Before conceiving Cledor, I earned my customer service stripes in hotel management and ‘white glove’ restaurants in Paris and London.
The customer was king! Nothing was too much trouble and by and large they left the building content and relaxed. Often in the background was organised chaos, but the customer saw none of that. We appeared to be in total control when quite often that simply wasn’t the case!
Having worked with property managers for the last 15 years, I have become to appreciate how stressful it can be and that there are similar challenges when it comes to conflict management.
I’ve worked with some superb property managers but also with some seemingly out of their depth. Almost without exception, those property managers who were able to avoid conflict were (and are) more successful and happier in their role. These property managers realise that being 80, 90 or 100% right is largely irrelevant when dealing with an irate leaseholder!
Ok, so avoiding an escalation and being able to bite one’s tongue doesn’t necessarily come naturally. The following should help to make you aware when a situation is making a turn for the worse and you’re ready to do something (positively) about it.
How many times have you been told (or told others) to stop hiding by email and speak to someone? Property managers struggle with the volume their jobs bring, and many feel like they are chained to their desks doing little more than answering incoming emails.
That environment may be busy, frantic and pressured and may lead to you being snappy and impulsive.
Assume you are able and willing to have a conversation (face to face) with an upset customer. You have chosen this positive action to diffuse a conflict and the chances are your positive intentions will be reciprocated.
It’s an opportunity to use the three basic elements of communication:
1. Words – what is said.
2. Tone – how the words are said.
3. Body – language: how the words are delivered.
Dr Albert Mehrabian’s research in the 1960s concluded that 55% of communication is body language, 38% tone of voice, leaving only 7% importance assigned to the actual words spoken!
The importance of the 55% and 38% combined overwhelms the importance of the words, so unless your tone and body language complement the words you’re using, the words will have limited impact.
And don’t forget to listen, apologise if necessary, speak softly but with confidence, sit upright at a respectable distance and maintain the right level of eye contact. ‘Connecting’ with someone defuses the situation and conflict can easily be avoided. It takes two to conflict. The follow-up is equally important. Do as you’ve promised to do.
Rational v emotional
Neither is good, neither is bad! It’s all about getting the balance right between ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’. Achieving this balance can be severely tested at an RMC AGM where there is frustration and even anger.
Do you match the frustration of the leaseholders and push back?
Do you put your head down in a conciliatory manner and say nothing, hoping the directors will step in?
Are you tempted to tell them all that this is your own time and you’ve already done a day’s work and you don’t deserve this, in an attempt to earn their sympathy?
What you need to recognise in these situations is that we all have the tendency to become irrational and emotional. A balance is needed between rationality and emotion – say 50-50.
If our emotional mindset rises above 50%, our rational mindset decreases by the same amount and our ability to deal with a situation calmly and productively rapidly diminishes.
The shareholders in the room are acting emotionally and you have a role to play to bring them back to 50-50 before they reach 80-20, where the situation may turn nasty.
And the RMC directors are judging you, retaining this management instruction may rely on your ‘performance’ tonight.
Take a deep breath, listen carefully, make eye contact with whoever is talking, nod in agreement and take some notes if you can.
Speak at the right level – clearly so you can be heard at the back of the room. Make it clear you are there to support the board and ultimately all shareholders. You care about doing a good job and you would like to take each point in turn. Your tone and body language are positive. You regain the trust of those in the room.
Those who were pushing 70% emotional and 30% rational are coming back to the balanced position. Conflict averted!
Attitude and behaviour
The best way to explore this is through an example. A leaseholder has joined an RMC board of a block that you manage. He has been on your case constantly – before he joined the board – and your attitude to him is now pretty negative. It’s going to take a lot for your attitude to change. But it is possible to change the way you behave when you need to deal with him. It’s an act, yes, but you can develop the ability to behave in a way that doesn’t reveal your true feelings. And passive aggressiveness is not the answer.
Your negative attitude toward him is likely to lead to negative behaviour, and that in turn affects his attitude toward you (and the situation) which leads to his behaviour getting worse. This will make your attitude to him even more negative than before!
Break the cycle and change your behaviour. The situation may well change for the better as he recognises the efforts you have made.
- Conflicts start somewhere! Be aware of ‘flashpoints’ whether they occur on the phone, over email or in person. Through our conflict management training, we can show you how to diffuse them fast so that the conflict never arises in the first place.
- But when they do arise, there is usually a compromise position to be found. There may be a cost of compromise but better to bear that small cost than to lose a client or risk becoming unhappy in your role.
- Whilst some leaseholders may picture themselves in your shoes and display some empathy for your situation, most will not. Remember that you are providing the service and you should always consider why they feel the way they do and utilise these tips to regain their confidence in you.
- Embrace every difficult interaction with your customers and learn from them. Each incident is unique, but you will quickly see similarities. Share your experiences with colleagues – tell them what worked well and what worked less well. Listen to theirs too.
- The chance of conflict reduces through developing self-awareness. This means understanding your own reactions when you’re stressed, frustrated or angry – and what works to diffuse your own internal conflicts!
- Above all, you have the right to work in a safe environment and if a situation is becoming worrying for you, it’s time to leave. We train a wide range of customer-facing people, many of who suffer awful abuse at the hands of the public. Safety is everything and our techniques apply to property managers as they do with nightclub security personnel.
Nick Regnier is managing director at Cledor