Effective Communication


Where does Clark Wilson LLP obtain its business? There are a number of ways, which include profile having been involved in the industry for thirty years, writing articles such as this one, giving presentations and seminars, word of mouth, names on Court decisions, and so on. Referrals from property managers is probably the most significant method from which Clark Wilson gets business. As a result, we discourage individuals from contacting us on behalf of themselves when they have a dispute with a managing agent or the strata council. Indeed, we find a substantial likelihood of conflicts when considering providing services to a strata lot owner.

We do get a number of inquiries from strata councils and do our best to respond to those inquiries. If the inquiry addresses concerns regarding management by those managing agents from whom we receive referral work, we invariably decline any potential retainer. The reader might ask “Why am I being told this?”.

In the past six months or so, we seem to be getting an increasing number of calls from council members complaining about the service they are getting from their managing agents. Often the complaints are either unwarranted or arise from a misunderstanding. What does seem to be made clear by these council members is the lack of communication between council members and managing agents. Who is to blame? This is a question that needs not be answered – what must be addressed by managing agents is that there is such a complaint. Perceived or real does not matter. It is important for managing agents to acknowledge the existence of a lack of communication, and hopefully do something about it. Also, based upon our experience, no management company has escaped this criticism.

Where are we now? It is the year 2010. We have seen the advent of faxes, computers, and all kinds of electronic advances that we think have made our workplace better. Clearly the advances have made the workplace more efficient. We have precedents, keyboard skills and find we frequently email. We have generations gaps that are much shorter than they ever were before. Think about the use of Blackberries. A young managing agent cannot live without one. A “dinosaur” managing agent doesn’t have one and often believes that an adept user is “rude”. And a “middle range” (note, I did not say “aged” to protect the innocent) managing agent can use one, but sometimes “all thumbs” really is “all thumbs”.

Project yourself into the Lower Mainland, as a managing agent, who has been in a time freeze for 25 years! And now you are starting to work with a portfolio of 12 properties from another agent. You need to schedule an AGM. What is the first thing that you will do? Call the president of the Council and introduce yourself. You likely won’t email the president and introduce yourself. You will ask when he or she is available at the same time that you are. When you call, if that president has concerns with respect to how your company has managed the strata corporation, they will likely tell you – especially if you ask. You are communicating. Meeting the president in person is even more effective.

As a managing agent’s portfolio grows, the agent has less time to spend dealing with council members on a face-to-face basis, or even perhaps phone calls. I have long been of the belief that property managers do not get paid enough for the tough job they do, dealing with aggressive council members, belligerent owners, delightful lawyers, etc. It is easy to get into a habit of precedents, form emails and decisions to delay returning emails and phone calls. The problem is that we have lost the art of reading both body and speech language. It is much easier to be dismissive in an email than it is in a phone conversation or a personal meeting. We are all guilty of going months on end without personally speaking to our clients and referral sources. We sit glued to our monitors.

Property management personnel are very mobile. Getting and retaining experienced and competent agents is getting tougher and tougher for property management companies. We know that, in many cases, a property management company is only as effective as its individual managing agents. An effective managing agent is an effective communicator. Managing properties is really about managing people. This article is not intended to be critical. Rather the intention is to focus on communication and how we can be effective communicators.

For a week after you read this article, pretend that you just arrived from a 25 year hiatus. Call your clients. Ask them how your company is doing. Use email, but not for everything. You might be surprised at how easy it is to communicate effectively, and how much the recipient appreciates the communication, and your efforts.