
If nothing else, their observations would be eye-openers for the bureaucrats who run our lives without having a clue what it’s really like here in Strataland.
Back in the real world, most strata schemes don’t have standing orders, rules that dictate how meetings should be run, so there is no official benchmark for good or bad behaviour.
Our state governments don’t even provide model standing orders that we could adapt and adopt, the same way they do with by-laws.
They should. If too few ordinary residents are prepared to speak up, the loudest voices soon become the only voices.
This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.