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Realtor safety: When a stranger calls

If you were to sit in a park and watch the people around you without being able to hear their voices or what they are talking about, could you tell if those individuals were happy, sad, upset, angry or disappointed? With only visual facial expressions provided to you, could you understand what is happening within that conversation at that very moment? You may not understand the full context, but seeing the facial expressions, you would have a good grasp of what’s happening between the people.

As real estate professionals, could the facial expressions we receive from prospects affect our safety as we complete our jobs? Since birth, we identify happiness through specific muscle control of the mouth, lips, cheeks and eyes. Surprise is identified by eyebrows and eyelids being raised. Disgust is recognized with the eyebrows pulled down, nose wrinkled, upper lip pulled up. It’s through these facial expressions that we recognize trust, safety, niceness, threats, anger and intimidation. The facial signals we send to each other are have been key to our own human evolution. But can we be fooled?

The transparency effect

You receive a cold call. You have no idea who the individual(s) are that you are about to meet.  Fact is, all you obtained was a first and last name, time and location of the viewing. Their number showed on your phone when they called, so why bother asking any more information?

Meeting the prospect at the scheduled appointment, the first thing you are greeted with is a genuine looking smile. As your conversation continues, you are being stimulated by the half smiles, full smiles, the crunched-up nose and crow’s feet, and possibly even the look of excitement.

Have any of these facial inputs provided by the prospect given you any information about this individual or their true intention – or have you just been fooled by a stranger? Worse yet, has your natural ability to identify or perceive lies, risks and dangers been confused by the facial story that the prospect has just told you? Sometimes these facial stories are so convincing that we even lose the need to question someone’s trust.

History has shown this to be true. I invite you to research the interactions between the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberland and Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain believed Hitler could be trusted because of the facial story Hitler told him during their meetings.

If the confusion of facial expressions is removed, does this increase our ability to detect deception? Yes, but there is a little more to it than not looking at that smile.

If we increase our contact time with the prospect during the initial phone call and ask questions, engage them, rather than just providing information about the property, could we pick up cues, hints or even disparaging intentions from the person on the other end of the call?

The next time you receive a cold call, spend a few extra minutes trying to get to know the individual on the phone. Ask if they have a spouse or partner and if that partner will be attending the viewing with them. How long have they been looking to purchase? Have they seen other homes? What kind of car do they drive? What do they do for a living? Listen for hesitations in answers, listen to elevation in voice tone, listen for sounds of frustration and possibly even anger. You may hear the same thing told to you in different ways, or you may identify contradictions.

Always be cautious of those who say, “To be honest I need…” “To tell you the truth…” or “trust me”. The transparency effect is not a 100-per-cent guarantee; but it will provide you with additional tools to identify individuals with questionable intentions before you meet them, and it will give the opportunity for your natural ability to identify abnormalities that are occurring within that conversation.

Our interactions with real estate professionals have taught us something about predatorial behaviour and targeting within our industry. Predators understand how we operate and often they will make requests or suggestions that are a little bit outside the normal way we conduct our business. These oddities are subtle but they are there.

For example:

  • “It’s easier if you pick me up at the corner store rather than at my home.”
  • “Meet me tonight at this strip mall rather than my place to return the deposit cheque.”
  • While conducting a showing you’re handed a piece of paper with an address and the listing representative’s name on it and you’re asked, “Can we see this house right now, it’s vacant?”  Each of these examples have led to attacks against our peers.

For the transparency effect to work, you need to ask questions outside of the purpose of the call. Ask about them and who they are. Listen to how they are speaking to you and the way they answer the questions you ask. Remember, they understand how our business works, but they do not understand the intricacies of a “normal” interaction with a real estate professional, so something will always be a little bit off.

The idea of transparency was first published in 1872 by a famous guy named Darwin. Today we understand that facial expressions are not a reliable window into the true intentions of any individual, nor is it a safe bet to assume the individual is friendly or that you can trust them. And it’s made even worse now that half of our faces are covered with masks.

In closing, we would like to provide you with a quote from one our favorite authors, Gavin deBecker: “Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character trait. People seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person in the beginning.”

Always be safe. Do not put yourself at risk over a commission cheque. The next time a stranger calls, take a few extra minutes and really talk to them – and actually listen to what they have to say.