You just presented a very low offer and one of the sellers goes ballistic. How do you respond: “Fight, flight or freeze?”

Physiologist Walter Cannon first described the “fight or flight” reaction in 1932. Fight or flight is a complex, instantaneous physiological response to a threatening situation. Although most people today aren’t facing a hungry bear or lion, any type of stress can still trigger this reaction.

When you find yourself in a fight-or-flight situation, your body releases epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine into your blood stream. These stress hormones increase heart rate and blood pressure, as well as causing the pupils to dilate. The veins in your body literally move away from the skin, often producing the “chilling” effect associated with fear while also reducing the potential loss of blood if there is an injury.

What most people don’t discuss is a third reaction called “freeze.” This is sometimes described as “the deer in the headlights.”

The freeze response can take several different forms. A common example among children is that if they hear something at night that scares them they will “freeze” in place in the hope that whatever is scaring them will go away. In adults, the freeze response occurs when they are so overwhelmed by how much they have to do that they end up doing nothing.

The challenge for most agents today is that they are constantly bombarded with fight, flight or freeze situations.

Some examples include being stuck in traffic when already late for an appointment; learning that a real estate transaction is not going to close on time and that your buyers will be out on the street; or receiving an irate call from a seller who found their house was left open after a showing.

Unless you are unusually calm and centered, each of these situations can trigger the cascade of fight, flight or freeze responses in your body.

Stress-related illnesses

Like it or not, real estate can often be a confrontational business. It’s important to limit your exposure to stress. Failure to do so can put you at a greater risk for heart disease, cancer and a host of other stress-related illnesses.

To illustrate how this works, let’s go back to the example of presenting a low offer where the seller goes ballistic. Here’s how the fight, flight or freeze reactions might play out in each of these scenarios:


The fight response can take a number of different forms. For example, you could go head to head with the seller by becoming angry and telling him that his listing is horribly overpriced. The challenge with this approach is that when you become angry, you only escalate the situation. As Dear Abby once said, “The next time you feel like fighting fire with fire, remember that the fire department uses water.”

A better fight approach would be to avoid this situation by anticipating the seller’s fight reaction and taking steps to avert it.

An excellent way to do this is to explain to the seller: “My buyers have elected to write an offer that is substantially under your asking price. About 50 percent of the time these initial low offers turn into a closed transaction. I would like to request that you go through the offer, see what terms are agreeable, and then give me a counteroffer to see if this offer will be one of the 50 percent that will close. Does that work for you?”


If the seller starts screaming, one response is to stand up and leave the room. A more effective approach would be to say: “Mr. Seller, would you please speak softly to me so I can understand what you are saying.”

If the seller continues his rant, repeat your request: “Mr. Seller, would you please speak softly to me so I can understand what you are saying; otherwise, I will have to leave.”

If this doesn’t work, stand up and excuse yourself by saying: “I’m leaving now. Please contact me if you have any interest in pursuing this offer.”


When most agents find themselves in a situation where a seller is screaming at them, they go into freeze mode. The response is so unexpected that they simply sit there and do nothing.

There is no reason that you or any other agent should have to tolerate abusive treatment from a client. While the seller feels great about unloading, you now become the one who is risking a stress-related illness.

If you are unable to avoid a stress-provoking situation, take steps to release your anger when you get home. Some people recommend pounding on a pillow or even throwing plates in a trash can lined with rocks. Exercise is another way to get rid of all that excess adrenaline because movement dissipates the adrenaline.

If you really want to be calm in the storm, let go of attachment about being right. Instead, ask questions and take notes on what is being said. Making sure the other person feels heard is one of the best ways to dissipate the other party’s anger and to minimize the fight, flight or freeze response in yourself.

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success.” Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named “new and notable” by iTunes, at

Show Comments Hide Comments
Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription