The Smart Way to Gossip

Real estate professionals are often the first to know what's going on in the community. But you've got to be careful about what news you're spreading and how.

March 1, 2009

Working in the real estate business, we want to be consumers’ go-to person. When people want information about what’s going on in the market, we want them to come to us. Why? Because every time we have an interaction with someone, we have the chance to reinforce our expertise and potentially get a new client. But be warned: There’s a fine line between being known as the community expert and the town gossip.

What Information Are You Sharing?

The difference between information experts and gossips is in their motivation. Gossips love to get the dirt on everyone around them. It gives them a sense of control. On the other hand, information mavens like to collect data to be of service to others—their colleagues and customers. Their goal is not to hold something over someone’s head, to feel superior, or to laugh at people behind their back. Instead, the purpose of the information is to give people special insight into a community or a situation.  

We all know that coworker who’s the center of all the gossip circles. You know who I’m talking about—the one who’s always in the know about this person’s foreclosure or that person’s botched remodeling job. You definitely don’t want to be that person, or share your private (or even semi-private) information with this type of person. You know that whatever you say is destined to be broadcast to the world.

But are there benefits of gossip? Psychologist Sarah Wert of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., says trading information “is not trivial. It carries with it trust and intimacy.” But at the same time, it presents liability and puts you out on a limb, she says. So in a way, gossip creates trust. But only when it’s combined with a pure intent. And that means using discretion about what kind of news you share.

Sharing positive, upbeat, or interesting information could be a way to bond with clients and show off your connections. For example, while touring a new neighborhood with a client you could say: "I heard there are two different coffee shops competing for that corner retail spot. This could turn into a bustling little strip." Or: "I know the developer of that building, and she told me they're using a team of well-known interior designers for the model units."  

But even if you're sharing the fluffiest news, be sure that clients and customers know the reliability of your information. You don't want to be responsible for sharing faulty information that could hurt their decision-making abilities. 

Avoid Being the Bearer of Bad News

While it is always dangerous to share negative information, there are times when it's necessary. If you must share a not-so-flattering tidbit with your client, then don't do it gleefully, even if the news is about one of your rivals. It reflects poorly on you. 

Apologize for saying it but make it clear that you had no choice if you were going to represent them properly. So the wording would go something like this: “I hate to spread gossip, but it’s important for you to know that I’ve heard that this builder has not been very responsible in following through with the requests from new buyers.”

Same Thing Applies on the Web

I once heard a good piece of advice: Don’t write anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want to show up on a billboard along the busiest road in town. The same goes for anything you post to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, your blog, or any other social media outlet is searchable. You can get burned for anything you write, so type carefully. The goal of these groups, after all, is to create a sense of safety and community, not to tarnish your reputation or become a social pariah. 

Ultimately, gossip is social lubricant. We all participate in some way or another whether we’re really conscious of it or not. But it is fraught with pitfalls and dangerous precipices, so we must take care when we are navigating through the conversational jungle. Of course, the safest course of action is to stick with the rule: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” 

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.