The sharper the skills ax, the more you need to swing it, no matter what.

A question: What is best advice you would give to a new agent coming into real estate today?

In a recent poll with 45 respondents, 34 agents said they would advise: provide great customer service. Others said that following up with a prospective client, or learning to qualify a buyer, is the advice they would offer.

They all basically recommended a skill, which is OK, but in my experience my best advice was not a skill — it was a lesson.

When I entered real estate 35 years ago, I ask this very question of my sales manager, Chet VanScoy, and I expected him to say something like, "Be a good closer," "Learn to overcome objections," and the like.

But that is not what he said. He gave me some great advice that hit me at my point of need, because I am an impatient person.

He looked me straight in the eye, and without hesitation, said, "Learn patience." I was surprised at his answer, and I asked him — rather impatiently, no doubt — what he meant.

He said that if I could not respond properly to broken appointments, cancellations and to losing sales I thought I had, my skills would not matter because I would be out of the real estate business sooner rather than later.

"I can teach you to sell," he said. "But I cannot teach you to respond properly when you don’t sell. You and only you must learn to do that."

He was teaching me a lesson, not a skill. It was a lesson that was hard for me to learn, but I learned it over the years.

"You will meet many along the way who are better salespeople than you are. Don’t worry about them. They are focused on making a sale today. Your sales skills will improve with time if you continue to work on them, but be sensitive to ‘lessons’ that come at unexpected times usually in difficult circumstances," Chet told me.

There are times, he said, when we need to "hasten slowly."

Let me ask this: How long would you wait if your appointment did not show up on time for a listing?

Just five years ago I waited nine hours for a developer to sign four listing agreements.

I wanted to walk away, and was so upset by the time I met with the developer that I could hardly speak, but remembering what Chet had told me so many years ago, I decided to be patient and keep focused on my goal. It was not fun.

At 6:30 p.m. he signed the four agreements for 772 units, which generated more than $60 million in sales over two years. Patience, not impatience, paid off.

I cannot count the times that day I wanted to leave, but I remembered Chet’s advice as I have so many other times. Patience gives you the strength to keep believing and to look for new lessons to learn and apply.

Recently, I sat with a yellow pad and pen to focus on lessons I had learned, who taught them to me, and what the circumstances were. I came up with 14 lessons. It was great exercise and helped me realize that no man can do it alone.

It was a fascinating time, especially when I realized that most of my lessons came from unintentional mentors.

My daughter’s fifth-grade teacher taught me a great lesson that I never forgot when, at a parent-teacher meeting, I mentioned to her that I knew our daughter "could do better."

She looked me in the eye and said, "Mr. Fletcher, we can all do better."

The result: Whether I am discouraged or at the top of the sales chart, it keeps me balanced, because no matter the level of my production, I know I could do better.

As I studied the lessons I learned, some rather late, I realized that skills will get me through my next sale, but my patient response to disappointments of all kinds, and a forgiving spirit, are what got me through.

Looking back, I have come to believe that most of us can develop skills to help us make a sale. It takes practice. But life provides us with lessons that we choose to learn or ignore.

It takes experience and a certain humbling to understand that "lessons" are the reality of life and that they are true, whether we believe them to be or not. For example, I don’t have to believe in gravity, but that doesn’t change its effect if I jump from a rooftop.

There are times in life, however, when the consequences are so important, that we must want to learn the lesson, no matter how hard, or continue to experience the unpleasant consequences that will surely follow and many times become worse.

Here’s an idea: When you get the chance, with pen and paper write down some of the lessons you have learned about selling or life in general, and under what circumstances you learned them. Then apply them and see what happens.

In the meantime, remember that if you are going to sharpen your skills ax, make sure you are willing to help cut the tree down, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Otherwise, the fact that you have the sharpest ax on the team won’t matter.

Skills help make sales today. Lessons help us make sales a career. It’s a lesson worth remembering.

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