Handling difficult people can be tricky. A tenant throws open your office door and starts into a rant complaining about a noisy neighbor–for the fourth time this week, and it’s only Tuesday. Then the phone rings and it’s an angry applicant threatening to sue you personally because you denied their application. It’s easy to handle reasonable tenant requests but interactions when someone is being unrealistic, demanding, or angry takes special skills. Below are helpful tips on how to handle difficult people and conflict resolution in the rental industry. 

Tips to Handle Difficult People

Sometimes we want to put the onus on others to change and act reasonably when in fact we can only control our thoughts and behaviors. Here are tips to help with that process.

Change Perspective

People with problems are coming to you for help; although they may be difficult people, they are not the problem. Changing our attitudes about the people we serve can be a powerful tool to handle difficult people. 

Be an advocate, not an adversary.

Let your residents and owners know that you are on their side and are willing to do what it takes to help them. Of course, this is within reason but lead with the can-do attitude when at all possible. 

Listen Like a Friend.

It’s easy to tune out chronic complainers or someone who is venting when you distance yourself from the person. Try seeing people as a dear friend, family member, or special guest and use active listening techniques to seek to understand. Sometimes people just want to vent and be heard, without a solution, so understanding that and employing empathy in the workplace is paramount.

Change Priorities

Putting people first to walk alongside them in support may require you to change your actions. 

Let them know they are important with action.

Body language sets the tone of your intentions before you even start to speak. For example: 

  • Pick up your paperwork and/or cell phone and placing it at the far corner of your desk upside down to convey that you have prioritized them over your current project. 
  • Stand up and shake hands when you greet anyone that comes into the office. Better yet, come around the desk to greet them. 
  • You could also try sitting next to rather than across from someone upset as this might help defuse the situation. 
  • Find opportunities to show an open, upturned hand(s) and avoid crossing your arms. 

Let them know they are important with words.

Be direct and don’t be afraid to tell someone, “you are important” and “I appreciate you” in some sincere manner. Because you are listening like a friend, use words to convey that you’ve heard them completely. 

Remember the importance of tone of voice.

You might say all the right words but control your tone and volume. Speak a little slower and quieter than you normally would when trying to get along with difficult people.

Change Patterns

Doing things the same way will end with the same results. If you want others to change their behavior, make the first change.

Take their words seriously, but not personally.

If you are in the habit of matching the intensity of others, letting them know how you feel, and defending yourself try letting go of how you feel and step into their shoes for a new perspective. It may feel as though you are in a personal attack but keep in mind that this is about them and their concerns.

Avoid being judgemental.

We tend to get to know our tenants and owners very well and may come to the table with a predetermined attitude. Try seeing each encounter and situation as new. This change in thought pattern will help with active listening and setting aside personal feelings. Remember it’s not about handling difficult people as much as it is handling people with difficulties.  

Under commit and over-deliver.

Be sure never to offer anything, whether that is your time, updates, follow-through unless you are one hundred percent committed to delivering on your word. Otherwise, you’ll be adding fuel to the fire and chance the situation become even more escalated.  

Take ownership of your relationships.

Property management is only half the job, the other half is relationship management. Although it may be tempting to direct your tenants and property owners to call the property management software company for portal or payment help, outsourcing their concerns to a non-involved third-party can cause more frustration. Make sure you are being the lead point of contact with your tenants to build that relationship and report.

Change Process and Plans

Evaluate and make changes as necessary to the policies and procedures to maximize and leverage good relations with your residents and owners.

Make time in your schedule to address concerns.

Instead of saying or conveying that you are too busy for concerns, convey that you will or are rearranging the time. If you normally would rush someone out of the office or off the phone, change your tactic and give people that extra moment of your time.

Making concessions can build trust.

You can’t go against your company policies or State/local laws, but try to focus on what you do have control over. Sometimes we are just quick to say, “no” because it’s easy when there might be some creative ideas that might make a difference. For instance, if a resident or owner isn’t tech-savvy, you might offer to email them invoices or reports instead of insisting they use an online portal.

Taking their concerns to heart when planning for the future.

Complaints about pets might inspire an outdoor pet-friendly area. People angry about utility costs might help you decide on energy-efficient appliance upgrades. Hearing about noise pollution or messy neighbors may be the catalyst for a change in or addendum to your rental lease agreement.

Conflict Resolution Before it Begins

Even with planning and civility, using all the suggestions above to handle difficult people, you may still face situations that have escalated further and faster than you anticipated. Here are some suggestions to get you through those tough interactions. 

Deliver difficult news with kindness and professionalism.

How you deliver news can set the tone for their response; especially if they have a short fuse. How we approach difficult topics may help prevent someone from acting unbecomingly.

Set and maintain expectations.

With a tenant move-in, you want to not only give them a copy of the rules and regulations, but you may also want to review verbally and have them initial each paragraph in front of you before giving keys. Explain all the processes and procedures of your office and be prepared to send reminders and updates often. 

Be consistent.

Treat everyone with the same respect. Not only is this important for good relations but it also protects you from discrimination liabilities. 

Document interactions.

Not only is it important to keep notes on each interaction for potential legal issues, but it is recommended that you send your tenant or owner a recap of the discussion in writing to demonstrate you have heard their concerns. Being acknowledged and heard is one of the top ways to diffuse a situation before it escalates. 

Give the opportunity to preserve one’s honor.

There are times when we all have said or done things we wish we could take back. People feel worse after they complain or vent than before so it’s important to offer some grace at the moment. It doesn’t mean we allow them to trample us, but rather be understanding that they may be feeling exposed or vulnerable after their poor behavior. 

From unhappy vendors and homeowners to scathing online reviews; handling these interactions with grace and professionalism is key. Evaluate yourself and your habits of complaining and model the behavior you wish from those around you. Respect typically produces respect.