Megan Micco is CEO of Megan Micco, Inc. and a top producing home strategist and success architect in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I recently finished reading an emotionally difficult but fascinating book called Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande, a Boston-area surgeon who teaches at Harvard medical school, is a wonderful storyteller. This book is about identity and meaning at the end of life and how our healthcare system often prolongs suffering and fails to offer dignity in death. I highly recommend it to everyone, but that’s not really what this article is about.
At one point in the book, the author references a medical ethics study by Ezekiel and Linda Emanuel from the early ’90s called “Four Models of the Physician-Patient Relationship.” It discusses the varying ways in which doctors can interact with their patients who are facing difficult health-related decisions. There is a lot of history behind these modes of interaction, and the health care culture in our country has evolved significantly over the past half-century, but the framework laid out by the Emanuels got me thinking about my own interactions with clients as a real estate practitioner.
A summary of the models described in the study include the following:
Paternalistic: Take an authoritative position as a subject matter expert and tell the patient (client) what they should do.
Informative: Present all the various options that are available at the time and then let the patient decide what they would like to do.
Deliberative: Lead a conversation on the moral values of the patient and make a specific treatment recommendation based on the outcome of the discussion.
Interpretive: Ask the patient about their physical, emotional and spiritual needs and then explain the options in the context of which treatment path will most likely meet those needs.
Of course, we’re talking about theoretical frameworks and, in practice, no one will adhere strictly to any of the described modes. There will always be some overlap of the elements of each model in client interaction. However, I believe it can be informative to consider which approach is best suited to your personality and temperament as a real estate agent and will be most effective in guiding your clients.
Personally, I find the paternalistic approach overly domineering. Real estate is an inherently collaborative activity. Buyers and sellers have a wide range of financial, interpersonal and emotional needs and most people don’t take well to being told what to do. While it is important to provide expert advice and take your fiduciary responsibility seriously, posturing as a single source of truth that should be unquestioned is unlikely to be a winning strategy in the long run. While this posture may be effective at getting certain buyer clients into contract more quickly, it will probably leave buyers feeling unheard, pressured and dissatisfied. Given that so much of long-term business growth is through referrals, it is important to leave clients with a feeling of gratitude and satisfaction, not distaste.
Similarly, the informative mode has its own drawbacks. The real estate process can be confusing and the reason that agents are able to command the fees they charge is not for the time they spend working a side, but for their expertise, relationships and wisdom. While it is important to lay out the options on how to proceed with a given transaction, clients want guidance. They need the confidence that their agent is representing their interests and will take a stance to ensure the most beneficial financial and emotional outcomes.
The deliberative mode can also be challenging, particularly in the context of real estate. A values-based approach to advising can get into touchy territory. “Values” imply questions about political affiliation and moral authority that can cloud the more important discussion with clients about their financial and emotional needs. While the values of a client should not be ignored when offering advice (e.g., a client who is concerned about climate change may want a property with a large south-facing roof that would support solar panels), the more important discussion should, in my opinion, be focused on desired outcomes.
This leads me to the interpretive mode, which I have found to be most effective in guiding clients and building my business. I take a very consultative approach with my clients and ask a series of probing questions to uncover their underlying needs. This means often digging for second-order considerations that come after initial reflections by asking about the why of their initial concerns. This approach leads my clients to feel heard and understood, and it also allows me to gain a greater understanding of their core needs. With this insight, I’m able to better evaluate available options and provide them with specific recommendations that are directly aligned with their objectives.
As anyone who has been in the real estate industry for any length of time understands, the job can be complex and multifaceted. An exceptional real estate agent may play the role of coach, financial advisor, psychologist, therapist, spiritual mentor and friend. (Often, they are also in the role of gardener, project manager, babysitter and much more.) The more emotional intelligence you bring to client interactions, the better everyone will feel and the more success you’ll find. Having a framework for advising your clients will help provide focus to your practice, and this will inevitably result in greater success for you and your clients.
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