Some years ago the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) engaged Tom Morris, Ph.D., to be a speaker at NAR’s national convention. His talks — tucked in among sessions dealing with marketing, sales techniques, and listing presentations — were out of the ordinary, to say the least. But they were relevant then and they are just as relevant today.
Morris is, of all things, a philosopher, and a respected one at that. He taught fifteen years at Notre Dame, where he was widely-acknowledged to be the most popular teacher on campus. Now, as head of the Morris Institute for Human Values, he is a much sought-after speaker and consultant for businesses and corporations throughout the country. The title of his talk to the REALTORS®, reflecting his grounding in the classics, was “If Aristotle Sold Real Estate: The Four Foundations of Excellence.”
In a nutshell, Morris’ thesis is this: Human beings seek fulfillment, and an activity or relationship can contribute to one’s fulfillment if and only if it respects and nurtures the four fundamental dimensions of human experience. Those dimensions are the Intellectual, the Aesthetic, the Moral, and the Spiritual. A company or organization that ignores those aspects of its members’ experience does so at its peril. Conversely, companies that attend to those factors see payoffs in loyalty, retention, morale, and productivity.
“Well, OK,” a sincere and attentive broker-owner might say, “but just what does all this stuff mean in the everyday world of my office? Exactly what might I do to apply these lessons from the ancients?” A fair enough question. In the space remaining, we’ll consider some concrete applications with respect to the first two dimensions. In the next column we’ll look at the remaining two.
As Morris would put it, the intellectual dimension of human experience aims at the truth. People have a natural desire to know and to understand. To satisfy this desire, they need the truth. And, while no particular environment can supply them with all the truth there is, every environment can provide an atmosphere of respect for the truth. People — yes, even real estate agents — have a deep-seated need for this, and they will not be able to find real satisfaction in an enterprise where the truth is held in low regard.
Real estate companies, as well as other organizations, can apply this in at least two ways. Internally, they must speak the truth to their employees and agents. At a minimum, this means no dishonesty. Taken more actively, it means openness. It means sharing with employees the truth about company plans and goals, and, especially, problems. It means not making secret deals with some agents, while deceiving the rest.
Truth must also be spoken outwardly. A company that fudges, “puffs”, and otherwise makes less than honest claims about itself to the public does no service to itself or its agents. How many Number Ones can there be? The effect of exaggeration and deception (which doesn’t always require outright falsification) is that, soon, no one listens. Worse, if an employee or agent perceives that his company does not treat the external public with a respect for truth, than he will certainly doubt that such respect would be shown to him.
The second dimension of human experience, the aesthetic, aims at beauty. Few of us would need to be convinced that some of our greatest experiences of satisfaction and deep peace occur in settings of beauty. The workplace that ignores this aspect of human experience commits serious error.
Morris approvingly quotes Victor Hugo, “The beautiful is as useful as the useful. Perhaps more so.” He points out that better work is done in settings that attend to the aesthetic. Beauty brings out the best in people. For the real estate office this may mean something as simple as art work on the walls and fresh flowers in the foyer; but an attention to beauty, color, and harmony in an office shows an attention to, and respect for, the humanness of those who work there.
Moreover, Morris points out that we not only need beauty in our surroundings, but also that we need to experience performance beauty, to know that there is, or can be, beauty in what we do. In real estate? Yes, even in real estate. In one of his books, Morris quotes Confucius as saying, “Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.” Real estate companies would do well to remind their agents that there is, or can be, beauty in what they do — that they don’t just do deals and collect commissions.
Some years ago NAR encouraged its members with the slogan, “I sell the American Dream.” That was a good campaign, and one that companies would do well to emulate.
It is common for real estate agents to tell “horror stories” and to jokingly compete with each other as to who has the worst escrow story, etc. Real estate brokerages would do well to turn that around a bit, to provide a venue for agents to compare their good stories and to be reinforced by the beauty that can be found in what they do.