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Mean What You Say….

business communications

The lesson develops

In 1987, a movie called TheLast Emperor told the story of Aisin-Gioro “Henry” Pu Yi, who at the age of three was named the Emperor of China, and died as a gardener at the Botanical Gardens of Peking. In one scene, the 15 year old Emperor is being introduced to his tutor, R.J. Johnston (played by Peter O’Toole), who is teaching him how to speak English. The lesson develops in to a conversation about words:

Reginald Fleming ‘R.J.’ Johnston: Words are important.
Pu Yi, at 15: Why are words important?
Reginald Fleming ‘R.J.’ Johnston: If you cannot say what you mean, your majesty, you will never mean what you say and a gentleman should always mean what he says.

Our business is about communication, no matter what the medium, and we can all learn a lesson from good old R.J. (while disavowing his early 1900’s chauvinism). Sometimes we’re not very good at what should be our core skill – communicating clearly. And I mean all of us- brokers, agents, lenders, title insurers, and even consumers (though they are not culpable, since we’re the professionals). Some of it comes from hurrying, some of it from taking the easy way out (being lazy) and some of it comes from bad habits and a lack of conscious thought (or maybe planning). And as a result of all of these things we fail to get the results we want from our communication, or even worse, we end up with unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Some examples

Let me give you some examples so you can perhaps feel my pain –

Agents who say,

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  • “Let me tell you the truth” (Why? Have you been lying to me so far?)
  • You have to extend the listing, I have spent a lot of time trying to get your property sold! (And as the seller I would care about your time because…why?)
  • I’m sorry, the home you’re calling about was sold. (And I’m too lazy to turn this inquiry into an opportunity to sell you another one)
  • Here’s a verbal offer on that property. I didn’t put the offer in writing because I didn’t want to waste your time (So you decided that this phone call was less of a waste of time ?)
  • I know the property is a foreclosure being sold “as is” but will the bank repair…(What part of “as is” are you having trouble understanding?)

I hate Lenders who say,”If you extend the mortgage approval date, I guarantee we’ll have an approval !”(Does that mean that if you don’t get the approval in a timely manner that you’ll write a check in the amount of the required mortgage?)

I hate when people…

I HATE WHEN PEOPLE SEND EMAILS AND DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT USING LOWER CASE LETTERS IS AN OPTION (or are too lazy to take the Caps Lock off). i also hate when people think they are ee cummiings and dont use punctuation or spell chekker and are too lazy to use eether the shift key or anything that isnt a lower cace lettr

I H8 ppl who txt 2 much OMG LOL (I hate people who text too much Oh My God, Laughing out loud) TMOT J00 TXT PLU BCOS J00 WAN2TLK TSNF (Trust Me On This/You / Text /People Like Us /Because /You /Want To Talk/That’s So Not Fair)

My hate is a gray wraith swirling around the ceiling as I lay and watch the sun rise and though I enjoyed Ulysses —- written by James Joyce in a stream of consciousness during a single day in Dublin showing the flavor and taste of that city at that time with a literary arrogance that desired the reader to take the same amount of time to read and understand the thoughts of the author as the author took to write the massive missive, I don’t want to read emails or letters or other poorly parsed communications from anyone who is neither a literary giant nor dead because I’ll want to kill them myself-

How do we do better?

So how do we do a little better? Maybe with some really basic ideas-

When you are making a point to a client or customer, think through how you phrase your questions. Ask open ended questions (ones that cannot be answered with a yes or no) – these encourage the consumer to provide you with more information by clarifying their position.

Remember that you speak with some authority, and you need to be sure to tell people what you know, not what you think. As a salesperson, I was always taught that its OK to say “I don’t know” as long as you followed it up with the words, “but I’ll find out”.

There are lots of great dialogues and scripts available if you need help in framing the types of questions that will help your buyers and sellers clearly define and express their needs (they are not alone in the communication process – they need your help). And before someone objects to the less then personal mature of prepared dialogues, think for a moment about what you do that is successful in your business – Don’t you find that most people have similar issues and concerns that need to be identified at the start of the buying or selling process?

Don’t leave voice-mail messages when you are upset or need to communicate anything more than the most basic information. I actually had two agents almost come to blows a few years ago because they kept having a voice-mail conversation that started with a sarcastic reply and escalated each time there was a new response. Voice-mail is one way communication. It is best used when you leave a message asking the other party to call you back.

When you write someone a business email, think about who you are writing to. Take the time to write it like a letter and you’ll get better results. Taking just a minute or two to frame your thoughts and reread for grammar and spelling (to make sure that you didn’t have a correctly spelled word other then the one you thought you wanted (like “too” for “two”) so that it doesn’t look like you don’t care about what you were writing. And once more, if you are upset or angry, wait a little while before responding. Also remember that in case of an arbitration or litigation, this is a document which may come back to haunt you, so choose your phrases carefully.

The message you intended

Business communication should be thoughtful, appropriately formal, concise, focused, and easy to understand even if you’re not in the real estate business. When you write to another, re-read your work to be sure that the message they receive will be the message you intended to send. I sure hope this one was.

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(photo credit)

Written By

Bill is an unusual blend of Old & New - The CEO Century 21 Advantage Gold (Philadelphia's Largest Century 21 company and BuzzBuilderz (a Social Media Marketing Company), He is a Ninja CEO, blending the Web 1 and 2.0 world together in a fashion that stretches the fabric of the universe. You can follow him on twitter @Billlublin or Facebook or LinkedIn.



  1. Vicki Moore

    April 4, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    So true. Although I do use lol and omg. I want to fit in and they’re the only ones I know 🙂 – I had to look them up on wikipedia though.

  2. John Lauber

    April 4, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Great post, Bill. So true. Why must people leave long diatribes on your voicemail? Can’t you just say “It’s me, X. I’m calling about “Y”. Give me a call back at 1234.” Voicemail is not a discussion, it’s a one way conversation. Please wait for me to call you back and we can discuss the issue.

    Same with email. Get to the point and give a good way to respond.

  3. Larry Yatkowsky

    April 4, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    BOO will do

  4. BawldGuy Talking

    April 4, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Words mean things. Those for whom that concept incites irritation and/or frustration, I have no sympathy. If pros only changed one thing — say what you mean and mean what you say — how much more smoothly would business proceed?

  5. Bill Lublin

    April 4, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    Vicki; I have to confess I used a website with translations too – Is that showing my age? 🙂 Thanks for the comment

  6. Bill Lublin

    April 4, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    John; – I would point out that you are and gentleman and a schiolart as well as perceptive and articulate, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just say thanks for agreeing!

  7. Bill Lublin

    April 4, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Jeff: Reading your comment and knowing that you are a guy that definitely says what he means and means what he says – I can only tell you am honored and pleased that we concur!

  8. Mack in Atlanta

    April 6, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Your points are well taken. Too many times we get caught up speaking real estate instead of having a professional conversation. Do we need to provide a prospective seller with a CMA or would they be more impressed if we discussed an in depth market analysis of the value of their property?

    Thanks for reminding us to be professional.

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