Property Managers Give Their Best Advice for Dealing with Difficult People

By Anthony Ing
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This past summer, we reached out to property managers through our email newsletter, seeking their advice on a constant challenge in the industry: dealing with difficult people. So we thought we’d tap into the collective wisdom of approximately 1,000 property managers who receive our monthly email newsletter.

We posed this simple question: "What is your best tip or advice for Property Managers on how to deal with difficult owners/residents?"

The response was nothing short of overwhelming, with scores of managers from 12 different property management firms generously sharing their experiences and insights.

As we sifted through the responses, common themes emerged, pointing to strategies that many managers find effective at dealing with difficult people. In this blog, we aim to distill and share these helpful tips!

First step: Pause (and observe yourself)

It's important to remain composed when responding to an emotionally charged person. This is especially crucial in today's volatile environment in the aftermath of Covid. You don't want to do or say something that will make things worse or reflect badly on your board or company. Take some slow, deep breaths if needed before responding to a difficult person.

Humaira Bangash, Property Manager at DEL Property Management

Engaging in conflicts with difficult people can quickly escalate if we react impulsively to the situation. Sometimes difficult people like to draw us into more heated situations.

One of the most effective methods to ensure we don't escalate the conflict is to develop the skill of pausing and carefully observing our own emotional and physical responses.

Before responding to a difficult individual, take a moment for self-reflection: What physical sensations am I experiencing in my body? Are my thoughts racing? Am I at risk of falling into a trap and saying something I'll regret later?

Doing a 5-second pause before responding during a heated conversation can help you maintain composure and prevent further escalation of the situation.

Know the desired outcome you want

If you have a planned meeting with a difficult person, be clear in your head about what outcome you’d like to achieve. Having a goal creates focus and provides clarity on what direction you need to take.

Alon Meyer, Property Manager at Performance Property Management

Staying focused on our objectives can prove challenging in encounters with difficult individuals. Difficult individuals have a knack for pulling you off track, leaving us at the end of an interaction no closer to our intended goals than when we began.

Hence, it's vital to keep in mind your goal during an interaction — whether it's resolving a particular issue, communicating rules and by-laws, presenting various options, or gaining clarity on perplexing matters. By staying focused on your desired outcome, you increase the likelihood of staying on course and achieving that desired outcome.

When possible, rehearse beforehand

Writing down what you plan to say before meeting a difficult owner can help to create space between your own emotions and the situation.

Dorian Germenji, Senior Property Manager at ICON Property Management

Difficult people can hurl all sorts of issues our way and may be keen to get an emotional rise out of us. However, just like an athlete is more likely to nail a difficult performance if they have practiced, so too can we master our most stressful interpersonal conflicts with rehearsal.

Play through different scenarios in your head, and don't be afraid to draft a script for your upcoming difficult conversation, with the understanding that it may need to be adapted in real-time. Moreover, through rehearsal, you can craft wording that minimizes the likelihood of escalating the situation, hopefully paving the way for a smoother interaction.

Be a power listener

First and foremost, you need to hear them out and allow them to vent their concerns. You don't need a solution to every one of their problems but do present them with your next immediate steps. Always be 100% transparent and never lie. There are things we can do and others we can't due to factors beyond our control.

Yawar Khan, COO at Capital Integral Property Management

Listen before interrupting, often times people want to be heard. Over communicate on contentious issues that you know may upset these types of owners or all owners - you don't want to make a good owner a difficult owner.

Michelle Joy, Executive Director of Condominium Management at Wilson, Blanchard Management Inc.

Be a good listener. Take the time to hear what the person is saying and help them if you can. If you can’t, give them what they want, tell them why you cant.

Mark Daye, Regional Manager at ICC Property Management

Meet in person! Take a minute, ask the resident to sit down with you, share a cup of coffee or a glass of water. Oftentimes, this de-escalates the issue.

Melissa Minor, Senior Property Manager at ICON Property Management

This was the most common response from managers, and they're absolutely right.

Listening stands out as the most powerful and transformative tool when navigating difficult conversations. There’s a universal desire to be heard, and no meaningful progress can occur until the other person feels acknowledged.

Understand both the words a person speaks and the emotions they convey beneath the surface. After understanding, reflect it back to them, demonstrating that you've grasped their thoughts and feelings. This act of acknowledging their perspective can go a long way to diminishing communication friction.

It's important to note that effective listening doesn't necessitate agreement; it's about understanding the other person's standpoint. When someone feels heard and understood, they become more receptive to hearing you, and working towards a creative solution.

Don't take it personally

Don’t take any of it personally, even if it is about you and/or your team. Take away any emotions and look at the facts. Let them know you hear them and you will do what you can to address their concerns.

Suzanne Toole, Senior Property Manager at DEL Property Management

Sometimes we take things too personally when confronted by a difficult person. We can feel hurt or insulted by another person’s behavior when it has nothing to do with us at all.

Resist the urge to act defensive. Even when faced with hurtful or untrue remarks, it's essential to refrain from taking it personally, recognizing that the other person's emotional state is often the driving force behind their behavior, not us.

Remember, this is not about you. Don’t take it personally.

Set limits and boundaries

The governing document of the condominium corporation with regard to addressing harassment should remain readily accessible at all times. The property manager should ensure the dissemination of this policy or rule... It is essential to remind the individual about workplace harassment and the corporation's rules and policies.

Farzaneh Sadeghi, Senior Property Manager at Percel Inc.

While some of the above tips have encouraged listening and letting the angry person vent, you also have the right to be assertive and draw the line on what’s acceptable and unacceptable.

In fact, some situations may get so out of hand that you may need to escalate it to your senior manager, the corporate solicitor, or even law enforcement.

If your gut is saying, this is going downhill fast, be ready to do what you need to do to remain safe. Look for an exit strategy.

Seeing things from a long-term lens

At times, the worst-case scenario unfolds, encountering someone who is impossible to reason with, and understanding their perspective proves unhelpful. During these difficult circumstances, having a more long-term lens can help when you’re in your head.

You can begin by reflecting on how you can learn and grow from the experience. Also, consider moments when what seemed distressing at the time later turned out to be trivial months later, or actually turned out to be a great learning experience for a future difficult encounter.

Life is an ongoing journey of discovery and growth. Navigating challenging circumstances is an integral part of our human experience, offering opportunities to develop resilience, adaptability, and strength. Confronting these difficulties not only teaches us lessons but also shapes us into more compassionate individuals ready to face whatever comes our way.

Warning: Your personal safety is paramount. Contact the police, if you feel seriously threatened by a difficult owner/resident.