Thursday 29 September 2016

The right moves: Soft skills now vital in sector

Paul McNeive

Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30

Aspiring surveyors have to demonstrate
Aspiring surveyors have to demonstrate "business and interpersonal related skills".

Emotional intelligence and "soft skills" are terms mostly used by human resources experts but these qualities are the key to success in the property and construction business.

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Whilst professionals of my vintage had little or no education or training in these areas, it's great to see an increasing emphasis on these skills, driven by the market, educators and legislation.

"Emotional intelligence" is defined as "personal attributes that enable people to succeed in life, including self-awareness, empathy, self-confidence and self-control." Property is a "people business" involving daily interaction with a wide variety of people, personalities and cultures, and that's where this ability to relate to interact with others becomes invaluable.

As an estate agent, there is usually a big difference between your clients, who tend to be developers or landlords, and the purchasers and tenants of property, who will be business owners or house buyers. Not only are they coming at the transaction from different viewpoints, they will tend to come from different backgrounds and there are different levels of emotion involved. Within those groups of clients and occupiers there are of course a wide range of individual personalities, and it is the ability to gain the trust and confidence of all of these, that marks out great agents.

The property and construction business has seen a total upheaval since the market crashed with the traditional types of clients replaced en masse with instructions from clients like Nama, banks and receivers. It seems to me that the firms which have done best in this era are those that were able to adapt to this new business and to new ways of working with this type of client, with their emphasis on systems, reporting and compliance.

One result of the era of insolvency has been raw emotion surrounding the repossession and resale of property. Business owners and home owners are affected and property people are frequently involved, either as receivers, managing agents or selling agents. A high degree of empathy with those involved will enhance the property professional's ability to handle this work effectively.

On the purchasing side, most of the major buyers are overseas venture capitalists and again the ability to interact with these individuals, their corporate cultures and their local representatives is the key to winning their business. These clients must see you as a "safe pair of hands", they must be impressed by your professionalism and crucially, they must "like you."

The same principles apply on the corporate side where the huge weight of overseas companies located here sees professionals increasingly dealing with clients from different countries and cultures, particularly in the office sector. On the construction side, firms have a growing international client base and there are thousands of Irish construction professionals rapidly adapting to working in the Middle-East, Asia and Russia.

The larger firms will have some training for their staff in these "soft skills." The strength of larger firms lies in their exploitation of the power of "teamwork", that is, the combination of different staff member's skills to produce the best result for the client. It's more difficult for small firms but I suspect that their staff get good on the job training from close proximity to their bosses, who would scarcely have survived in business without these abilities.

I'm delighted to see that the importance of these skills in supplementing technical ability is now recognised at an early stage. For example the Institute's of Technology property and construction courses now incorporate modules on business development topics such as "communication."

Zoe O'Connor, director of education and membership at the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland agreed with me on the growing importance of these qualities and pointed out that to pass the Society's "Assessment of Professional Competence," aspiring surveyors have to demonstrate "business and interpersonal related skills" and an understanding of subjects like teamwork, client care and communication.

Further validation is provided by the licensing requirements of the Property Regulator who has astutely written into legislation that professionals must not only meet minimum technical standards but must also have skills under the heading of "professional development/business development." It's interesting that a licensing authority recognises that there is more to offering a holistic service than meeting minimum academic standards.

Some agents are natural "people persons" and have this instinctive ability to interact with any type of client. Training in these "soft skills" for everyone else, will pay dividends.

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