Nick Brown: the conflict conundrum

Conflict is an inevitable part of property management, but it doesn't have to define the job. With 26 years of experience in the industry, Nick knows this all too well. From dealing with hot-headed tenants to addressing unreasonable landlords, Nick shares tips on how to navigate conflict and maintain professionalism in the workplace.

After 26 years in the industry, I have no doubt that the unfortunate part of property management is conflict.

Sure, only 20 per cent of the work is conflict-related, but it often makes me think about how to approach the industry and our roles more effectively.

Unfortunately, conflict happens with our clients and internally with team members.

We want to avoid it, but inevitably different personalities mean varying opinions.

It is easier said than done sometimes, but I live by the rule of trying not to take things personally.

When a job is fuelled by conflict, we must be mindful of our approach and response.

Sometimes conflict can be good and help resolve an issue, but ultimately, landlords and tenants contact us when they have a problem for us to deal with.

Working with the tenants

I recently had a hot-headed tenant on the keyboard say, “Nick, you wouldn’t know what it’s like to have a family and the stress involved,” when she was reaching out about some day-to-day maintenance needed at the property.

Now for all intents and purposes, this tenant doesn’t know my situation, doesn’t know that I may be unable to have a family or have lost family.

It was quite a personal comment to make and one I could have been quite upset over and even responded to abruptly. 

Before responding to the email, I took a breath and said, “Don’t take it personally”.

In my response, I addressed her maintenance concerns and closed off the email by, as politely as possible, asking her not to refer to my personal life or that I don’t have a family.

I said my personal circumstances were not a topic for conversation, nor did they impact my role as the real estate agent for the property she rented.

Our relationship was as agent and tenant, so nothing more than that needed to be discussed.

Some may find my approach a bit harsh, but we don’t have to be friends with every person we work with, whether that be clients, customers or team members.

For me, it’s about respect – nothing more and nothing less.

We should always approach any conversation in our lives with respect for the other person.

Even if we know a client or customer is in the wrong (by way of the contractual agreements in place or simply their approach to an issue), it’s up to us to take the high road and remind them that we are merely acting as the real estate agent engaged to look after the property and the landlord-tenant relationship. 

So much unnecessary conflict comes from taking things to heart more than we need to.

It’s not about being cold-hearted; it’s about knowing where to draw the line.

I often joke with my tenants and landlords, but when talking business, I ensure everyone knows what is needed.

The landlord’s side

Another situation I faced recently was a landlord telling me they would reconsider whether they offered their tenants a new lease because they were reporting maintenance (general wear and tear) and were “high maintenance”.

This made my blood boil! 

This tenant pays rent in advance, has the property looking amazing and is one of the most decent and approachable tenants I have come across in my career. 

As the PM and business owner, I reached out to the landlord and explained that while they may feel the maintenance requests are excessive, we would want the same things addressed if we were the tenant. 

It doesn’t matter how much rent is paid; owners have an obligation to maintain their property, irrespective of their personal beliefs.

It appears the owner was having a bit of a bad week and gave it some more thought once I responded to their concerns.

I always look after my clients and work in their best interests, but I am not afraid of (professionally) calling them on their unnecessary comments.

While we work for a property owner, we wouldn’t have them if we didn’t have tenants.

I refuse to be the messenger of bad news to a tenant if the landlord is unreasonable. 

Working in a team

Working in a team isn’t just the people I physically sit alongside – it also includes the trades, contractors and people we engage to work on the properties we manage.

There is always a situation where things don’t go to plan, people don’t see eye-to-eye or just don’t get along.

That’s the best and worst thing about humans – we are all different!

Here are some tips to help avoid and navigate conflict in the workplace.

  • Don’t take it personally – approach everything as a property manager doing your job to negotiate and communicate between a landlord and a tenant.
  • Don’t expect someone to treat you a certain way if you do not give them respect too.
  • Don’t be afraid to have some tough conversations. If you are professional and courteous in your approach, people will see there’s no malice involved.
  • Don’t be afraid to escalate an issue to your team leader or manager if necessary. Sometimes a different voice can diffuse emotion in a situation.
  • Don’t keep clients that don’t respect tenants or you as their agent. Understanding someone’s behaviour is key here. Are they being unreasonable or unfair just because they want to, or is something triggering their responses and behaviour?
  • Don’t be afraid to say you are not ok! The property management world is so chaotic and stressful at the best of times, and even the cleanest of rent rolls has a hectic workload. It is perfectly ok to admit you are not coping. Use the support of the team around you to push through those days you are not feeling ok.
  • Establish your client selection and stick to it! If you take on any management, with any owner’s attitude, you will end up with a messy rent roll and an unhappy team! Be cautious about who you work alongside, and don’t be afraid to tell a property owner they may not be the right fit for you and your team.
  • Teach and work with your team to understand each person’s role within the business is as vital as the person they sit next to. Whether you are front of house, doing routine inspections, arranging maintenance or running the show, every person has a vital role to play. No person should ever think they are better or more needed than a colleague – that creates a very unhealthy culture.

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Nick Brown

With over 20 years’ wide-ranging experience in real estate, Nick Brown is the founder of Edge Property and runs his own Training and Advisory Service to educate agencies and their teams.