As real estate professionals, we typically think of ourselves as going above and beyond the minimum requirements to ensure our clients are satisfied, because without happy clients, we have no business.

But: Suppose that, in order to ensure your client gets the best deal, you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to approach them about conduct that may make that tougher?

Say, for instance, you arrive at a seller’s home to find a yard full of their beloved yard gnome collection. Or, during negotiations, they refuse your advice to drop their sales price once it’s been on the market for 30-plus days.

Clearly, you need to have a frank conversation about a delicate topic. Let’s review how you might successfully have that talk.

  1. Pre-screen the customer.Conflict can often be avoided by asking the right questions before you even sign someone as a client. Listen diligently to get a clear understanding of what their needs are and from what angle they are coming. Obviously, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  2. Set realistic expectations.It comes with the territory: Many clients have unrealistic expectations about the homebuying process – and the many reality TV shows about it hasn’t helped. Early on, make sure you set expectations about pricing, timing and whether you’re working in a buyer’s or seller’s market.
  3. Empathy is crucial.When we tell someone their beloved home needs staging and all those tchotchkes they’ve collected in their travels need to find a closet, we need to put ourselves in their shoes: Of course, we know we are making their home sale-ready, but they may hear our advice as an insult to their taste. Put yourself in their shoes and be gentle when you convey you desire is to help them succeed.
  4. Know the territory.We talk a lot about expertise, but it’s true that if you have established yourself as an expert in the market, your clients are more likely to trust you when you have a tough talk with them and they’ll be more likely to take your advice to heart. So, be prepared with statistics on pricing and plenty of information about the quality of houses selling before facing off.
  5. Take a break.If need be, step back from the situation to reassess it. None of us wish for a frank conversation to take a negative turn but if, despite your best efforts, the client reacts badly, it’s incumbent on you to analyze the situation and respond by demonstrating your value as an ally.

Finally, remember to not be too hard on yourself if you find yourself bracing for a difficult conversation. Despite our best efforts, we are all likely to find ourselves in one of these situations at some point in our career.