Dealing with angry residents is the hardest part of being a landlord or property manager. Most of the time when the resident is angry and things turn into a tirade they are not personally abusive. This type of anger is rarely personal. Instead it is an accumulation of several things that are happening in the resident’s life and the incident became the last straw. If the landlord or manager tries to quickly shut the person down, the resident usually becomes more angry and will accuse you of not caring, covering up etc. If the landlord or manager becomes defensive, the resident will usually escalate and repeat the rant over and over. What should the landlord or manager do in these situations?
Empathy is Important for Angry Residents
I recommend using empathic listening skills with angry residents. It takes practice to use empathic listening when you feel under fire. Remember that defusing the resident’s anger will make the time spent worth it: emotionally, financially and in time savings. The landlord-resident relationship is a two-way street. You may be in this relationship for at least one and often three to four years.
To listen empathetically, first, be calm, say nothing, pay attention and listen. Do not interrupt or butt in, give the speaker a few ques so they know you are paying attention. On the phone I like to say “yes?” when they take a breath and in person I nod my head so they know I am listening not tuning them out. When they take a real break, and you get an opportunity to speak, the first instinct is to go to solution or be defensive right away. Before going there train yourself to express your understanding of their complaint and acknowledge their negative feeling toward the situation. Concentrate on feelings such as inconvenience, frustration, discounted, etc. it is important to stay away from personal feelings such as dislike or disrespect that sound personal toward you. Try to remind yourself that you do not need to defend yourself, their anger is not personal toward you. You did nothing personal to them.
Ask if your understanding of the complaint is correct. This gives the resident confirmation that you heard them and that you acknowledged they are upset. For example, “The plumber did not show up when promised and you were very inconvenienced.” Most of the time this is enough to defuse the anger and you can both quickly move toward a resolution of the problem. If the resident starts on another tirade, take a short break. Try to accomplish this without making them feel brushed-off and offended. For example, I usually say ” I will be right back, I need to check my schedule for a moment, to be sure I can spend more time with you on this problem”. In a few minutes they become calmer and you can work on the solution together.
In the rare case that a resident will not calm down quickly, even when you are empathically listening to them, try your best to remain calm, keep listening and letting them rant. Usually the resident’s desire for a solution to the issue will quickly take precedence over keeping an angry rant going and they will wind down.
It goes without saying that you should never stand there and take it when someone verbally attacks you on a personal level. If the anger is over-the-top and directed at you personally, it is abuse. Stay calm, and walk away to somewhere they can not follow you (another part of the office, restroom, car). You can or a colleague can contact them to reschedule a time to re-visit the problem at a later time when the resident is calmer and you can conduct business.