The Primal Instincts of Customers and Boards of Directors

Mastering Skills in Personal Relationships by Steve Hoogenakker

Have you ever been impressed by a property manager who was thrust into a difficult situation or conversation and been amazed by how well they handled it? This article aims to teach you some of the skills of a “conversation master”.

I recently attended a CIC Midwest meeting about “Negaholics” and how to deal with negative people. The importance of mastering relationship skills was so apparent that I found myself inspired to write this article.

Honing & perfecting your relationship skills is probably the most important skill you’ll ever learn and one you can use every day of the rest of your life.

Let’s discuss Primal Instincts and what happens when we get into a critical conversation with others.

A critical conversation happens when 3 things are present:

1) Stakes are High,

2) Emotions run strong, and

3) There are differences in opinions.

A critical conversation can occur spontaneously and catch us off guard. When we are in a stressful & important conversation, our body pumps adrenaline.

We didn’t ask our body to do this, but it’s hard wired into our system.  Blood is sent coursing to arms and legs to fight or flee, and our higher reasoning centers are starved of blood and oxygen. It’s our primal response.

We are then forced to think on our feet with the brain equivalent of a poodle. (I have a 90 pound poodle, so I’m qualified to say that) and we’re stuck with the consequences of our words and actions. In our doped up, dumbed down state, when we need our intelligence most, we’re at our worst. Add to that our learned responses from watching our parents or co-workers deal with conflict, a few Jerry Springer shows and we can be in trouble.

OK, so we understand what is happening to us during this critical conversation. This is important, because we want to listen to our own bodies so we can stay in dialogue, but just as importantly, we know what’s happening with the other person in the conversation.

We have 3 choices when faced with an important conversation.

  1. Ignore the problem, go silent and hope it goes away.
  2. Deal with the problem poorly
  3. Deal with the problem well.



We apply the most basic of primal reactions: WE CREATE SAFETY!

Safety short circuits the primal response. Our number 1 goal is to make people feel safe in the conversation. This means they feel safe in expressing their true feelings or thoughts, even if they are angry. We’ve all had phone calls where we the other person shouts at first. Many times, they are reasonable after their initial outburst. Up until recently, most people believed that this is because they get a chance to blow off steam, but, a conversation master understands that safety has been created by not attacking the caller, & has made them feel they have been heard, allowing their adrenaline to come down.

Other times, you will have to work hard to draw the thoughts out of the other person. Drawing out their feelings to create safety allows people to contribute to the conversation, and keeps their adrenal glands in check.

If we don’t provide safety, then an individual WILL provide their own safety by clamming up and going to silence, or they’ll resort to verbal violence as another defense for personal safety. Learning to look for safety and create safety will greatly improve your personal and professional life.

We create safety by following a few simple principles.

1. Check YOUR motives at the door.

You should already know what you want out of the relationship or conversation. So start with heart. Stick with what’s important. In a heated conversation, you might subconsciously want to be sarcastic, humiliate them or put them in their place, especially if they you’ve been verbally attacked. If you start to feel this way, take a breath and remember what’s most important by asking these 4 questions:

  1. What do I want for myself
  2. What do I want for others,
  3.  What do I want for the relationship, and most importantly,
  4. How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Regularly asking these 4 questions outside of important conversations teaches you about your goals, what’s important to you, how to stay focused and clear.

2. Stay Focused. Crucial conversations have a way of taking us off of our game. “Once we name the game, we can stop playing it.” If our goal is to get residency rates over 95% and we’re in disagreement about billboards, newspaper ads, or internet ads to get there, then the name of the game is “Residency rates over 95%.” If the other party says

“You are wrong about the newspaper ads just like you were wrong about which landscaper you hired.” That’s a primal instinctive defense, a suckers choice and off topic. Stay above the fray, and on the topic at hand.

3. Create safety for the other individual, even if they don’t “deserve” it. You should always be looking for safety for the other person. Safety is like oxygen, you don’t notice it when it’s there, but when it’s missing, it’s all you can think about.

You create safety using 2 principles:

1. Mutual Respect. If they don’t feel respect, then they won’t trust you and vice versa.

If you think respect is lacking, use something like this: “I feel like we’re both trying to force our views on each other. I commit to staying in the conversation until we can reach a conclusion that both of us can agree on.”

2. Mutual Purpose. If they don’t believe you are both striving for the same end-result, then how can they trust you or how can they feel safe in the conversation? Mutual purpose creates safety because it’s much harder to share the mutual purpose and have a winner and a loser in a heated discussion. With mutual purpose, you’ve taken care of the WHY, you just need to answer HOW.

A master starts a crucial conversation by creating a dialogue with:

1. A clear goal

2. Honest motives.

Then he/she:

Watches the conversation

Creates safety

Thinks about their own style of conversation and what their own body is doing

Stops problems BEFORE they become BIG problems.


A skilled professional will find a way to get all of the free flow of relevant information out into the open, It’s the principle of the “Shared Pool of Meaning”. This is the synergistic pool of ideas and feelings of the entire group

Getting ideas into the “pool” have 3 major benefits:

  1. The larger the Pool, the better the decisions.
  2. The time you spend up front is more than made up by faster, more committed action later on. An extra 20 minutes spent drawing thoughts out of reluctant individuals might save hundreds of hours over the next few years.
  3. People who don’t get their ideas into the pool are rarely committed to the solution & silently criticize the decisions. People that have at least a small part of the decision will work harder to make it succeed.

Let’s think of this with a planned board meeting. Whoever makes the decision will benefit by having the most information available. We aren’t saying we want a consensus opinion, or that the president doesn’t make the final decision. As a matter of fact, a good idea is to state up front that there will be 2 phases to the conversation. First, a Discussion or Dialogue phase where all of the ideas are added to the pool of meaning. Second, after all ideas are shared, discussion is shut off and the Decision phase begins with decisions made by whoever is in charge.
Using these skills will make you a better communicator and leader in the Multi-Housing community. It will give you insights into others that you never would have received any other way. It will help you to listen and respect others in ways that 99% of the rest of the population never truly understands.

 This article written by Steve Hoogenakker of Concierge Landscape. Steve has 20 years in the leadership, management and landscaping field.  He can be reached at 763-213-2410 or by email at Steve@Landscape.Pro.

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