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Let’s All Just Get Along

January 1, 2010

Not getting along with your leadership? Is the pressure of that conflict, paired with diminished membership numbers and related dues income, causing sleepless nights, temper flare-ups, and exhaustion?

You are not alone. Stressful times can exacerbate personality conflicts and increase the likelihood of issues between professional staff and volunteer leaders. Ultimately, all of this strife can disrupt the efficient operation of your REALTOR® organization.

Bad times made worse

In the past year, as economic conditions have worsened, I’ve observed an increase in the number of personality problems leading to conflict at -REALTOR® associations.

Recently, one local association director asked me why his AE had to attend every board meeting. The director felt that the perpetual presence of the AE—with whom he was having a personality conflict—made it difficult to find an opportunity to confidentially discuss the AEs shortcomings and salary. I’m seeing more association leaders—like this director—questioning the value of their AEs.

Often, volunteer leaders are jealous of paid staff—no matter how much or little they make—simply because they receive a steady paycheck. Recently, some boards have even required their AEs
to cut their salaries by high percentages to match the loss of income association members have realized in the real estate world.

How personality conflicts manifest

In general, I find that when AEs have personality conflicts with leadership, actions against them are often taken secretly and abruptly. Frequently, these actions are initiated by the one person with whom the AE is having a conflict, often the association’s president or other leader. Are these actions taken by volunteer leaders reasonable? Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. But in any case, they can create distrust, paranoia, lack of respect, fear, and gossip. And all of those can lead to more conflict, which usually goes unresolved because it pertains to personalities rather than real issues.

7 steps to stop the conflict

How should you, as professional staff, work to avoid or resolve these toxic situations fostered by personality conflicts? With new leaders every year—and their new styles, temperaments, expectations, and behaviors—how can AEs ensure that they maintain a good relationship, no matter who’s in charge? In my experience, the best AEs prevent and resolve conflicts by following these seven rules:

1. Build relationships from the beginning.

Always work to establish good communication and a friendly environment with volunteers from the start, not just after they have risen to a power position. Get to know them personally. One AE I know has scheduled a “part social, part business” meeting with his leadership every week at a local restaurant, which keeps things informal yet businesslike. He has an excellent relationship with his board, in large part due to his extra efforts. Once you’ve built a good relationship, it’s a lot easier to work through problems.

2. Don’t let it eat you alive and don’t put it off.

If you let a personality problem fester without directly dealing with it, or put it off until next year when you have a new president, you’ll lose sleep, snap at your spouse, and possibly even get an ulcer. Not confronting the problem when it’s happening can weigh down the whole board and negatively affect the entire organization. Contact the person with whom you are in conflict directly to set a time to discuss the problem one-on-one. The best AEs
I know are experts at this technique.

3. Stop talking and just listen.

Many AEs are hard-charging, Type-A personalities who have a hard time listening to others because they’re so busy figuring out what to say next. A better approach is to not only listen carefully, but restate or reframe the person’s statement or position to show that you understand. This reflective listening is a common characteristic of good mediators and one that AEs would be smart to cultivate.

4. Use neutral language by not blaming or accusing.

State how you feel about “the problem,” not about what the other person is doing wrong. Always respect your leadership and never be sarcastic, openly critical, or dismissive.

5. Look for the underlying motivation.

Very often what seems like a personality conflict is based on something else entirely. Your leader could be having personal problems, harboring a long-held grudge against the association, experiencing a lack of self-confidence, or any number of things completely unrelated to you. If you are able to discover the motivation behind the conflict, it may be easier to address that problem first.

6. Take responsibility.

As with everything in life, there are two sides to a problem. Look hard at yourself to see what you might be doing to fuel the fire, then stop doing it. I’ve seen AEs take this approach many times with proven success. It can be as simple as treating the other person as you would like to be treated—no matter how hard that can sometimes be.

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

As the chief staff person at your organization, it’s easy to feel responsible for every decision—from the Christmas party entertainment to the e-newsletter design. When faced with a conflict with volunteers, step back and ask yourself, “Will this really matter in a year, a month, or even a day?” Most of the time the answer is no. Often, you can resolve a conflict on your own simply by choosing not to engage in it in the first place.
If you work hard to address the parts of any problem within your control, you’ll sleep better, have healthier relationships, and get better results overall.

Learn from your members
REALTORS® very often must work with clients and customers that are “difficult.” Ask a few of your most successful members for tips on overcoming personality conflicts and building trust. There’s also the NAR Field Guide to Working with Difficult Customers on REALTOR.org filled with tips and links to more resources. Visit http://www.REALTOR.org/library/library/fg320