6 Tips for Communication Clarity with Your Residents

You know, not everyone has a gift for writing. Some people don’t even have the basics.

When I was younger, my mother was a librarian and an English teacher. She and I would sit at the kitchen table in the evenings, me struggling with the complexities of Algebra (many of which I, to this day, still do not understand), and her grading her student’s essays, while we watched Law and Order and shared microwave popcorn. I wasn’t supposed to, but often when she wasn’t looking, I would read some of her kids’ papers, and would be mystified at how completely unclear some of the writing was. I would ask her how a paper possibly constituted a “B” and she would always tell me something along the lines of, for that student, it was marked improvement and earned a “B”. A resentful teacher’s kid, I would always think, “If I wrote like that, you’d give me a D- and tell me to use a spell checker.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand that my mother, while highly encouraging and one of the most amazing people on the planet, was what they like to call, “an easy grader.”

This isn’t high school any more. We can’t afford to be “easy graders” on ourselves or our staffs. I’m not advocating whipping out the red pen and making the paper bleed (although I think it’s an effective editors tool!), but something being good enough isn’t good enough with seen through the eyes of a resident or customer.

Below is an example of how to improve your resident communication.

“The management requests that you stop leaving garbage by your door. It is bothering other residents and cannot continue.”

This is impersonal and, while not overtly mean, it could be construed offensively. Yes, I know it smells, I know it kills us to have trash by doors when we’re on tours, and I know that you really just want it to stop, but there are more effective ways to communicate this message. Try this:

“Dear Rita Resident, In one of our many walks around the community this week, we noticed that you had a small bundle of garbage by your front door. Trash by the doors is the number one cause of mice and other vermin getting in to apartments, and we would like to prevent that at all costs so that everyone can have a healthy place to live. We would greatly appreciate it if you could make sure that your garbage gets all the way to the dumpster in the future. If there is a problem with this, please let us know so that we can accommodate you to the best of our abilities. Sincerely, Margo Manager “

It’s nicer, gives a reason that is allowing what we call “buy-in” from the resident (i.e. she doesn’t want vermin in her home) and focuses on both community and accommodation. After all, we don’t know if that resident left their garbage by the front door because they had suffered an injury that made it difficult to move. If we find that out, we have a golden chance to both take care of the problem and ensure resident retention in one fail swoop by offering to take the garbage down for her.

Six guidelines for better resident communication are:

  1. Write in a voice that is appropriate for the audience you’re speaking to. If you are writing a notice about kids, write it so that even a kid could understand. If your demographic is made up of highly educated working professionals, then it’s okay to use “aquatics center” but if you are in a lower education demographic then you want to stick with using “the pool.” Nobody likes to be made to feel dumb, and talking down to someone or talking over their head is one of the quickest ways to get on their bad side.
  2. Proofread, Proofread, Proof-freaking-read! No one takes a notice seriously that is littered with spelling and grammatical errors. Or if you say, “The BBQ will be on Wednesday, July 16th” when Thursday is the 16th, no one will know when your event is, and you might end facing the choice of disappointing residents or holding two barbecues instead of one. Just get the date right and save yourself the migraine.
  3. Eliminate the words “Dear Resident” and “From the Management” out of your business vocabulary. If I want my dog to listen to me, I don’t say, “Hey you dog! Com’ere!” Your residents deserve at least as much respect as you would give a pet. Call them by their names and connect with them. Likewise, don’t refer to yourself in the connotative intimidating terms of “The Management.” Yeah, it’s what you are, but all “the management” cares about is getting a check, where as Margo Manager cares about the person who’s writing the check. For as much money as they give you a month, you can hit a few more keys when typing up a notice and take a moment to personalize.
  4. If you know you’re not a writer, then don’t pretend it’s one of your strengths. If you are a manager, but your written communication skills are a bit lacking (and there’s nothing wrong or shameful if they are! You can probably add mad huge numbers in your head. I can’t do that. I am in awe of you “number people” out there) then don’t hesitate to delegate. Just because it’s a notice from “the management” doesn’t mean the manager has to write it.
  5. Send out the proactive notice, not the reactive one. If you think something is going to become a problem in the near future, or there is a large change or inconvenience that may occur, then get the word out before you have to send a notice admonishing someone. It’s always better to say “With days getting longer, more kids will be outside playing in the evening. We wanted to remind you that the speed limit….” rather than, “We have had a tragic accident this week and will now be enforcing the speed limit in the community…”
  6. Push positive! I can’t stress this enough. If you’ve got to enforce the rules and you’ve got to be the town sheriff occasionally, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it with a smile on your face and a nicer tone of voice. The last thing people want to see from their community manager is something that is a) written angrily, b) treating them like they’re a five year old and c) is always negative. You can give bad news, but it really does come down to how you phrase it. Make it a point to never let a notice leave your office with a negative tone on it, and you’ll see your resident retention pay off in the end!

These are some communication basics, but brushing up on the basics never hurts. Take a moment to make sure that when you send something out from the office, you’re reading what it says, and what it doesn’t say all at the same time!

Posted on 16. Jul, 2009 by in Best Of, Resident Retention

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