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00:00 Introduction by Sarah Bell
In our first session which I want to call ‘unpacking conflict’. The first thing I want to talk about is our attitudes and our beliefs about conflict because they greatly impact our behaviour and not just our behaviour as property managers, but the behaviour of our landlords and our tenants when we’re dealing with conflict.
Conflict is a little bit heavier than a disagreement, and I’ll show you why. Do you like my suit that I’m wearing today? I don’t, not so much. I’m not sold on it. I’m not confident with my outfit choice today, so we’re in disagreement about my suit. Are we going to have a conflict about it? No. No, we’re not. So conflict’s not quite as simple as a disagreement, right? Conflict involves something a bit heavier than that.
What’s conflict? When two countries go to war, what are they doing? Fighting. I think that’s our baseline understanding of what conflict is about. Yeah, it’s combative. It’s adversarial. It’s not me just having a contrary perspective. That would be a great world to live in, but it’s usually, “I’m right, you’re wrong. I win, you lose.” That’s the first thing that’s underlying conflict in our context, in our cultural understanding.
When we look at our context around conflict, we start off in a pretty awful position culturally, do you agree? It starts off as a fight, and there’s got to be a winner and a loser. Then when you look at the connotations that we have about winning and losing, suddenly winning is about pride and honour and goodness and righteousness, and losing or conceding is about ‘bad’ and about the shame and there’s dishonour about it.
Our conflict resolution skills and I guess the professional obligation that we have to roll our sleeves up and deal with a mess, that’s a huge part of our value moving forward. Tech’s not going to disrupt that. Because I think as more and more people, you know, people don’t want to deal with the mess in our culture, and they don’t want to engage in that conflict because it’s stressful and it’s awkward. Professionally, one of the key value propositions that we have as property managers is to be really good at sorting out conflict.
What I’ve got up there is a model for understanding conflict. This isn’t a model for conflict resolution. This is how conflict happens. I think it’s really important to understand this. It’s not just conflict in property management. We want to actually to take it out of property manager so that we understand how conflict behaves. Then we can apply it to our worlds.
Rather than academically go through each step, I’m going to tell a story about one of the most famous global conflicts of the past century and we can see how it goes through and learn a bit of history as well because history’s cool. The first step is discomfort. I want to take everybody back to the middle of the twentieth century doing the Cold War. Half of the planet was undergoing a communist revolution. That can be you guys. The other half of the planet was the western civilisation. There was a discomfort between these two camps in the world because communism is about the state owning the wealth and distributing it equitably. The western world, we’re all about being able to pursue private wealth freely, so there was a discomfort between these different ideologies. That’s where we started.
In 1961, the Central Intelligence Agency from America launched or sponsored an invasion of Cuba who had had its communist revolution right on America’s doorstep. That was an incident that provoked a lot of tension between these two countries, American and Cuba, but also between this bigger context of the world that had been split in half. America lost as it did a lot during the Cold War and retreated. What it did was it moved a bunch of missiles to Florida and pointed them straight at Cuba.
America to this day suggests that they did that defensively and that they were scared of retaliation from Cuba, so we have a misunderstanding here because America said they were defensive missiles. Cuba having just suffered an incident of invasion, expected that they were actually assault missiles. They got on the phone to the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union brought around the same missiles and parked them outside Cuba, and they were parked straight at the United States, which is our next step, tension.
For thirteen days, the whole world watched while there were tense negotiations between Cuba and America with these ballistic missiles aimed at each other. In each country, Kennedy and the President of Cuba, they both had hands seriously hovering over the button ready to destroy the world. Both countries had the technology to see when the other one had launched, so there was enough time to launch one of your own. That was the crisis, right? No one could move forward because as soon as they pushed the button, they knew they were going to be destroyed as well. How do you back down when you get to that tense level? How do you back down? That’s the last step. That’s the crisis. That’s what we call the Cuban Missile Crisis.
That’s how conflict works on a global level. That’s how it behaves if it’s not contained, if it’s not controlled. Eventually, that was resolved. Kennedy made a declaration that they wouldn’t invade Cuba unless they were provoked and the Soviet Union took its missiles home. We’re still on the brink of absolute destruction based on discomfort and this misunderstanding as tension built.
In a property management context, we can see how conflict might escalate for that as well. I think with discomfort, tenants can feel a certain amount of discomfort knowing that you work for the owner. When there’s a situation and incident: say, someone stops paying rent. We don’t need a big incident. We don’t need an invasion, right? It can just be someone stops paying rent and we’ve got an incident. Now if we don’t take any steps to understand that incident and we just do our robotic process and you send them the notice to leave. What if they stop paying rent because they were a domestic violence victim and they’re waiting for some crisis assistance to help them through that period?
“No, I’m sorry the procedure says we have to do you a notice to leave.” Then we’ve got an incredible tension, and you’re putting the tenant in a crisis situation where they can’t pay by the exit date. They can’t go backwards. Help’s coming. It’s on its way, but we haven’t had any understanding. Tension’s built, and then we’re going to be in a crisis. The tenant can’t get out of there so they abandon the property, we’ve got to deal with that, we’ve got to go to tribunal, we’ve got to find compensation. She doesn’t have any money. She’s moved interstate. We could have blocked this, couldn’t we? At incident, with a phone call. “Let’s work out some solution. I’m still going to give you the notice, darling, but let’s work with you and try and get some consensus.” You can see how things, they escalate into crisis where they don’t necessarily need to if they’re controlled and managed.
Understanding people and their behaviour. I thought it was really cool that you guys did the performance management profiles with Agent Dynamics. I’ve done similar things and they’re very insightful. Unfortunately when we deal with people, we don’t always get the opportunity to sit down and do a personality profile with them to work out the best way to approach that situation. People in conflict can behave really differently. It’s important to realise you’re either a party to a conflict or you’re the platform for the conflict.
Financial strain, emotional exhaustion, the fact that you’ve got these homes. I think a lot of people think that landlords are these fat-cat investors from overseas and all the rest of it, but a lot of them are really struggling mums and dads with mortgages. The stretch that they’ve made to buy the rental property, it represents sacrifice. It represents soccer games they couldn’t go to because they had to work, family holidays they couldn’t take.
We’ve got a model now for how conflict works. It’s a pretty straightforward model, isn’t it? We saw how that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. We saw how that led to property abandonment. It’s a good model because it works for everything and all those ingredients are present. But understanding people and how they behave in conflict is a really, really important skill. It’s not that difficult to learn when you can unlock it.
We’ve got this grid. When you’re dealing with people in conflict, it’s really important to understand the best and quickest way to communicate with them to get them involved in cooperating the process. Someone that’s really direct, they’re not going to want to talk to you. They’re not going to want to listen to you talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. They just want an answer. That’s 86% of people, right? There’s four main types of people in the world.
The first ones (I’m going to wreck this) they watch ABC News. They would have loved Robert’s email because it was direct and to the point. I’m a bit like this when I’m a consumer. We’re buying a minivan at the moment, me and my billion children. Feels like thousands of them sometimes. I don’t want, no, a lot of stuff. I just want it to be black and easy to clean with cup-holders. I don’t care how big the wheelbase is. I don’t even care about fuel economy because I don’t drive that much. Just cup-holders. Once they’ve got that covered, I’m done. Nice and direct, and price. That’s direct guy. He watches ABC News.
Over here, we’ve got this guy. They watch The Voice. You think The Voice is a singing show, but it’s got nothing to do with singing. It’s about how well you can sing if your dog’s got cancer, isn’t it? It’s the back-story. They want to know the narrative and all the hard luck stuff. That’s important. These people like meaning and they like emotion. They like narrative.
Down here, we’ve got people who like Disney movies. They like Disney movies because everything’s really predictable. Expect for Frozen, right? The guy gets the girl and everything works out okay. The witch perishes, the monster is defeated, all the rest of it. They want everything to go to plan. This is an anxious type of client.
Then over here, this is my husband. Air Crash Investigations. He watches marathons of this before we fly anywhere. I don’t want to know. I’ve got no control over the plane if it’s crashing, I’ve surrendered. They want to go through everything, right? They want you to account for your bill, they want to see every little thing that you’ve done. “Send me all the emails.”
How do each of these people behave in conflict in the property management context? These guys. You ring a landlord who’s direct and you want to tell them the tenant’s got an issue with their kid at school and the dog’s late for the pet psychology appointment this week and stuff like that, the landlord’s not listening. They just want to know that you’re competent and that everything’s under control.
They want a story. They want to understand. They want to make meaning from the situation. These guys are very nervous about what could happen. We want to be focusing on the process all the time and what they can expect. We know what happens. If someone stops paying the rent, we know what happens. It’s a pretty predictable trajectory right up to vacate. These guys are panicking about that at every single step because that’s the unknown. It’s a bit scary. We want to keep them really involved.
Then Air Crash Investigations, they’re sceptical, not to a psycho extent, but we want to keep them really involved. These guys, give them details of the process. Give these guys details of every action that you’re taking. Keep them inside. Help them dissect and analyse things as they go along.
Can you guys recognise your landlords that might fall into particular categories? I know that I’m over here for how I consume most of the time, but when I’m working, who I am is irrelevant. When I’m working, I’ve got to work with what I’ve got. To my girls in my team, I always say, “Your job is to be vanilla. You’re beige in this process. You get to facilitate and carry other flavours and make them feel better, but no one doesn’t like vanilla.” You know what I mean? No one dislikes the colour beige. It’s your job to adapt and understand that people don’t want to be treated how you want to be treated necessarily. People want to be treated how they want to be treated.
In conflict, it really helps us because we need to understand where our landlords and tenants are at with what they want from us so far as communication and that’s just a really quick way to understand how people want to work with us. The aim of the game here is it’s not our conflict, is it? It’s either a tenant’s problem or a landlord’s problem. If we haven’t done the right thing and missed our procedures and stuff like that then we’ve got a problem with our principles. With our clients we might lose the business, but it is always a tenant or a landlord problem and we’re just here to help guide them to make better decisions for themselves.
So much misunderstanding can be removed with better information. This, I guess, is about understanding how people are going to best receive that information. So that’s most people, but it’s not our most difficult people. A really great website for resources in conflict resolution is highconflictinstitute.com. They deal with those 14% I told you about.
You look at our model for conflict, things really go wrong at misunderstanding, right? We can’t control when people lose their jobs. We can’t control when tenants’ or owners’ marriages break up. We can’t control the rental market. We can’t control the cash rate. A lot of that is out of our control. We’ve got to control the response and what happens after that. Misunderstanding is where things go wrong, and words and how we communicate are really, really important at that point in time to make sure these things don’t escalate.
Practice your words. Read your words. Understand which words, go through your little Rolodex. Is this word going to inflame the situation? Words are our means to meaning is the really key takeaway from this. Communication techniques. Whether it’s a normal conflict that’s arising or whether we’re dealing with someone that’s really high-conflict, there’s an acronym in conflict resolution called EAR. The first letter of that, E, is for empathy. What we want to do is we’re not going to agree or validate what that particular party is saying, but what we want to do is put ourselves in their shoes so that we can understand their perspective. Words are a means to meaning. The word ‘misunderstanding’, the cure for a misunderstanding is an understanding. Conflict is about having two sides, this fight, so let’s get the perspectives from both sides. The way that we do that is empathise. We’re going to listen to them.
We’re going to give that person our attention. Attention is A. People just want to be heard. If they’re upset, if they’re under financial strain or emotional strain, giving someone air time just to talk and get it off their chest can be half the battle. If they feel like they’re being obstructed or blocked or they haven’t got access to the right information, again it just fuels that misunderstanding and moves it up to tension, and conflict soon becomes a crisis because people are just blocked. They can’t go forward and they can’t go backwards.
The last one is respect. This win or loss, right or wrong, all the rest of it, we’re all just people. We want to be heard. We want to be listened to. We want to be treated like normal human beings. We were chatting outside this morning about how tribunals are set up so that everyone can win. The legal rights in our lease contracts don’t exist at tribunals. Who’s been to a tribunal and walked away and gone, “I should just tear up the lease. I didn’t win. Should have won, didn’t win. That was unfair.” Yeah. Everyone nodding? Yeah. It’s because it’s not a tribunal’s position to enforce legal rights. Their law they enact at these tribunals gives them the power to make any reasonable decision and provide any reasonable remedy that it deems reasonable, taking into account all of the circumstances.
If we’re leaving it up to tribunals to give us righteousness and justice and help us win the fight, we’re going to have a hard time because that’s just not what they’re designed to do. Some education to owners about what relief can be expected from tribunals is really, really important.
Continue to Part 2 of Sarah’s Coaching Session by clicking here.