The Effective Planning Commissioner

Dealing With Difficult People Requires Finesse

November 5th, 1992
Article #407

Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.

Planning issues seem to bring out the best and the worst in citizens. It should not be too surprising. The decisions of local planning commissioners and staff affect the everyday lives of many people. They concern the quality of their neighborhoods and their communities or the value of their homes and businesses.

You may not be loved, but you should strive always to be respected.

At times in your career as a planning commissioner you will preside over or participate in a public meeting where people are polarized, opinionated, and possibly rude and abusive. You may have to make tough decisions that may displease a certain faction in your community. You may not be loved, but you should strive always to be respected. People may disagree with what you say or decide, but they should always respect you for having made your decision in an open, straightforward way that considered all sides.

General descriptions of some who may cause difficulties and suggestions about how to deal with them follow.

Accusers. They may jump out of their seats and shout in frustration: "I've been listening to you for twenty minutes now, and it's the same old stuff we always hear. I'll bet not one of you has been down to our neighborhood to see how bad the traffic really is."

The problem with such an accusation is that it may be true. Staff and commissioners may have been talking theoretically about a problem that is very real to the people who live there. If the Accusers are right, invite them to tell their side of the story and listen attentively. Better yet, make a date to go out to their neighborhood. You may learn something.

If they are accusing you unjustly, set them straight, but still give them time to tell their side of the issue. Never rise to the bait with an angry retort. "That's not fair; our staff spent hours in you neighborhood ..." will neither mollify Accusers nor advance the discussion. ...

End of excerpt

... article continues with Elaine Cogan's discussion of: "Attackers," "Gossip-spreaders," "Hair-splitters," "Old-timers," and "Yakkers."

photo of Elaine CoganElaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.

Cogan’s 52-page booklet, Now that You’re on Board: How to Survive … and Thrive … as a Planning Commissioner is available to PlannersWeb members to download at no extra charge (sorry, but it is not currently available in print).

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