Don't Let Fear Derail Your Success

Sleepless nights over the thought of meeting new clients? Fear not. These practical solutions help take some of the anxiety out of the business of selling real estate.

January 1, 2005

For a real estate practitioner gripped by anxiety about meeting a new client or making a sales presentation, fear can sabotage a deal or end a career.

Fear and anxiety affects more than 19 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a part of the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md.

Stress and panic are common triggers, but genetics, body chemistry, and emotional trauma can be a basis for fear, according to Jerilyn Ross, a psychotherapist and president of the Silver Spring, Md.-based Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

No matter what the root cause, for most people, fear is part of everyday life. Recognizing that simple truth, knowing you’re not alone, and talking about your fears in an appropriate setting or with a loved one are healthy ways to address the issue and move on with the business of life, says Ross, author of Triumph Over Fear: A Book of Help and Hope for People with Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Phobias (Bantam Books, 1994), and “Freedom From Anxiety,” a comprehensive self-help program available from her Web site.

Ross and other real estate practitioners offer some practical solutions to common fears that you may be facing in your daily work.

Fear of Talking to Strangers on the Phone

  • Work your target market. Once you’ve established the call does not violate do-not-call rules, reach out to a demographic group that needs your help (absentee owners, expired listing, for-sale-by-owners, and older people in large homes looking to downsize, for instance), says Walter Sanford, a motivational speaker and real estate trainer with Sanford Systems and Strategies in Kankakee, Ill. And make this a time-blocked activity. Once you find a group that needs your help, write out what you want to say, call and listen to their needs, and let them know how you can help them achieve their goals. The moment you know what a person needs, Sanford says, they’re no longer strangers.
  • Get creative. Jane Fairall, CRB, CRS, managing broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Kennesaw, Ga., developed a “Fear Factor” T-shirt. To earn one, Fairall’s sales associates must contact sellers and buyers, not listed on national no-call lists, via the phone and in person. But they don’t have to face their fears alone. Fairall conducts scripted practices twice a week to highlight dialogue and other techniques.

Fear of Meeting New Clients in Person

  • Break the ice. Twenty-three years ago, Lee Carlson’s heart raced with fear at the thought of meeting new clients. Undaunted, Carlson, a broker-associate with Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. in Clearwater, Fla., started asking for a short tour of the home almost immediately after the initial greeting. “That way, I was able to chit-chat while walking and asking questions … and that usually gave us both enough time to truly calm down and talk heart-to-heart,” says Carlson, who still uses the technique.
  • Fake it until you make it. Roger Wever, a salesperson with Century 21 Deming Realty Co. in Deming, N.M., says acting fearless has enabled him to be bold, confident, and successful.

Fear of Failure or Rejection

  • Picture a positive outcome. Rejecting negativity and embracing positive thoughts, words, and actions are vital to overcoming any fear, says Shane Engel, a sales associate with Exit Realty Center in Stoughton, Mass. “One of my practices before a presentation is to visualize the outcome that I desire,” explains Engel, “and create those positive emotions.”
  • Know your worth. No one gets every deal. So don’t dwell on rejection, Sanford says, and don’t take it personally. Try to learn from the experience, and then put it behind you, and move on to the next opportunity.

Fear of Success

  • Make time for fun. Sanford says fear of success is a real issue for many professionals. From worries about making more money than one’s spouse to having less time for family and friends, more success often means longer hours and less time for personal interests. “Some people have been taught that success and wealth are unworthy goals,” he says. “To cure the internal problem with this kind of thinking, focus on the positive aspects of success and how you can use that success to help other people.” To mitigate anxiety over a loved one’s resentment, Sanford says downplay your success. Take some time off. Discuss mutually satisfying goals. Talk about how you can enjoy your success and the financial rewards together. And plan activities that involve family, friends, and fun.

Fear of Asking for the Sale

  • Be prepared. Sanford says knowing what the buyer or seller wants to accomplish is key to service and will provide a solid platform from which you can comfortably ask for the sale. “If you’re trying to give true value, it’s hard to be rejected,” he says. “Asking for the sale is the natural conclusion to a helpful and organized presentation.”
  • To get there, arrange a prescheduled phone interview to ask buyers and sellers a series of questions about their motivations, lifestyles, needs, and concerns. Find solutions. Combine a personalized plan with a professional listing package. And simply ask for the listing. Sanford suggests saying, “Well, now that we have addressed all your needs and shown how they will be satisfied, I would now like the honor of representing your property.”
  • Just do it. Georgiann Melton, a sales associate and loan officer with the Real Estate & Mortgage Consultants LLC in St. Paul, Minn., says people cannot conquer what they won’t confront. “If you want to be successful in this business,” she explains, “you've got to get out of your comfort zone.”

Fear of Public Speaking

  • Practice, practice, practice. Out loud, in front of a mirror, or in the shower, sales professionals say practice your presentation, know your material cold, and confidence will follow. Feeling truly brave? Videotape your presentation and ask a co-worker, friend, or family member for honest feedback.
  • Shift your focus. When armed with a genuine desire to provide positive change in your clients’ and customers’ lives and communicate career-enhancing ideas, public speaking becomes less about internal fear and more about public service. “If you’re up there trying to change lives, you feel a lot better about what you’re doing, and fear is eliminated,” Sanford says.
  • Join a coaching or mentoring program. By practicing prepared speeches, impromptu speaking, evaluations, and leadership skills at the local Toastmasters International club, a worldwide communication and leadership organization, Marjorie Del Negro, a salesperson with Speedway Realty in Deltona, Fla., takes the fear out of solo presentations. “It has helped me be relaxed and precise in my speech with both buyers and sellers,” Del Negro says.
  • Get physical. Ross says exercise or meditation on the morning of a big presentation can relieve tension. Other tips? Write “slow down” on a piece of paper, and leave the paper on the podium. Take a few deep breaths before taking center stage. Smile. It releases hormones that reduce stress. Sweets and mints produce saliva and reduce nerves. And regular eye contact with one or two audience members not only eases nerves but also could elicit positive, self-affirming feedback, such as nodding and smiling, that might be just what you need to keep going.

Fear of Negotiations and Confrontations

  • Get organized. Larry Tamkin, chief executive officer and broker, ABR, with Next Level Realty in Boston, says his fear of running sales meetings produced chaotic results, arguments, and unproductive discussions. “That’s if I was lucky enough to even have more than a few people show up,” he says. Today, Tamkin says, the meetings practically run themselves. Tamkin’s top tips: Develop a clear agenda, prioritize topics, stick with the format, and encourage participation by delegating meeting segments to other sales practitioners.
  • Learn to let go. Some people will do almost anything to avoid confrontation. Still, experts say it’s important to remain calm, control behavior, and resist the urge to make a rash decision to alleviate anxiety. If pressured, take a break to regain composure.
  • Fear of conflict makes some people hang on to difficult clients, but Sanford says in some cases, it’s prudent to let go. “I’ve collected a lot of referral fees by referring cement heads to other salespeople,” he says. “And I always had another lead to work on.”
  • Keep things in perspective. “It helps to remember that this is a career; it isn't life and death,” says Melissa P. Deputy, a sales associate with East Coast-based Prudential New Jersey Properties. “If you make a mistake, you won't be executed. You may lose the opportunity to work with a specific customer, but that’s all.”

Additional Resources

If severe worry or fear lasts more than six months or leads to avoidance of people or situations, experts advise seeking professional help. Check out the following resources to find additional information, support groups, and self-help programs.

National Institute of Mental Health
A part of the National Institutes of Health, the NIMH offers news, information, and free resources related to mental health. Visit Quick Links to learn about anxiety disorders, treatment options, or to locate mental health professionals in your area. Or download “Anxiety Disorders,” a free booklet that outlines symptoms, causes, and treatments of the major anxiety disorders and includes information on getting help and coping.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America
If it involves anxiety and fear, you can find information here in the form of books or frequently asked questions. Self-Help Tools provide access to local support groups, professional resources, and questions to ask your health care provider. Take the free anxiety tests to help establish whether you have symptoms associated with anxiety disorders.

The Ross Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders Inc.
Created by Jerilyn Ross, an active psychotherapist and expert in the field of anxiety disorders, this site offers self-help resources, useful links, and information about signs and symptoms of anxiety and recovery and treatment options such as Freedom From Anxiety, a comprehensive self-help program.

Toastmasters International
This communication and mentoring organization offers handy tips for successful speaking and becoming a better listener; reviews of historic speeches; links to a local club in your area; and membership information.

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