The 5 Skills You Need to Get Ahead: Communication (2 of 6)

May 3, 2006

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Your facility’s parking lot will be repaved next month, causing disruption for tenants/occupants. The contractor responsible says it will take 2 weeks to complete, so you should:

Answer: (B) Pass along notice of a 4-week construction inconvenience so that everyone can prepare; if the work finishes early, it will be a welcome surprise for tenants/occupants.

The way you communicate is oftentimes how you become known to the world: In every interaction you have with a tenant, building occupant, third-party service provider, or colleague, you’re representing and acting on behalf of your peers, your organization, and the commercial real estate industry.

In Kathleen McKenna-Harmon’s experiences as an Institute of Real Estate Management instructor, she has found communication skills to be absolutely essential. McKenna-Harmon, based in Minnetonka, MN, is also an instructor at a local Minnesota university: “At the end of every year, [the university’s] graduating seniors invite the principals from five major firms to speak about job prospects. These industry leaders tell the graduates that they want good communicators. They insist that the individuals they hire are [at ease] with both the written and spoken word.” Whether you’re searching for a job in the industry, writing monthly reports, or conducting a meeting, you need first-rate communication skills.

As Dennis Adams, senior vice president at Greenwood Village, CO-based Corum Real Estate Group and BOMI chairman, points out, we all possess the ability to speak - but the ability to speak doesn’t equate to good communication skills. “What we don’t always possess is the ability to clearly articulate in a manner that conveys, in a sincere way, the ideas we’re trying to make known. Developing, honing, and sharpening your communication skills is one of the best efforts you can make to enhance your career and be more effective in the workplace.”

In terms of a “hierarchy,” tenants and occupants have basic needs (such as a clean, comfortable workspace); these needs are so fundamental that it’s assumed they will be met. “While it’s nearly impossible to establish loyalty or increased satisfaction by providing or even excelling at these fundamental customer needs, by providing a higher level of service-oriented needs, you can actually increase customer satisfaction, retention, and loyalty,” says Andy Schlauch, principal, Kingsley Associates, Denver. “Communication is a skill that is critical in providing service-oriented needs.”

Considering the many things that may be out of your control (location, market pricing, physical aspects of your building), your communication is controllable. “You can control that part of the customer experience; you can control communication. It’s also not only controllable, but it’s a very inexpensive way to create a competitive advantage,” Schlauch explains.

Avoid familiar slip-ups (such as misperceiving situations based upon lack of knowledge, or not making a concerted effort to listen during a conversation), and you’ll be well on your way toward improvement. “It’s a common mistake to misinterpret what is seen, felt, and heard, and then to act on inadequate or incorrect information. [Facilities professionals] may use selective hearing, make assumptions [derived from] body language or assumed motives, and make poor word choices,” says McKenna-Harmon. And, just as you can make these mistakes, tenants and occupants can also make their own interpretations based upon your silence or not hearing certain pieces of information. The experts’ advice? “Communicate early and often,” recommends Schlauch.

  • Write important correspondence and think it over for a day before you send it. Edit what has been written, and review the content beyond using the “spell-check” feature on your computer.
  • Find a good writer within your organization who is willing to proof - and correct - your work.
  • Use a variety of communication methods. “If you only sit at your desk e-mailing directives, you will quickly be out of touch,” McKenna-Harmon points out.
  • Hone your public-speaking skills. “These skills allow you to develop the ability to formulate your ideas and thoughts so you can communicate with a group of five or a group of 500,” says Adams.
  • Establish an action plan regarding communication; set up tenant- or occupant-specific communication arrangements. “Find out which communication methods your tenants prefer. Tenant A may want to be communicated with weekly via e-mail. Tenant B may have completely different expectations,” says Schlauch.
  • After each client communication, take a few minutes to jot down notes. How did it go? How did your client respond when you said X, Y, and Z? Which missteps could you have avoided? Taking a look back at a series of communications can be beneficial in determining where and how miscommunication occurs, and can lead to insight in terms of key tenant/occupant issues.

“So many times in our industry, we focus on learning the trade - the bricks, the sticks, the numbers,” says Adams. “We become technically sufficient, but at the end of the day, business is all about people. There are certainly lots of training and development courses out there to learn the technical side of our business. But, there’s the art side as well: communication and the ability to have empathy.”

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