Clinton or Trump? Global warming or cooling? Black lives matter or all lives matter? In a time where emotions are running higher than any time in decades, the question is where do you draw your personal boundaries when you are working with clients — do you speak up or shut up?

  • A 'boundary' is the dividing point between behaviors that we are willing to accept from others.
  • Slain by an expectation is when two people have different expectations resulting in disappointment.
  • Standard and boundary differences are the primary sources of conflict in almost every area of our lives.

Clinton or Trump? Global warming or cooling? Black lives matter or all lives matter? In a time where emotions are running higher than any time in decades, the question is: where do you draw your personal boundaries when you are working with clients — do you speak up or shut up?

How strongly do you feel about the upcoming presidential election? Are you willing to fire all of your present and past clients who disagree with you politically?

Are you willing to unfriend anyone in your social network who strongly supports the candidate you oppose? Are your beliefs so strong that you will sacrifice business to avoid working with a client who disagrees with your viewpoint?

Or do you ignore politics completely and focus instead on helping as many people as possible to achieve their dream of homeownership?

Standards and boundaries

These questions require you to identify exactly what your standards are as well as where you draw your personal boundaries. A “standard” is a behavior that we expect of ourselves.

A “boundary” is the dividing point between behaviors that we are willing to accept from others versus behaviors that we refuse to tolerate.

Unspoken expectations, standards and boundaries are one of the biggest sources of struggle and anger both in your business and your personal life. When you make an off-the-cuff remark, and your client goes ballistic, there’s a high probability that you have crossed an unspoken boundary.

I’m right — you’re not

Today the environment has become so polarized that people are unwilling to consider any other opinion but their own. To illustrate how the polarization process works, here’s a video taken at Donald Trump’s speech at the National Association of Home Builders:

Trump supporters will probably agree with his assertion that the decline in homeownership is tied to the difficulty in obtaining loans, the fact that one out of five people in the workforce don’t have jobs and that Dodd-Frank has strangled the market with the increased cost of regulation.

(A good friend in the mortgage business recently told me that her company’s cost of compliance for Dodd-Frank has jumped from $3,400 to $7,900 per loan.) Of course, this is all due to Obama administration’s policies.

On the other hand, if you’re an Obama or Clinton supporter, you might be quick to point out that the real issue is a lack of inventory, that investors have been converting single-family residences into rentals and that builders haven’t been keeping pace with demand.

Moreover, just because the rate of homeownership dropped on Obama’s watch doesn’t mean it was due to his administration and or necessarily due to Dodd-Frank. It’s obviously the fault of the Republican Congress and past Republican administrations.

Each of these viewpoints has merit, yet how many people are willing to hear or even consider that the other side might be right?

Slain by an expectation

Teresa Boardman’s article on white privilege provided a powerful example that illustrates how different people’s standards and boundaries can be.

The reader comments were packed with fiery political pros and cons, but there was a third category — what the readers expected from an Inman article.

Byron Van Arsdale coined the expression, “slain by an expectation,” to reference what happens when two people have very different expectations that result in anger and disappointment. The readers in this third group expected Inman articles to stick to real estate rather than venturing into political commentary. Hence their anger when their expectations were not met.

To illustrate how expectations come into play in your business, suppose that you’re selling a hillside property where there is clear evidence of slippage. Your state requires you to disclose the slippage, even though the seller instructs you not to make the disclosure.

When the sellers fire you because you insisted upon meeting your statutory duty, their anger probably resulted because you failed to meet their expectation that you would do what they asked.

On the other hand, you’re probably angry because they asked you to cross your boundary on how you follow your state’s disclosure laws.

The real reason for virtually all angry, obnoxious behavior

When it comes to real estate, virtually all angry, obnoxious behavior is fear-based; fear that my sale might not close, fear that I will have to pay even more money or fear that my viewpoint will be proven wrong.

In the case above, the sellers were probably afraid about how much they would have to spend to correct the issue or that the slippage could block their sale.

Here’s another classic example that illustrates this point. The sellers believe that their house will sell for $50,000 more than the comparable sales support.

If you tell them that you are the expert (i.e., they’re stupid, and you’re not) and there is no way their home will sell for that much, chances are they will become angry and boot you out the door.

A better approach is to provide the sellers with the comparable sales data, show them how their house compares on a price-per-square-foot basis, and then ask, “Where would you like to position your house in the marketplace?”

If they insist on an unrealistic price, then the question becomes where is your boundary regarding whether you will take an overpriced listing — is it $10,000 too high, $25,000 or more? At what point do you walk away and wish them the best in obtaining the price they want?

The big takeaway regarding politics and real estate

Where you set your standards and boundaries is a choice that only you can make. It’s important to understand, however, that very few people have identical standards or draw boundaries that are identical to yours. These differences are the primary source of conflict in almost every area of our lives.

So the next time that you encounter a vitriolic response or are tempted to join in an online shouting match, keep in mind that underneath the anger is fear. Consequently, when it comes to your real estate business, you might want to follow Dear Abby’s advice.

“The next time that you feel like fighting fire with fire remember that the fire department uses water.” – Dear Abby

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Learn about her training programs at and

Email Bernice Ross.

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