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The Art of Empathy

January 1, 2009

As each of us prepared for 2009, we did so with some trepidation, knowing that the 2009 housing market would parallel or surpass the 2008 drop in sales and home prices. Many association executives and REALTORS® have never experienced such a -market, and terms like “upside down,” “short sale,” and “mortgage crisis” simply weren’t in our vocabulary. So what advice is there for AEs and their members?

My first suggestion is to develop empathy for our members. We must remember that just six months ago, many of our members were experiencing a phenomenal market; then it all changed. As I listened to Northern Virginia AE Chris Todd’s remarks at the November AEC meeting in Orlando, it drove home the point that sometimes just listening and understanding members’ concerns goes a long way toward bolstering their confidence and reinforcing the value of the association. Additionally, any latitude you have in spreading or deferring payments might just keep a good volunteer available for your board or committee.

Second, if there was ever a time to over-deliver services, it is now. With a vast number of members unfamiliar with the dynamics of working in a downturn, the new programs and services your -association can offer to assist in their planning and budgeting might just be the key to their business survival. In many instances, simply providing an overview of existing programs or services (such as target and niche marketing techniques or green issues) can be extremely helpful to members who might not have recognized their usefulness when the market was hot.

If you are facing the dilemma of cutting services or staff (which drive services), look very hard at using available reserves first. And it goes without saying, but have your board of directors approve any program reduction.

Third, and as tough as the first two thoughts might seem, you must always differentiate your job from that of your members. You do not sell and list real estate. You and your staff must balance em-pathy with professional association management. All too often I’ve seen it: When tough times demand a tough leader, the governing body looks
at eliminating your position and salary as the solution rather than embracing your professional leadership as an essential element to getting through a financial crisis.

As we go through these unique times, I do believe the sequencing is correct: Establish empathy and know each segment of your membership’s plight; provide the highest and most professional service you can to exceed member needs; and all the while clearly establish that although you under-stand the impact of the housing downturn, your professional services will guide the association through these tough times.

Now is a great time for you to call upon the AE staff at NAR to see what information, programs, or presentations can help you.

Best wishes, and stay safe.
— Gary Clayton, rce, cae
2009 AEC Chair
CEO, Illinois Association of Realtors®
217/529-2600
gclayton@iar.org