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The power of personal communication

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Real estate professionals navigating the seemingly endless storm of bleak market conditions might want to think about how effectively — vs. how often — they communicate with clients, prospective clients, and others with whom they have professional relationships.

It takes time to hand-write a letter or note, but how do you think the receiver would react? Would it grab their attention and make a positive impression? You bet.

In today's rapid-fire world, even if you are not generating results, chances are you are doing it quickly. What would you stand to lose if instead you shifted gears, going from overdrive to a slower pace in business communications? Spend a bit of otherwise wasted time by calling a client or writing a personal note or two to thank someone for their business and ask for future business?

The gains might be surprising, first because in the personal approach you are selling yourself and telling the receiver that they are important to you. Or why else would you have written? Second, by requiring you to focus and be thoughtful rather than send another slapdash email, what you say will improve both in quality and effectiveness. Finally, hand-written notes, in particular, are so rare nowadays that they practically scream out for attention and an equally thoughtful response.

In the course of working at my computer one long afternoon, it dawned on me that I had neither received nor made a single phone call all afternoon. Yet I had received, read, responded to or deleted probably 50-75 emails that day. Curious, I counted emails over the five working days that week: 203 deleted, 163 sent and 148 still staring out from my inbox — in one week, 514 emails. During the same period I exchanged no more than 50 phone calls, received no hand-written notes, and sent out 20 hand-written notes or letters to others.

Categorizing emails as impersonal, phone calls as personal and hand-written notes as really terrific, during that one week impersonal trounced personal 10 to 1, and really terrific never made it into the mix, at least not on the receiving end. I had a visceral reaction, feeling like I was losing the human touch with the Burnham-Moores Center's stakeholders. Deciding I needed to change these ratios, I am determined to make the time in my day to write notes and place phone calls because relationships humanize our work and emails tend to dehumanize it.

Channeling the time and energy that we are putting into electronic communication into interpersonal communication instead would be a great way to differentiate oneself from competitors. The returns might actually be scored in client retention and new business generated.

At the University of San Diego's Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, members of one of our committees composed of an exceptional group of young industry executives are determined to educate our undergraduate students on the uses and misuses of the Internet, when a phone call makes sense, and how and when personal notes can be game-changers. Their goal is to help students learn that slowing down to communicate more effectively can pay dividends much greater than hurrying to read, write, send and delete 500 or more messages a week — or day.

Of those 20 hand-written notes I mentioned earlier? Each was a personalized thank-you note to an individual who had done something special to help us advance our real estate program. Eighteen of the 20 were addressed to long-time supporters, many of whom I have been writing thank-you notes to for years because they keep on doing good things for us and our students. The personal touch works!


-Riedy is the founder and executive director of the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate at the University of San Diego.

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