As part of Inman’s month-long focus on the New Productivity, we are publishing in-depth Inman Handbooks on the topics that matter most right now. Today: Communicating in our new normal.
One of the things the current pandemic has taught us is the importance of effective communication. As the easy, everyday rhythms of work and collaboration were interrupted, many of us have had to shift to new platforms and new styles of communications — both with clients and colleagues and with our family and friends.
Our communication style is made up of a number of factors, including the style we grew up with, our level of education, the area of the country we’re from and our personality type. Some of us are the strong, silent type, which can come across as both dignified and a little cold. Others are chatty almost to a fault, which can come across as gregarious or vapid.
Consider your own communication style and how it could be improved with this guide to communicating with clients and colleagues, in messaging and on the job, and even the way you talk to yourself. Think about where you struggle, and look for one or two takeaways that can help you improve your own style.
Table of contents
- Communicating with clients
- Communicating with colleagues
- Communication for productivity
- Communication for marketing
- Communication for self-talk
Communication with clients can make or break a deal while truly effective, consistent communication can create lasting relationships. Now more than ever, effective communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence can make or break a deal.
Listen before you speak
When you meet with a client, you might want to sell yourself by talking about your accomplishments and experiences. However, take some time to ask probing questions, and really listen to the answers. This will give you a focus for your pitch and help you offer reassurance, expertise or market insight as needed.
Facilitate rather than advise
Although your experience and knowledge make you a valuable resource for advice, don’t jump in to solve all of your clients’ problems or tell them what to do.
Help them to articulate their questions and concerns and come to their own conclusions. This will help them feel invested in the process and keep them from blaming you if things go wrong.
Ask open-ended questions
Whether you’re getting to know someone, touring a home, or preparing to write the property description, you’ll facilitate communication by asking questions designed to draw out the client’s thoughts and feelings.
One of the most charming qualities in a person is real, genuine interest, and open-ended questions help you show your interest in the client.
Mirror your client’s communication style
Is your client somewhat serious and quiet? You may want to tone down your natural heartiness. Is your client quite serious? You might want to avoid your normal joke-filled presentation.
Does your client prefer to text or email? Stop trying to make him or her sit still for long-winded phone conversations. Take note of your client’s preferred way of communicating, then try to reflect it in your own.
Cultivate emotional intelligence
- Social skills
Building these skills — whether through counseling or the latest self-help book — can help you better understand and communicate with others, simplifying your life and making you more effective.
Keeping a journal, practicing mindfulness meditation, and learning to get into the mindset of another are all effective ways to improve your EQ and make you a more effective communicator.
- 7 ways to raise your emotional intelligence in real estate
- Improving emotional intelligence (EQ)
- How to turn your listing presentation into a listening consultation
- 7 steps to defusing tense arguments with clients
- 6 ways to set buyer and seller expectations for today’s housing realities
- 7 coronavirus-related client concerns and how to respond to them
- How to stop ‘he said, she said’ client disputes
Whether they are fellow agents in your own brokerage or colleagues across the table in a negotiation, improving communication within your professional network can pay dividends every day.
Especially now when normal channels of networking and collaboration have been reduced to Zoom calls and texting, it’s vital to work harder at communicating.
Keep things professional
Although you want to be friendly, be careful of being too casual with colleagues. Telling off-color jokes or stories, using foul language, or otherwise treating others in a way that’s too familiar undermines your professionalism and may put them in an awkward position.
Remember personal details
Cultivate the habit of noting and memorizing personal details so that you can greet your colleagues with a friendly inquiry. Asking about their favorite sports team, their child’s school year or their upcoming family vacation makes colleagues feel important and valued.
Practice constructive criticism
You may need to question a colleague’s decision at some point or correct them. Make sure that you are leading with the positive and practicing constructive criticism rather than demeaning or talking down. Look for ways to educate or provide additional context to make your conversation more meaningful and helpful.
How do you make your criticism more constructive so that it can be heard and applied?
- Speak privately: Criticism delivered in front of others usually brings on an emotional response that drowns out the positive intention.
- Take your time: Criticism delivered in an off-hand, rapid-fire way may be less effective.
- Make it actionable: Remember the “construction” part of constructive criticism. Give your colleague strategies and insights that they can build on.
- Take a tip from your favorite athletes: Make your own self-critique more constructive as well. Be honest about what you can improve to let your colleague know that you’re not pretending to be perfect.
Avoid the tendency to talk down
Similarly, if you have a great deal of experience or specialized insight into a niche, you might find yourself correcting colleagues frequently or adding additional perspective to conversations.
Work on doing this in a way that feels collegial and friendly, rather than adopting the tone of a professor or boss. Make sure you are always coming from a place of mutual respect.
Explain without excuses
If you have made a mistake or stepped on some toes, it is important for you to apologize as appropriate and explain without attempting to pass the buck or place blame. Examining why something happened to prevent it from happening again is constructive. Looking for ways to excuse your own behavior is disingenuous and unprofessional.
According to SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), resolving conflict starts with remaining calm, then using EPR: empathic listening, parroting and rewards.
- Empathic listening means listening without focusing on your own feelings. Take time to enter into your colleagues’ experience instead of defending or denying.
- Parroting means repeating what your colleague has expressed to seek clarification and assure them that they have been heard and understood.
- Rewards do not refer to monetary rewards, but to an acknowledgement of the other point of view — even when you disagree. This opens the door for you to discuss your situation, agree to disagree, or clarify a misunderstanding.
- 5 rules for playing nice with other real estate agents
- How to give (and get) the most valuable listing feedback
- How to resolve conflict in the real world
Great communication can make you more productive and save you time on every project. In an age of work from home and business-as-usual (sometimes conducted in pajama pants), it’s vital to keep your energy high and stay motivated so that you keep your professional life moving forward.
Keep communication organized
We all have that one friend who has 2,354 inbox messages showing on her iPhone. Maybe you are that person. The more you can organize your communication platforms — including your email, CRM and transaction coordination platform — the more easily you will be able to access information and enhance your overall processes.
Streamline communication platforms
If you have a variety of organizational tools and productivity apps all running at the same time, it’s time for you to get it together. Take the time to look for a product that really works for you, and attend a training webinar or two to learn how to optimize your chosen tool’s full capabilities. That way, all of your communication will be in one place, and you won’t be hunting everywhere for that needed piece of information.
Implement the one-touch rule
Many entrepreneurs swear by this one. Handle everything — mail, email, phone messages, texts — only once, then file, archive or delete. Stop going back to the same email five times, thinking about what to say or do. Answer the most immediate part of each communication or question, then allow the recipient to ask for further information as needed.
Put a scheduler in place
Stop playing phone tag when you implement a scheduling platform tied to your calendar. Use time-blocking to identify some times of day when you are generally available for calls, then add those times to your scheduler’s availability.
Have a particularly full day coming up or planning a vacation? Be sure to change your availability sooner rather than later.
Know when to call
We often use email, messaging platforms and text as a way to cut short drawn out phone conversations and increase productivity. However, there are many times when a message just won’t do. Know when a five-minute phone call will save you hours of tedious back-and-forth via email or message or when it will allow you to hash out the details of a problem more quickly.
A phone call can come in especially handy when the information is complex, detailed or emotionally loaded. You might want to call a client during a negotiation rather than trying to get clarity by text. You might want to spend a few minutes on a call to discuss the results of a home inspection, rather than sending a doom-and-gloom email.
In addition to efficiency, a phone call helps you convey emotions and empathy better than written communication. That can be important when keeping a client calm and keeping a deal together.
- How to stay motivated and avoid burnout
- 5 ways to maintain high energy in real estate
- Learn to love your CRM: 11 simple daily tasks to master
- Why time-blocking is the best way to get the job done
- 19 productivity hacks from top agents
Effective communication makes your marketing work and ensures that you are putting out a coherent message to the right audience. This is especially important now, when so many real estate agents have to spend more time marketing via social media and video instead of in-person networking.
Identify your client avatar
You can’t communicate well if you don’t know to whom you’re talking. Hone in on your ideal client — the ones you work well with, whether they’re first-time homebuyers, young families, retiring couples — and gear your marketing’s look and tone toward them. Having that imaginary audience will help make your communication more authentic and effective.
Hone in on your brand identity
If you haven’t already done so, begin to define your brand including logo, headshots, colors and fonts. Begin to ask yourself questions about:
- What your brand stands for
- What you do better than anyone else
- What you know that others don’t know
- What niches you specialize in
- What specialized expertise you have
Allow your brand identity to inform your messaging and content and more effectively communicate with your audience.
Create a communication calendar
If you struggle to keep up with messaging and outreach, set yourself a schedule, and begin to time-block your communication. Spend time each day on emails, develop a schedule for your social media updates, and schedule writing time for your blog. Block out time for phone calls and for updating your CRM, so that you can more effectively automate your communication.
Choose quality over quantity
If there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, choose more meaningful, value-added communication over multiple posts each day. One meaningful blog post properly distributed each week might pay greater dividends in the long run than multiple social media posts that don’t lead to new content. One well-crafted message with a defined call to action is better than several shallow ones.
Know when to seek help
You can find help for branding, copywriting, social media management and administrative tasks online. If you find yourself constantly scrambling to keep up with your communication, it might be time for you to add some freelance help or a well-qualified assistant to your roster.
- The Inman Handbook on how to sell a home without setting foot in it
- 8 steps to separating ideal real estate clients from your worst nightmare
- How to find your niche and market the hell out of it
- Dear Marketing Mastermind: How can I get the most out of my content?
- 5 rules for content creation during coronavirus
- Want to get the most out of your CRM? Do this
- What makes a real estate call to action highly effective?
Everything starts and ends with the relationship we have with ourselves. Take time to examine your own internal monologue and implement strategies to change it as needed. Right now, many of us are struggling with personal, professional and financial fears. It’s important to take care of yourself to serve others.
Find a safe place
It might be in the shower or in the car or while preparing for an open house, but we all need a place where we can speak our thoughts aloud.
Articulate your daily affirmations, quote scripture or pray out loud — your safe place is a space for you to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and to give yourself back your voice.
Similarly, much of the angst and turmoil we feel comes from holding in our roiling emotions and failing to deal with them in constructive ways. Get your feelings out, either by speaking them aloud, keeping a journal or writing a long letter to someone who has upset you (you don’t have to mail it). This type of exteriorization helps you to clear your mind and get a handle on your feelings.
Avoid negative self-talk
Did you have a parent who was overly critical? Do you feel a sense of inferiority? Do you struggle with a great deal of shame or self-blame? Self-criticism is not only destructive in the short term — it creates negative feelings that underlie everything we do, making it difficult to think positively about our potential and our future.
Work on stopping yourself when you recognize a negative thought and replacing it with one that is kinder and gentler.
Avoid the blame game
Who do you blame when things go wrong? A colleague? Your mother? Yourself? Talking to yourself about who’s to blame for your circumstances keeps you in a state of emotional turmoil.
Instead of playing the blame game, let your self-talk be about strategies you can use to move forward successfully and to prevent a recurrence of mistakes or missteps.
Flip the script
If you find yourself focusing on the negative, give yourself a trigger to prompt you to change your thought patterns. A tap on the wrist, an internal sound effect (*ding*), or a change in posture — sitting up a little straighter, for example — can help you interrupt your thought pattern and give you a moment to change course. Replace those negative thoughts with positive and productive ones and chart a new course of action.