How To Create Safe Spaces In A Polarized Real Estate Office
Each month Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. This time: An agent with family members in military service takes offense to a football-themed party at their real estate office.
In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.
An agent with family members in military service takes offense to a football-themed party at their real estate office. How can his broker respect this agent’s position while maintaining a professional work environment in their office?
Service to our nation through its armed forces is a central value to my family, one I take seriously with so many of us in active or past enlistment. I am incredibly proud of this tradition of service and commitment, which at its core represents a deep love for this country.
I wear this devotion “on my sleeve,” so to speak, which has resulted in a roster of longtime real estate clients who are also active and past service members.
My office was recently gifted a football-themed pizza party from our affiliated title company to show appreciation for our long-standing relationship and celebrate the annual championship game.
Many of my colleagues took part in and enjoyed this luncheon, but I did not. I explained to my broker why this theme was quite bothersome to me.
Although I once enjoyed football quite a bit, like many patriotic-minded Americans, I am strongly opposed to the now-regular practice of players “taking a knee” during the national anthem playing before the games. I understand they might be making a statement about something unrelated to the flag, but all I see is disrespect to their home country and the people in service to it.
My broker seemed to understand my reasoning, but the pushback I received from my colleagues was overwhelming. The well-meaning ones felt I was loosely connecting the party to an unrelated social and cultural issue, and the hostile ones just rolled their eyes and told me to “get over it.”
Perhaps I’m being too sensitive about this matter, but it does bother me that this party put such a divisive issue in the middle of my office with little regard for my position.
I have always admired and appreciated this agent’s extraordinary patriotism, but I am concerned by what I see as increasing sensitivity around all aspects of the cultural landscape.
Whether the hot-button is politics, race, gender, religion or some combination of them, it has become more challenging for decision-makers to make seemingly benign plans without stepping on some toes. We seem to be losing the ability to accept differences of opinion or beliefs.
Take this pizza party, for example. This well-intentioned title company just wanted to treat us to lunch on the week of the “big game” and decorated our breakroom with some football-shaped plates and ornaments, some of which featured our hometown team’s logos along with the two teams playing in the game.
Agents were welcome to stop by and enjoy a slice with some socially distanced conversation among colleagues or grab a plate on their way out the door or between appointments. It was in no way a celebration or endorsement of “the league,” any particular team or anyone’s position. It was, at most, a décor theme.
When this agent shared his concerns with me, I respected them and explained that he was under no obligation to attend. But it looks like other agents asked why he didn’t stop by, and his explanations have somehow made this innocent party a divisive issue for our office.
I won’t go into detail, but I have seen emails and texts on both sides of the issue that make me uncomfortable in the anger they expressed. The offended agent did not seem to understand that his expression of displeasure and adamant condemnation of the activity was offensive to others whose opinions differed from his.
I believe this agent is being extremely sensitive in my heart of hearts, almost searching for a reason to find offense with the party’s theme. If we continue down this path, only the most vanilla and boring themes for gatherings, campaigns, initiatives, etc., will be deemed acceptable.
How to resolve
Just months after the most divisive election in our nation’s history and the incidents of chaos that followed, we remain in the throes of a deadly global pandemic while finally facing the inequities of racial and gender equality.
In these fraught and anxious times, decision-makers must realize that sensitivity is a two-way street — with lanes and sometimes roadblocks being added in both directions every day. It is better to accept this reality and the unavoidable criticisms that will come with big decisions and daily decisions than to rail about the day’s circumstances.
With this pizza party situation, the agent might have felt comfortable with a party celebrating the sport of football, but the inclusion of league-associated team logos is perhaps what “triggered” his response. The broker can accept unexpected reactions like his as inevitable, use this occasion as a learning experience, and apply it to future events and activities.
We can only hope that we don’t become so restrictive in our thinking that we lose out on being truly inclusive in our culture and give way to excluding everyone. Concerning maintaining interoffice harmony, the broker can also encourage a “safe space” culture where differing points of view are respected. Respect for differing opinions does not mean we promote using the office as a platform for argument. To work in harmony, we need to show our respect for others’ views by refraining from engaging for the good of all.
From the agent’s perspective, he should strive to understand the positive and benevolent intent of themed gatherings, such as recognizing how they do not endorse any particular position or viewpoint. Tolerance is the key.
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty, with offices in North Miami, South Miami, Kendall, and the Florida Keys, and where he leads the activities of more than 170 agents. He is also a working agent who consistently sells more than 100 homes a year.