Dealing with Angry Tenants

September 12, 2012


Kelsie Foster

Rent Manager on Laptop

There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot.


It’s your favorite topic: angry tenants. You’ve heard the stories and you’ve experienced their rage. As hard as you try to manage everything well, issues still happen, emotions well up, and tongues flare. Next thing you know someone’s dissatisfied and angry.

As an owner or property manager you may have to wear your hostage negotiation hat from time-to-time. Up until now you’ve probably been winging it: trying to talk tenants down, baffled by these hard-to-handle situations. Whether you consider yourself a pro or an amateur negotiator, we can all benefit from a little help dealing with disgruntled customers.

It’s Simple: Just Listen

Just like a hostage-taker, your angry resident wants something. And it’s your job to find out what he wants. Andy Williamson, Director of Marketing & Customer Relations at LCS says his ‘Hostage negotiation theory’ is all about making a connection and meeting needs [sounds like most productive relationships, right?]. Williamson explains that the first step to successful negotiation with an unhappy customer is very simple: listen to your tenant until they are done talking. Don’t interrupt. Don’t make a peep. Let them finish and never take it personally. Easier said than done, perhaps. But it sounds like becoming a good listener is, ironically, the first step to talking your infuriated tenant off the ledge.

Keep It Positive

What’s the next step in Williamson’s School of Hostage Negotiation? He says, Avoid using negative words, like ‘no’, ‘won’t’, ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’, and ‘not.’ Find a positive way to present information to your tenant. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Spinning things in a positive light takes practice.

Let’s say you get a message from an angry tenant. If you feel your blood begin to boil, take some breaths and make sure you’ve calmed down before you engage. When you do return the call, try first affirming your resident and showing compassion. Be clear: I understand you’re frustrated. Tell the tenant what you CAN DO for them instead of what you CAN’T. It’s the power of the positive again. Offering suggestions for what the tenant could try may also show them that you do care and want to help resolve their problem: Have you tried X or Y?

Affirm, Recognize, Humanize

Like most conflict-management techniques, stick to using I phrases and avoid making you-statements. I phrases work well because you are assuming some responsibility for the issue. While you implies a direct critique, an angry tenant is not in a state-of-mind to handle such brutal honesty. Using plural pronouns-like we and us-are also important strategies when communicating with an unhappy customer. We implies a team effort: you’re working with the tenant and not against him.

By keeping an eye on the language you choose (and use!), you are also subtly asking the tenant to consider collaborating/negotiating for the best outcome. Williamson also suggests phrases like:

  • I want to help you.
  • I’m on your side.
  • I’m someone who can get you answers.
  • We’ll find a solution.

It’s crucial to recognize your tenant as a person who has needs and desires. How you choose to converse will help drive and determine your manager-tenant exchange.

Even when you want to, resist the urge to say things like: You don’t know what I do. Or, you don’t know what I have to do. Part of diffusing a potentially volatile situation is about demonstrating compassion (even if it isn’t 100% sincere). Instead of a heavy-handed approach, use this opportunity to kindly clarify what property managers/owners actually do. Your approach makes all the difference.

The importance of approach holds true even in Hollywood’s blockbuster hostage-negotiation flicks. The bad guy is recognized and treated well in these films. He’s intentionally humanized. Typically the negotiator phones in, Are you hungry? Do you need something to eat? Most likely your angry tenant is worn out and could use some love, too. And you’ll be surprised by how far recognizing your residents’ needs will get you. I’ve always heard that trust is earned, Williamson shares. The truth is, it’s about making a connection. So the next time you tell tenants you’re doing your best to help them, realize they are looking to you for help.

Do you want a happy ending? Think about the results that you want. Ideally, your customer hears you and surrenders peacefully. Not entirely realistic, right? Arm yourself with the strategies outlined above: offer patience, give affirmation, and communicate that the tenant has your undivided attention.

Make a connection + respectfully engage = disarm even your most unhappy resident.

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