EPMEPM: Leadership

Behind Closed Doors

Watching a couple of strangers one morning over breakfast prompts Fiona Blayney to consider the pitfalls of making quick assumptions about the people we deal with on a daily basis.

Sitting here in a café in Melbourne, grabbing a quick breakfast before I head to training for the day, I am surrounded by people doing the same. Same same but different. My lady friend to my left (yes, you’d be right to imagine me being that person who strikes up a conversation with anyone) has been patiently waiting for her partner to arrive for his birthday breakfast.

They’re English and there is a stack of birthday mail sitting neatly at his place setting; she’s super-excited and, as I glean from their conversation over the next 30 minutes, it’s pretty obvious this is their first birthday together. (I’m sure Chris Helder would be pleased to know part of the birthday gift exchange included his latest book!)

To my right, two gentlemen who otherwise would appear like the odd couple enjoy matching breakfasts and discuss everything engineering; I have no doubt they have been thrown together today by their careers. As the conversation ensues, one is visiting from abroad and there is an underlying concern for themselves and their team members as their international workplace goes through massive change.

Two ladies holed up in the nook in the far corner, with the roll of often moist eyes, can be seen to discuss the intricacies of their lives; they’ve already had two pots of tea and look well and truly settled in despite the early hour.

As for everyone else, we are all singletons, equipped with our distractions for the morning: laptops, papers, books, phones, iPads – the necessities the lonely traveller takes everywhere to ‘maximise time’, which is code for ‘I’m on my own and I don’t want to sit here staring into space’.

In my backpacker days, I recall sitting on the steps of a myriad of island locations, playing ‘what’s their story?’ with my fellow traveller, closely followed by ‘how long have they been together?’. A fascinating assumption on the details of a couple’s life from two 22-year-olds who observed for 20 seconds… it provided hours of free entertainment.

These types of observations and assumptions play out minute by minute in all of our lives. Imagine if we consciously stopped to consider their effect on how we interact with each other. I’ve always been intrigued by people, those I know and those I simply pass by. Who are they? What’s happening in their life?

As a coach, I have learnt the hard way, that nothing is as it seems.

Forget Housewives of Sydney; I’d be a billionaire with Real Estate Agents of Australia Uncensored.

Seriously though, as leaders, sales agents, property managers, we all make immediate assumptions, just like I have today in this café. It’s pretty obvious why we do it; in the most part we have an inbuilt radar system dating back to caveman days, fight or flight mode. It tells us to be afraid or be open. It’s primal.

I get that it’s a jungle out there, but the office, a vendor’s home, a tenant’s rental doesn’t exactly require you to swing from a vine. Instead of holding onto the immediate assumptions we create, I wonder how you’d change your interactions with people if you saw past these initial observations.

What would you do differently? Would you listen more attentively, ask better questions? Would you be kinder, more patient? Would you alter your processes? Change the wording of your emails, the tone of your letters, and the speed of your reactions? Would you take the time to care more?

We are in a pretty powerful position, meeting people at times when they are most fragile, at their most vulnerable. After all, we are dealing with them in a transaction revolving around their most basic of human needs: Shelter.

Observations at a café on a cold winter’s morning passes the time, but incorrect assumptions in our line of work have the power to change the course of someone’s life. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.

I really hope the birthday boy enjoys his surprise weekend. She’s been planning it for months!

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Fiona Blayney

Fiona Blayney is the founder and director of Real+, an industry first Property Management learning platform. For more info visit realplusonline.com.au.