Business Commercial Property

Thursday 22 August 2019

Paul McNeive: 'It's nice to be nice - and it's also good for business'

The right moves

Paul McNeive
Paul McNeive

Paul McNeive

Some recent events set me thinking about the power of being "nice". It's a quality we usually only hear attributed to someone in a eulogy, and we often don't recognise the importance of being "nice" in everyday life. But property is a people business, and being nice to people is a winning long-term business strategy.

Over the years, many people will develop a reputation of being "nice". By this, people will usually mean that the person is friendly, trustworthy, interested in you as a person, and helps others. Some people develop the opposite reputation. But stop for a moment and think about where those different characters are now? I'll wager that the "nicer" people, are, by and large, the more successful.

Business is all about relationships, and a good example of this is where a member of your staff leaves for another job, or even worse, joins a competitor. This can sometimes sour the relationship beyond repair. But the employer has made a big mistake.

I will admit to having this flaw, earlier in my career. Working my way up through the ranks, there was a strong rivalry with competing firms, and successes and defeats were experienced as a team. I almost took it personally when someone I had invested a lot of time and energy in, left for another job. Luckily for me, this was pointed out to me by a fellow director, and I saw the light and changed.

The point is that, particularly in an era of increasing movement of people, within a few years, that person will quite likely have become an important potential client, or they may consider returning to the fold, but now enriched by more experience and new contacts. But they won't become a client, or return to work for you, if you weren't "nice" to them - and particularly around the terms of their departure.

So, err on the side of generosity, when negotiating what commissions they are due from deals they have agreed, for example, and genuinely wish them every success. Many of the senior people in the property business spent time with one estate agent or another. They are a huge potential source of business, so make sure that their memories of working with you are good ones.

People intensely remember who was nice to them when they needed help, and who wasn't - and they will reflect your effort, with interest.

The quality of "niceness" is a powerful one and a client's strongest memory of you will be whether you were nice and friendly to work with, or not. They will not remember the detail of the report you wrote, or the last few per cent of the deal you did.

Genuine "niceness" is a powerful negotiating quality as well. People will make an effort to help you, if they detect that you are nice. A great example I experienced was Chris Lyons, the now retired chief architect with Collen Construction. We had several mutual clients and I attended some tricky meetings with planning officials, where he would be trying to achieve some development goal, like access to a drain, or a density. Others would have failed, and the meeting would start out negatively, but Chris would always find some small positive option to explore, and his expertise and disarming "niceness" would win the day in the end.

Bad examples are where agents develop adversarial relationships with other individual agents. This can result from one agent twisting the knife or grandstanding and embarrassing the other in a negotiation or arbitration. They spend years thereafter trying to score points off each other, arguably to the detriment of their clients.

There is much research to say that firms where the employer is "nice" have lower employee turnover, higher productivity, and stronger profits. So, if it doesn't come naturally, look for ways to genuinely help people, no matter who they are. You'll be happier, and it pays in the long run.

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