Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Throughout both my real estate career and my prior-to-real-estate life in corporate America, I’ve found there are two small phrases that are at the same time both the most powerful — and the most difficult — words you can say to a client:
“I don’t know” and “No.”
Why are these so difficult?
In real estate, or any service-based business for that matter, we feel like we should be all-knowing. The ultimate source of information. “The Man.” The go-to gal. As such, it isn’t easy to say, “I don’t know.”
After all, aren’t you being paid to know?
Well sure. But let’s face it, no one knows everything. Oh, you might know a lot about real estate (or whatever). You might have incalculable hours of experience in the trenches. You might think you’ve seen everything and can fix anything and know it all.
But you don’t.
Check your ego at the door, and realize that you don’t know everything. You can’t know everything. No one does, and if they claim they do, they’re either lying or so full of themselves no one would want to work with them anyway.
Admitting you don’t know
It is OK to say, “I don’t know.” In fact, it is far better to say that then spew some half-baked answer and either hope it is right or that your client won’t know any better.
Want to lose trust you’ve built with your client in an instant? Answer a question that you don’t really know, and see what happens when they find out you fumbled your way through it.
And find out they will, sooner or later.
Poof! There goes that trust. And there goes that client (and their friends, family and acquaintances, too).
You will be much better served if you are upfront and honest and just say, “I don’t know.”
And follow that up immediately with, “But I’ll find out.”
Those are powerful words: “I’ll find out.”
Remember, they only work if you actually find out. So find out, and follow up.
You’ll find out, 99 percent of the humans out there will respect you for that. As for the 1 percent who don’t, oh well. Part ways. They don’t want you representing them, and you don’t need the headache.
Telling a client “no” isn’t easy either. It is pretty much ingrained in us to be “yes men” (and I use “men” not to be sexist. It’s an all-encompassing term, and being politically correct and saying “yes people” just sounds silly).
Human nature being what it is, we tend to want to be positive in our relationships with clients, and saying no is not generally a very positive thing.
But you need to be telling clients the pure, unadulterated truth. Yes isn’t always the answer. Don’t just tell people what they want to hear, tell them what they need to hear.
Why are they so powerful?
Honesty — it’s everything.
Therein lies the power of admitting you don’t know something and being able to say no.
Although a client might not like being told no or having to wait for an answer, ultimately, they will appreciate your honesty.
Honesty is highly valued in our society. Just take a look at other words and traits typically associated with honesty: truth, ethical, thoughtful, caring, sincere, loyal, integrity.
Those are not bad words and traits to be known for.
Honesty antonyms? How about fraud, lying, cheating, deceit, artificial.
No, I’m not saying that if you never say “no” or “I don’t know” that you are a cheating and deceitful fraud. Similarly, just uttering these two phrases doesn’t ensure you a place next to Mother Teresa in the Honesty Hall of Fame.
In my life experience though (for what that’s worth), I’ve found many people who can not seem to ever say “I don’t know” or tell someone “no” — especially when it comes to a client relationship where those utterances could well mean the loss of that client. They are not easy things to say.
But sometimes they are the right things to say.
And by saying these things, you might just find you cement a positive perception of yourself in your clients’ eyes and wind up actually increasing your business.
“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” – W. Clement Stone, author and businessman
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.