Can't we all just get along? Why it's so hard to talk about fair housing
Updated: Jul 8
Over the last few weeks, I've created a fair amount of new content around fair housing for
Inman. I've talked about crime statistics, property descriptions, and answering the complex questions that clients ask. In these articles, I've come at the topic from perspectives ranging from the personal to the professional to the simple communication breakdowns that can sometimes occur.
The feedback has been, for the most part, incredible. I've gotten IG DMs, emails, and texts thanking me for the content, asking me for more information, asking to link to the articles themselves in newsletters, asking me to write property descriptions and asking me to teach webinars to their teams and brokerages. It has been a truly thrilling experience to write things that resonate so strongly with so many people.
At the same time, predictably, there have been those who are angry that we are having the conversation at all. Check out the comments on that property description story to see just a sample of the back and forth. One of the biggest beefs people had was with the idea that these words and phrases were banned or were direct violations, even though within the article I took pains to point out that that was not usually the case.
In private correspondence, there were people who thought that the whole issue was a political one or that it was ridiculous to question the status quo at all. My favorite was from someone who said "nobody likes this" even though thousands of people read the articles and dozens reached out to me directly with positive feedback. In that writer's mind, they are "everybody" and "nobody" could possibly have a different perspective.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where almost everything is politicized and where even well-meaning people who would otherwise see eye-to-eye struggle to find common ground. For my part, I hold my breath whenever I mention fair housing to a client in regard to something they want in their description. I am always afraid that it will lead to an argument or the loss of their business.
Understand, I say it anyway. I just cringe inwardly when I do so.
Besides the current political and social polarization, what keeps us from being able to talk about fair housing like grownups? What makes it so difficult to have these conversations without folks getting up on their soapbox? Most importantly, how can we move forward as people of goodwill and professionals and have those tough conversations anyway?
What freaks people out about "fair housing"?
While plenty of people cringe at outdated terms, either because of their own personal experience with prejudice or because they consciously think about inclusive language on a regular basis, there are others who react in the opposite way, becoming defensive and even angry when the status quo is challenged. Here are some of the reasons that I think so many people struggle with this topic.
Some people are simply lazy and don't want to learn anything new or have their most basic assumptions challenged.
Some people are older and struggle to keep up with changes to societal and professional norms and behaviors.
Some people are isolated (by choice or by circumstance) within a specific demographic group and struggle to take on feedback from those who exist outside of their experience.
Some people lack empathy and struggle to enter into the lived experience of those who are different from them or who disagree with their perspective.
Some people are self-involved and would rather allow everyone else to be uncomfortable than to change their attitudes or behaviors.
Some people are threatened by the loss of status represented by the inclusion of other demographic groups.
Some people subscribe to a moralistic worldview or belief system that tells them that those who are different are bad, evil, or cursed.
Some people are tired and afraid because they see the world changing at an unprecedented rate and feel they can no longer keep up.
Whatever the reasons and whatever the feelings involved, playing the blame game and hating on those who disagree with us is never the look. It does nothing but reinforce their perceptions of us as angry and combative.
There are some people who will never want to have hard conversations with you and who will always believe that their own perspective and their own comfort level is the only thing that matters. They may never care about how someone else feels and they may even believe that they have a moral duty to hold their ground against change.
However, for people who are willing to entertain the notion of a different perspective or who are curious about the experience of others, effective communication can make it possible to have tough conversations without all of the drama and hurt feelings.
Please note: I am primarily talking about professional communication here. There are many families struggling right now with vastly different viewpoints and combatting the effects of misinformation on their family members. Often, the close ties and personal connections you have make it far more difficult to have tough conversations, especially if those conversations call into question their most closely held beliefs.
How can you have a professional conversation with a colleague about fair housing?
If you need to talk to someone on your team or in your office, there are some ways to do so. In addition, keeping the topic at the forefront of a larger professional conversation should be an ongoing effort.
Remind the colleague that fair housing is not a matter of political correctness; it's the law of the land. It's not a new-fangled way of trying to promote diversity. Its legal roots go back to the mid-19th century.
Provide learning opportunities to help people confront their unconscious bias and learn to correct for it in their communication and strategy. NAR's Fairhaven simulator is a great place to understand the ins and outs of how fair housing laws apply to everyday situations.
Walk the walk. Normalize diversity and inclusion in marketing materials, including the artwork you use on your website, listing presentation, and blog. Make sure your calendar includes events that are important to a variety of religious, ethnic, and social groups and create an inclusive workplace for your support staff and agents.
Make your voice heard at the local association, professional group, media outlets and other places where you are involved. Elevate a diverse array of voices on your social media platforms. If you're in charge of a committee or panel discussion, make sure you're bringing in a variety of perspectives and people.
Don't lump everyone into the same category. Everyone isn't racist, homophobic, elitist or misogynist. Some people are ignorant of these issues. Some people are fearful. Some people have lived with the privilege of never having to consider these issues. By presenting new ideas in a non-judgmental way, you can help them to get outside of the confines of their own experience and learn something new.
It's not always easy to do the right thing, but that doesn't excuse you from doing it. The more we try — imperfectly, hesitantly, and even sometimes fearfully — to have hard conversations and to offer new perspectives, the more we will all grow and accomplish together.