From the Winter 2022 Issue
What Did You Say?
Effective Communication for Managers
This article will offer strategies to avoid hot water by staying cool and address why soft skills are becoming increasingly crucial in Condoland.
Let’s review a hypothetical customer service scenario. You enter a store to exchange a product. After a difficult search for staff, you find a group of employees chatting casually, and no one acknowledges your presence. You tap one of the people and get a sigh and an eye roll when it is noticed you have a return. The refund is processed, and you are dismissed without question. After this transaction, the person returns to the group chat, satisfied they have done their job.
What Do You Do Next?
- Explain you didn’t want a refund; you needed to make an exchange.
- Take your refund and shop elsewhere.
- Leave quietly and go home to post a terrible review online.
- Forget about it; you recognize that good customer service is a thing of the past, and nobody cares anymore.
Regardless of the outcome, this establishment has lost a customer and possibly hurt its reputation.
Now change the situation to a condominium resident coming to the office to register a concern. They now feel how you felt in the retail situation, but the difference is that they are in their home, not in a retail shop. We are all human and have off days; however, we cannot allow that to impact our interactions with our customers – the owners and residents.
Let’s break down how the interaction could have improved with better ‘ABCD’ options:
A – Acknowledge someone who approaches you. No one wants to feel they are interrupting or being a nuisance. If you are on the phone or otherwise engaged, you can signal to the person that they will have your attention next. If you know, you will be a while with your current engagement, take a pause, get the person’s contact information and let them know you will call them with your full attention after. Answering or sending emails while someone is trying to talk to you will not establish confidence that you want to help them or are even listening.
B – Be respectful. Everyone in a condo is your client, regardless of ownership status. Listening to a concern means giving it your genuine attention without interruption or reaction until the other person finishes speaking.
C – Clarify what the person wants or needs. By asking questions, it shows you are interested in helping them, and any misunderstandings can also be sorted out.
D – Deliver what was agreed upon in a reasonable amount of time. Not everything can be resolved in five minutes; give yourself the required time to devise a solution or provide resources if the matter needs self-resolution by the resident. Setting timelines will help manage expectations and reduce the need for repeated follow-ups by the resident.
Communication skills include both verbal and non-verbal messaging. Even if your tone is calm, what you say can be triggering. As a child, your parents may have ended a heated debate or further discussion with ‘because I said so.’ The condo version is ‘because that’s the rule’ – a sure-fire phrase to escalate instead of diffuse a situation. A helpful tactic would be empathizing with the current feelings and collaborating on solving the problem. Consider that it may be time to rewrite the rules if they are legitimately ineffective or unnecessary.
Negative verbal communication can also be by phone. People can hear your tone and sense when you are not paying attention to what they are saying – think typing sounds in the background or two conversations happening at once. It will reflect in your voice if you smile or think of something pleasant before answering a call. We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak!
Body language or non-verbal communication can also have similar triggering effects. You may cross your arms because it is comfortable, but others perceive it as defensive. Hand positions are also important – hands in your pockets mean you want to leave, and hands under a desk mean you are hiding something. Eye contact is tricky because you need to be engaged; however, in some cultures, too much direct eye contact is deemed aggressive.
What is said versus what is heard or understood is a common miscommunication, especially in email, as you cannot infer tone; except your own, depending on your mood when you read it. Sometimes it’s better to make a call than start a lengthy email chain with increasing frustration. As managers, we are bombarded with emails and tasked with providing quick replies lest we have a complaint filed against us. A short, curt, dismissive response without addressing or solving the issue is equally frustrating from the receiving end.
We are all surrounded by distractions; take a minute to recognize this before responding. People have different reference points, so there is value in taking a few moments to give context and explanation to validate the concern reported in addition to the response provided. A new condo resident is not expected to read and understand the legal jargon in volumes of documents – they just want a welcoming and comfortable home. It is up to us as managers to help show them the way with dignity and respect.
Everyone wins when you remember to be excellent to yourselves and each other!
Tania Haluk, RCM, is the Vice-President of Operations for the Toronto Office of Wilson Blanchard Management Inc. Her decades of condo experience include holding the RCM designation since 1997 and Past-President of CCI-Toronto and Area Chapter.