Dealing with Disruptive Agents

Unruly real estate agents can cause issues small and large at the brokerages where they work, from creating distractions during training sessions to leaving the office with a stash of snacks, cups and plates intended for visitors and clients.

Brokers lamented problems such as these on Sunday at the Idea Exchange Council for Brokers Forum during the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C. The small discussion groups agreed that conversations with agents around these topics are never easy—but are necessary. 

One attendee, Ann Enos, a former longtime broker and now director of professional development at the Rhode Island Association of REALTORS®, noted that brokers are better off having uncomfortable conversations with disruptive agents sooner than later. Brokers shared the following tips: 

Think about the relationships: If disruptive agents’ behavior patterns aren’t addressed, it could sour relationships far and wide. Agents who conduct themselves with respect might sour on a broker who allows one agent to continually act in a way that causes problems. Likewise, an agent who is causing issues inside the office is likely causing issues outside the office, too, which reflects on the brokerage. Relationships with industry partners, clients and the local community could be at risk.  

Give agents more responsibility: Sometimes, disruptive agents need more responsibility. For example, an agent might be causing distractions during training sessions out of boredom. In these cases, Enos said, the agent could take on a more active role and lead a training if they have an area of expertise or a skill that helps them drive business.  

Consider the liability: Enos made clear that brokers must consider that their agents’ behaviors could cost them. Liability falls on the broker should an agent’s behavior turn from disruptive to ethically questionable. It’s the broker’s license that’s on the line, which is why brokers need not delay a conversation to establish boundaries and make clear the expectations for an agent’s conduct.  

Bring in the team lead: Brokers with teams can delegate some responsibility to team leads, especially if a troublesome agent is on one of those teams. Team leads are in positions of authority and should be ensuring the agents under them act in a way that aligns with the brokerage’s core values.   

Have empathy when warranted: Some brokers said that agents sometimes act out because of a need, which might be true in the case of an agent who routinely takes office supplies, food or what might be deemed as a household essential, like toilet paper. A conversation without empathy at its core might elicit shame or embarrassment on the part of the agent. These conversations should be handled with privacy and care in mind.

Likewise, if an agent is suffering through some kind of struggle, the brokerage can come up with creative solutions to aid, Enos said. When she was a broker, she initiated an “in-house charity” fund. She and her agents contributed a nominal amount to the fund when they had the financial means. She said that over time, the fund grew to a substantial amount and did help agents in need. It also boosted morale in her office.  

Suggestions for difficult conversations:

  • Don’t wait too long to have a conversation. Doing so could empower an agent to continue their poor behavior.
  • Establish boundaries. Make expectations for behavior clear, and when you can, tie it back to core values or office policy.
  • Be direct in your communication while also listening and showing empathy. Agents might be having outside struggles that are driving the behavior. 

If all else fails, remember that an agent’s behavior is a reflection of you and your brokerage. If you must make adjustments to protect your reputation and avoid liability, do not hesitate, brokers said.

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