Why It Pays to Be Warm and Fuzzy

You'll forever be confronted with people who are grumpy, impatient, or just plain rude. Here are some tips for seeing beyond their prickly facade. Warning: Patience required.

May 1, 2007

The best salespeople have a seemingly natural ability to instantly connect with other people. They meet new clients at the store, at parties, and sometimes just walking down the street. They know how to start building an agent-client relationship from the get-go. Want to know their secret? Acceptance.

These spectacular salespeople understand that all people have a great need to be accepted and appreciated for who they are.

By finding common ground with prospects and understanding each person’s unique needs, you can forge strong relationships that go far beyond a single transaction. The key is to resist temptation to judge prospects or assume you know what they want.

The Dangers of Judging

When you judge people, we place potential clients in a box with a label on it. That box feels restrictive and uncomfortable to the person being judged — counterproductive to making a good connection with someone.

This doesn’t mean that you should exercise discernment as in avoiding someone who looks dangerous — that’s a matter of safety. But it does mean that instead of writing someone off because they have an unpolished appearance or a grumpy mood, you realize the person looks and acts that way for a reason, and is probably a good person (and worthy client) under that outer layer.

As an example, let’s consider some of my favorite people in the world. I call them “porcupine people” because they are hard and prickly on the outside, but soft and squishy on the inside. These people have developed their prickly spines for a variety of reasons, and sometimes they’re not even aware of it. Perhaps you’ve even been a porcupine at some point in your life.

I remember the first time I saw through a porcupine’s facade; it was long before I entered the real estate industry. I was in junior high and the porcupine was my wood shop teacher, who was a bear to everyone in class, including me. One day he bellowed at me in his roughest voice to be more careful with a jigsaw machine.

His communication method was jarring, to say the least. My first reaction was to roll my eyes or make a snide comment under my breath. But then it hit me: He was a person who was trying to keep control of his class in a very dangerous environment. I walked over to him, smiled, and said “thanks for looking out for me.” A smile of appreciation swept across his face. I saw it — the soft and squishy center. I instantly had an ally. Ever since that day, I have known the secret to getting through the prickly quills is to appreciate the soft, approachable person on the inside.

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

The next time you’re confronted with a prospect or colleague who seems disagreeable, use the situation as an experiment. Stop for a moment and force yourself to see beyond the porcupine shell. Tell yourself that the person in front of you is doing the best he or she can under the day’s circumstances, and try to put yourself in that person’s shoes.

When you approach the world in this fashion, people can feel it and they’ll appreciate it — whether it’s a complete stranger at the grocery store, a new acquaintance at an open house, or a co-worker who’s been grating on your nerves. They’ll sense that you’re not judging them and they’ll relax. Once the connection is made, you can begin to get to know that person and a relationship is born.

Sure, it takes some patience to use this strategy consistently. But I assure you, there are business benefits of giving other people the benefit of the doubt.

Dealing With Porcupine Clients

Through the course of your real estate career, you’ll probably find that a lot of the porcupine people you’ll meet are current or prospective clients. Here are some tips for dealing with them in a warm and fuzzy way:

  • Ask open-ended questions and make space for other people to answer as much or as little as they want. Don’t be afraid of silence. When you leave space in the conversation, the other person is likely to fill it, and from those spaces come all sorts of revelations.
  • Did he say something insulting or absurd? Try to imagine a reason why your client chose those words. Step into his shoes. Look at the world from his perspective. Begin to understand that whatever they said or did likely had nothing to do with you — it was about that person and his reaction to the world as he sees it. If you can truly see his perspective, then you are well on your way to staying out of judgment and forging a solution.
  • When things get tense in a conversation with a buyer, seller, or even another agent, seek to understand this person’s perspective. Tell them what you perceive of their position and ask for their feedback to make sure you are on track. Seek to understand and accept the person in front of you. When you take the lead in this, you'll likely find the other person will follow along. Soon you’ll be seeing eye to eye.

If you practice this kind of acceptance long enough, you’ll discover that the relationships in your life will change too. Your friends, family, and coworkers will begin to open up to you. There was a time in my life when I was practicing this very strongly and I found that strangers would walk up to me on the street and tell me their deepest, darkest secrets. It’s amazing how this works. If you practice it consistently, the Law of Acceptance will bring good things to your door every day.

Kelle Sparta is the author ofThe Consultative Real Estate Agent: Building Relationships that Create Loyal Clients, Get More Referrals, and Increase Your Sales(AMACOM, 2005). She is also the founder of Sparta Success Systems , a real estate training company.