How to set boundaries and manage conflict

No one likes conflict but in a competitive industry such as real estate it’s almost certain to occur. Ahead of his presentation at AREC, Fighting Fair’s Scott Dutton spoke with Kylie Dulhunty about what conflict is, how to approach it and how to turn it into an opportunity in your business.

The competitive nature of the real estate industry automatically puts agents at higher risk of experiencing conflict at work, according to a subject expert.

Known as The Conflict Whisperer, Scott Dutton says industries built on competition could often struggle with negative rivalry and employee battles.

Such disruption could lead to missed listings, and poor sales results if issues aren’t resolved.

Scott, the founder of conflict resolution training consultancy Fighting Fair, is one of a host of keynote speakers who will present at AREC in June.

“I think everybody sees conflict differently,” he says.

“In fact, in some ways, the crux of conflict is different people seeing things differently. Of course, we can have a disagreement, a debate and a rigorous conversation but it’s when one or both parties get upset, frustrated and are reacting internally and struggle to deal with that emotional reaction that we reach conflict.

“A newer way of defining conflict is a separation from connection. There’s a disconnect, and people don’t understand each other’s perspective.

“It’s how we deal with it that becomes the key to whether conflict becomes destructive or not.”

Competition to collaboration 

Scott says in an environment that is often driven by competition, such as real estate, it’s more important than ever to know how to turn difficult conversations into collaboration and understanding.

He says this is essential in-house, between colleagues, and with vendors or buyers who might be selling due to upsetting circumstances such as divorce or a deceased estate.

Fighting Fair’s Scott Dutton will be speaking at AREC 2019 on June 2

“In an environment that is often about competition it is more important to have a clear mindset and model when approaching conflict,” Scott says.

“Where there’s competition there can be conflict and you’re going to get defensiveness and resistance, and to move forward the real estate sector has to be stronger with that. I work with people in the government sector, and there’s not the same level of competition you find in more corporate sectors, including real estate, which is based on winning, competition and being or achieving the best.”

The cost of conflict could include time, resources and, in real estate, how an agent relates to potential clients, vendors and buyers, all of which could impact sales results.

“It’s about being wise and knowing when to use your competitive side and when to be collaborative,” Scott says.

“There are so many benefits to resolving conflict. People get along better, they feel better, they work better with clients and are more productive and creative.”

In an environment that is often about competition it is more important to have a clear mindset and model when approaching conflict.

Set boundaries

Scott says when real estate agents are working in tricky situations that automatically come with the potential for conflict built-in, such as vendors divorcing or siblings selling a deceased estate, it is crucial to set boundaries.

He says it’s vital agents don’t become a mediator and clients needed to understand that too.

“It’s important to know your role, what your job is and what you are not, which is a counsellor,” Scott says.

“Without being rude, you need to put in appropriate limits regarding when and how much you will be involved.

“Find commonalities or a common goal, and it’s most likely going to be ‘we want to achieve the best price for this property’, and then it’s up to the agent to set the boundaries around the consistent method to achieve that goal.

“Bring the significant parties together and talk through things. Put an emphasis on explaining that you can only do your job the best if there is a consensus on how to sell the property and reach that target.”

At AREC, Scott will speak at 11.15am on Day 2 of the conference, covering how to transform difficult discussions into connected conversations.

He says an alternative way to look at conflict is to see it as an opportunity rather than a problem.

“Often people view conflict as something negative, but after 20 years in the field I see it as an opportunity,” Scott says.

“It’s an opportunity for understanding, an opportunity for insight into yourself and the other person, as well as an opportunity for your own growth as a person.

“Holding different perceptions is fine, it only becomes a problem when you get stuck in those positions, and you don’t bring openness or curiosity to the conflict.”

Scott says it is important workplaces, including real estate agencies, create a healthy culture and have a clear attitude towards conflict as well as a plan to tackle it when it arises.

He says the concept of mindfulness is an essential part of conflict resolution and could also prevent conflict from arising.

“It’s about being present and checking in with yourself,” Scott says.

“Ask yourself ‘am I aware of what’s going on for me’ and ‘what is my impact on others’? I see the best teams across Australia and the best teams are those where leaders and staff practice mindfulness, not in terms of going off and meditating but awareness of how they are responding and reacting.

“It’s about taking a proactive approach to conflict and creating a culture where you can have difficult conversations in a constructive, thoughtful and mindful way.”


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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.