by James Stefanile, ABR, GRI, SRES, QSC
I recently attended a meeting just for REALTORS called by a government agency of one of the towns I serve. I won’t reveal the town or which part of the government convened the meeting. It’s not important. What’s important is the dynamic of what happened which does not depend on the details.
The meeting was, ostensibly, to get REALTOR feedback for a set of proposed government actions which could, in my opinion and those of many of my colleagues, adversely affect the marketability of this particular town. I made a point to attend, anxious to give my feedback and I expected my fellow REALTORS to do the same in order to show the township the consequences of their proposals.
The government official in charge was late. I think lateness and rudeness are the same and I don’t care how exalted your position or what holiday season it is or how many relatives you have from out-of-town – be on time to show some respect for the many people you have summoned. Lateness in this context is also control. Strike One.
After a perfunctory apology, this official launched into an aggressively delivered 40 minute speech about the planned actions we were here to discuss, the reasons, the agony of the decision, the statistics and on and on and on. This individual was doing what all good meeting leaders do – setting the agenda and the expectations of the gathering. I have no objections to a good meeting leader but this rapid-fire and dominant exposition set a tone that was overwhelming. Strike Two.
Then an extraordinary thing happened. Rather than challenge what is generally regarded as policy that will hurt this township, my fellow, normally feisty, REALTORS proceeded to cow-tow and acquiesce in a way that made me believe they were momentarily possessed (by the way, I was the only REALTOR in attendance from my company). Strike Three – who’s out? Guess.
I was nonplussed. What was happening right in front of me? Granted, the township minions were doing their darndest to control the tone of the gathering. They even imposed an order to the speakers during the Q and A period of the meeting, reducing us all to fifth graders.
What was amazing to me was how easily it worked. REALTORS (obediently observing their turns) posed softball questions and some (incredibly long-winded) observations and then meekly asked to be kept informed and proposed marketing ideas to the town to make this bitter medicine go down more smoothly. There was no feedback, no alternative proposals, no dispute, no objections.
I was stunned into silence, as was one other, lonely dissenter sitting near me. Why was this happening? Was this official so persuasive? Do I have to re-think my objections? I gave this point serious thought and concluded that I do not. My disappointment aside, I was witnessing a weird phenomenon. It was like the sheep holding the blade for the butcher. I was amazed that these REALTORS, who can carve you for dinner in a negotiation could become so passive – collaborators in a policy that, in my opinion, will hurt us all. What an achievement by this government appointee! Now that’s a successful meeting!
I stormed around my office afterward, regaling my co-workers with an (often profane) account of the meeting. The pervasive question was – why? The only conclusion I could reach is that we need to spin straw into gold – bad news into something less painful. It’s too scary to confront impending misfortune without making it seem less odious. I’m compassionate for anyone who’s afraid but I’m also disappointed that people I’ve worked with in the past, whose intellects I have admired, could surrender so easily to their fears.
I have only learned, late in life myself, to confront what scares me. I finally understand the toxic effect of smothering these things in a sugary coating or avoiding them altogether. I don’t have any more insight than anyone else. It’s simply shocking to see an entire room full of intelligent adults bob and weave and avoid and spin and leave the meeting feeling everything is gonna be alright. By the way, they actually applauded the presenters. It was a love fest! Further proof, if any was needed, that what scares us controls us.