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Why Aggression in Business is NOT OK!
One of the rarest yet very real problems of managing buildings with multiple residents is dealing with challenging and often emotionally charged situations which can enrage some tenants.
Sometimes this can turn into a situation where we are faced with aggression, usually verbal aggression, but sometimes, rarely fortunately, even physical aggression. You’ll be horrified to hear that I have been slapped once by an angry resident and threatened with a baseball bat after an evening meeting.
So how do I handle this very rare circumstance?
If someone is acting aggressively when I talk to them, I always try to diffuse the situation. Usually, frustration develops into aggression and is triggered by time and / or money – sometimes it is due to tenants not paying their contractual charges.
I will always make my starting point, an attempt to talk to them reasonably and seek to understand their perspective. In many cases this can diffuse the situation. I often find that people just want to be heard and I make the effort to truly listen. I don’t listen to speak. I listen to hear, think, and then consider a reasonable response.
I’m proud that communication is something I work hard at in my business. So, initially, I will always talk to the tenant to find out why they are making such an aggressive stance. After all, it may be that they have had a huge upset in their life that I don’t know about. At the same time, I need to be able to set out my expectations too.
However, there are even rarer occasions where talking doesn’t work…
I had a situation where there was a hole in the roof of a building with multiple residents. To make the repair, I need to have access to the whole loft space, and it was found that the entire roof needed replacing, and under the terms of the lease for that block, all the tenants have to pay for this major work.
To make the repair, a cherry picker was needed, the building was in a conservation area, and the cost was going to be at least £40,000 to repair the roof
Now I know from years of experience that this is a situation which can make tempers fray, being faced with a large repair bill that you were not expecting. People can get angry even if they know the legal situation means they must pay their share. In fact, today, I will often recommend, especially with older or listed properties, that residents save a little per month for these eventualities which will crop up over time.
On this occasion, one awkward tenant didn’t want to pay up, even though all of the other residents readily agreed to pay their part. They realised that in the end the building needed that repair to stop further damage and to safeguard their own properties.
I tried everything to contact this particular tenant, and even though he had been in the flat for many years, his behaviour was extremely aggressive. This was a pattern of behaviour, and I wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with him.
Prior to this problem, when he was the only one in, he had often refused delivery drivers access to the property, which of course meant his fellow residents had problems in receiving parcels.
After trying to have conversations with him on the phone, where he was verbally aggressive, shouting at me, the situation came to a head when I turned up to talk to him in person. This was my last attempt to have a reasonable conversation about necessary works to the property where he was a leaseholder. I was 100 per cent sure of my own position in this matter and knew the other residents supported me, even if they were rather afraid of him too.
During this time his whole demeanour was aggressive, and defensive. I became truly frightened when he put his hand in his pocket and took out what I initially thought was a knife. His hand was not in my clear field of vision, so I was ready to run, however as he moved towards me in a threatening manner, I saw it was a set of keys.
Unable to sort out the issue, my only recourse was to take action against him in court. Ultimately, he lost his lease (forfeiture) because he simply refused to pay his share of the costs, which he was contractually obliged to pay.
This is an extreme example, and there are procedures set in place for when tenants behaviour is totally out of control, or they are breaking the law. Tenants can be evicted, but it must be done following legal guidelines.
How do I recognise an aggressive customer?
Aggressive customers tend to be unreasonable and/or unpredictable. They may make unreasonable demands, refuse to acknowledge timeframes, or accept the proposed process. They may be argumentative, use personal insults or inappropriate comments to get their point across or shout or make threatening gestures. In extreme circumstances they may even be violent.
Not every customer who uses a loud voice or is persistent is aggressive. Many customers are assertive but will still be reasonable if you engage them in a dialogue.
So how should you respond?
1. Stay calm
It can be difficult to stay calm when a person’s behaviour is confronting. Remember that you don’t know what else may be going on in this person’s life. Try not to take their aggression personally. Keeping your voice low and smiling (even though this might be hard) can relieve the tension. Avoid using sarcasm. If necessary, excuse yourself and leave the room and take several deep breaths. Think about your own body language and whether you are coming across as defensive or hostile – be conscious of not pacing, tapping, crossing your arms, or rolling your eyes.
Pay attention to what the customer is saying and try to understand their concerns. Ask appropriate questions but avoid interrupting and allow them to say all they need to say. Sometimes simply allowing someone the opportunity to vent can alleviate their frustration. When they have explained the situation to you, confirm or summarise their concerns to make sure you have understood.
3. Be empathetic
Demonstrate to the customer that you care about their situation, using appropriate language:
I understand that you are frustrated/ I can see how difficult this has been/Thank you for bringing this to my attention/I appreciate how you feel/That’s tough, let’s see how we can get this sorted
4. Offer a considered solution
The customer wants to feel that something is being done to resolve their concerns even if it is only a partial solution. It may be that there are limited options that you can offer – if so, don’t overpromise. Be willing to involve management. It demonstrates that you are serious about helping them resolve the issue.
Once you have committed to a solution follow it through. If that requires following up within the following days use a reminder system and do it!
As block management agents we often are charged with resolving issues we are not responsible for, but it’s a fine line sometimes…
For example, as Block Managers we are not liable for nuisance tenants, but as it is our responsibility to try to keep all our tenants happy, making every effort to sort out such tenants is important. However even the best of us sometimes must go down a legal route.
I had to act, because this one tenant was causing my other tenants a lot of grief, worry and making their lives stressful, and as their managing agent, it is part of my job to ensure they live in a stress-free environment. I had to protect my other tenants from harassment or aggressive behaviour too – they became the priority.
Luckily, I haven’t come across this behaviour often in the years I’ve been working in property management.
As an entrepreneur I have often heard that aggression is the most valuable trait for an entrepreneur.
I’m not sure I agree with that. In my experience the best business relationships are mutually respectful with effective communication. The 3 Crucial Elements of Successful Business Relationships detailed in Forbes.
Understanding why someone is aggressive is important as aggression is often used as tactical behaviour.
The US actress Lucy Lui has been recently in the international press due to her speaking out about the actor and colleague Bill Murray Hurled 'Inexcusable' Insults At Her On 'Charlie's Angels' Set
“I stood up for myself, and I don’t regret it,” she said. “Because no matter how low on the totem pole you may be or wherever you came from, there’s no need to condescend or to put other people down.”
What I love about working in this area of property management is the sheer diversity of the job. Every single day is different.
Yes, we have to deal with challenging situations and challenging people, but aggression is rare and can usually be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction through a solution focused and empathetic approach.
At Fraser Allen we seek first to understand, and we do not tolerate aggression in any form.
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