Rupert Everett thinks I need new shoes.
This is not just something I made up to justify a shopping spree to my husband; it’s a quote from a profile of him in the New York Times magazine. Actually the quote is, "I think a Realtor should have good shoes, especially in this climate," and it comes sandwiched in between an inappropriate joke about chemotherapy (not that I can think of an appropriate one) and a remark that an apartment is a bit "family-ish."
Everett’s search for a rental property and his acerbic interactions with real estate professionals are in the context of a larger article that talks about how Everett’s acting career (he was in "My Best Friend’s Wedding," remember?) has suffered because he’s gay and has been a victim of prejudice.
Now trying to get past the obvious questions like, "Wow, if Rupert Everett won’t choose his words carefully, doesn’t he a least have a publicist who can at least make sure he doesn’t sound bratty and recession-insensitive in the pages of a national magazine?" (because I think we know the answer to that one) it is an interesting window into how others see us. We know from anecdote that "real estate agents" as a group are vilified; we even know it statistically, because the Gallup poll of Honesty and Ethics in Professions tells us that one-quarter of the respondents think our honesty is "low" or "very low," which puts us ahead of, say, congressmen and lawyers, but behind "funeral directors" and "high school teachers."
But I don’t think we realize (or I didn’t anyway) the extent to which what’s projected goes beyond general suspicion. Everett reacts to decor and to color almost morbidly (his broker finally ends up showing him a hotel room, which is at least depersonalized) — and I feel like I’ve had customers like that. You just want to shake them and say, "Hey, it’s not my apartment."
Beyond that, though, it’s worth bringing your thickest skin to work. Customers may have to move but be unhappy about the dislocation; they may be suffering through the economic downturn yet still are not thrilled with their purchasing power; or they may just be tired from long grueling days of shopping. The fallout from these mood irritants may well land on you, but remember that it doesn’t come from you. More importantly, it’s essential to your job performance that you be able to shrug it off.
In a paper titled "Applying Learned Optimism to Increase Sales Productivity," researcher Peter Schulman argues that in some ways, the optimism or pessimism of salespeople is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are pessimistic and think you can’t sell, you won’t develop the skills and work habits that lead to successful selling. This dovetails with much of the training we have as Realtors to be upbeat, positive, and energetic — we’re told that simply by projecting warmth and energy we can lead the customer.
What Schulman does, further, though, is to break optimism down into three scales, one of which is internal/external. To take an example, if something bad happens, he notes that your explanation of it can be internal ("It’s my fault") or external ("I’m not to blame").
To apply this scale to our jobs, remember that Everett-like customers may react to some things you could change (for example, you might want to advise your seller to paint that avocado wall white). However, it’s worth remembering that their extreme sensitivity — even any apparent spitefulness — is ultimately external. So shake it off!
Not only will you have a better day, Schulman argues that the optimism, even if it’s somewhat forced, will make you a better salesperson. His 1995 study found that optimists in various professions, including real estate, outsold pessimists by 20-40 percent.
Keep in mind that we are talking about optimism and not hallucinations. The latest existing-home-sales data came out on Wednesday, and it is bad, with seasonally adjusted home sales down more than 8 percent from a year ago. The point is not to completely ignore that environment (if you do, the customer will think you’re crazy) but rather to react to it in a positive way. Try to say to yourself things like, "Wow, what a challenging environment. If I can get through this, imagine what a good year I’ll have when the market turns up."
Some of you may try to use tokens and totems to keep up your spirits; I find that salespeople generally are among the most superstitious creatures you’ll meet, using lucky pennies, rabbit’s feet, and that special shirt to put themselves in the position to make the sale.
To that end, I’ll stick with my old black shoes. I sold a downtown loft in these, and landed a listing pitch when I thought I didn’t have a chance. With the history of success that I’ve had in them, I feel pretty optimistic.
Though I will go and get them shined, just in case Rupert Everett turns up.
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."
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