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Three steps real estate leaders can use to disarm tense situations

Portrait of the ultimate tense situation, photograph by Polina Sergeeva.

Disarming tense situations in business

Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter analyzes three steps leaders use to disarm tense situations, which is critical in the intense practice of real estate. Consumers are upset by difficulties in lending or how long their home is sitting on the market, while team leaders and brokers are shouldering the burden of hearing agents vent frustrations of market conditions limiting their income.

Any industry that is negotiation-centric is tense, but add in an economic collapse on top of that, and real estate professionals and their consumers are experiencing tense situations in nearly every transaction.

Kanter says empathy, support, and invoking higher principles is the answer to disarming tense situations. Leaders, be they brokers, CEOs, or a Realtor leading a transaction, succeed best when equipped to handle tense situations.


Kanter says the first step of disarming a tense situation is to empathize. “This step is a cliché because it’s true, and it works.”

A client calls their Realtor and is angry that they haven’t heard any news in three days and their listing has been on the market for three months. The Realtor has the choice of over-explaining immediately, or being defensive (the most common response) and blaming the market, but there is nothing empathetic about a defensive speech. The Realtor should let the client vent, hear them fully, recap what the client is saying, “I hear your frustration in not hearing from me for a few days and about your home sitting on the market. I assure you, I share in your frustration. Here is what I have been doing to insure a rapid sale to beat the six month average time on market in your subdivision.”

Offer support

Kanter notes that leaders “demonstrate commitment to lending a helping hand if the situation gets worse.”

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A broker is on the phone when a new agent stands in the doorway tapping his foot impatiently. The new agent vents to the broker that they have spent four hours per day making cold calls, three hours social networking online and blogging, two hours trolling the mall and an hour on the [insert famous real estate coach here] system, but to no avail, he still has not had a transaction in his first two weeks.

The broker will know this pain and realize how hard this new agent is hustling and will first empathize (“I remember my first few weeks”) and second lend a helping hand (“my first few months produced nothing, I was misdirecting my energy. Why don’t we do lunch and we can see about refocusing your priorities and see if my experience can give you some shortcuts?”).


The third step toward defusing a tense situation is to invoke higher principles and uplift the other person. “To get perspective, zoom out to remind people of the vision, purpose, and principles that make the frustrations worth enduring. Lifting eyes to the prize can smooth tensions and inspire renewed effort.”

A Realtor has to call a young couple buying their first home and tell them that the house they put in an offer for has sold to a higher offer, and the couple is frustrated because they just got off the phone with the lender who has “misplaced” some of their paperwork and is asking for difficult to locate paperwork again and until they do, they don’t qualify. The couple is frustrated and wants to call the whole thing off. But they live in an apartment an hour away from their offices, they have twins on the way, and their current living situation is not feasible.

The Realtor will listen and empathize, offer help to do the homework for them and find three houses to see over the weekend, meanwhile calling the lender to sort things out, but ultimately, the Realtor will remind the couple of the big picture, and without being cheesy, will note that she knows the couple needs a new home and the drive is tough and the twins need space, so she is going to work overtime to make that happen.

Real estate leadership comes in many forms, and it is traditionally a tense career filled with late nights and compromises. Empathizing, offering help and uplifting are three simple steps to disarming tense situations and helping situations from spinning out of control.

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