I love that movie. The one Sandra Bullock stars in – the rags to riches story of a huge, young man blessed with an amazing moral compass and of course, incredible footballing skills. Its message is even more powerful because the movie is based on a true story (I love those movies the most).
Anyway, protecting your “blindside” or having someone protect it for you, is pretty important in American football. As it is in everyday life. As it is in the Property Management world! You know, the stuff we don’t see coming. You are travelling along quite nicely and then, bam! Your feet are no longer under you and you are on your hands and knees shaking your head, wondering what the hell happened.
I remember one particular incident, in my agency, where a tenant accidentally placed cardboard boxes on top of the cooktop, while it was turned on (I heard that snigger) and although the house didn’t burn to the ground, there was significant damage as a result. Our office was super, super efficient in handling the situation. We had a process around this type of thing and the team was amazing. The owner had the correct insurance (always a bonus), cleaners, assessors, electricians – everyone we needed to address the situation was at the property in record time. In our minds, we could not have handled the situation any better than we did. We were impressive, just ask us.
While we were busy back slapping and high fiving each other, the local paper published a large, front page spread about how mistreated this poor tenant was. The agency, although named, was not contacted for comment prior to the story going to print. We were blindsided.
The tenant pulled out a big sob story about how it was just two weeks before Christmas and she was homeless (not correct) and our agency was forcing her to pay for the damages (also not correct) and how her poor little children who no longer had their Daddy (again, incorrect) were having trouble understanding how Santa couldn’t visit this year.
There was a huge uproar. The local member for parliament was on the phone to me, outraged about how one of his constituents was being treated. The office received nasty messages. Other tenants began to become high maintenance (maybe it was our perception) and one dear little old lady decided to forgo her own Christmas and paid the insurance excess for the tenant and somehow made me feel ashamed for not doing this myself.
My team and I were shell-shocked and devastated. We did not anticipate this development at all as we had had a good relationship with the tenant up until this point. It was horrible and very difficult to brush off. I’ll admit there were tears and a little bit of foot stomping – it was unfair and frustrating, not to mention it occupied way more of our time and headspace than it should have.
Once everything settled down a bit, as a team, we reviewed how we could have improved the situation and more importantly, how we could prevent something like this from happening again. We realised that whilst we didn’t do anything wrong, there was a few things we could have done “more right”.
In our enthusiasm to resolve the situation and tick all the boxes on our super-duper checklist, we had become very matter of fact in our approach and I’m embarrassed to admit, officious in our manner. We became the very thing I abhor – emotionally removed from our client.
In hindsight, we could see the tenant was initially embarrassed by what had occurred and then intimidated by the whirlwind of activity that was occurring around her. It was unlikely she ever had to deal with an insurance company previously and did not understand the language we were speaking (what’s an excess?). On top of that, she was also dealing with the fact she could have easily been responsible for the death of her children. Understandably she was feeling a bit ragged and when she didn’t receive the understanding and sympathy she was expecting from our agency, we naturally became a target for her bubbling well of emotion.
I firmly believe we would have avoided a whole lot of pain, including bad publicity, if we had climbed down off our high horse and taken the time to shown a little empathy.
As a result of our debrief measures were put in place to protect ourselves and I don’t mean in an over the top, ridiculous, knee jerk reaction type of way. We decided to consciously introduce empathy into our processes and we called it “Big Mike” after the character in the movie. He was big (we believed this was a huge issue), he saw everyone as equally deserving, his integrity could not be questioned, he anticipated the next move and his manner was gentle, but formidable at the same time. He rocked!
So, Big Mike became an important part of our team, he became our “more right” and quietly helped us to improve our internal care factor. He appeared on our checklists, he hovered on our white board and occasionally he popped up on our screensavers. Big Mike asked us to recognise the feelings of the person we were dealing with and by doing this, he was helping to protect our blindside.
Being slammed from a direction you don’t expect is not nice and although what happened in this instance was unpleasant and caused a fair amount of grief, we survived and then we changed for the better.
Where in your agency are you being “blindsided”?
Could introducing a “Big Mike” to your processes ensure you are further protected?