In our rental property management industry, the survival guide to dealing with difficult people lies in understanding that “hurt people hurt people.” In our Survival BootCamp workshop, we cover the art of handling challenging individuals, and this article serves as a deep dive into this concept.

Understanding the Core of Hurt:
Throughout my 27-year career, I’ve encountered numerous instances of working with upset residents in our apartment communities. More often than not, our team had no direct involvement in the underlying causes of their distress. Yet, as I interacted with these individuals and witnessed their lives unfold within our community, I began to gain insight into their behavior. Almost without exception, I discovered that these difficult people were grappling with their own forms of pain. Whether they had experienced the loss of a loved one or were undergoing significant life changes, often faster than they could handle, their actions were a reflection of their internal turmoil.

A Personal Encounter:
One memorable encounter stands out as a testament to this principle. A prospect stormed into our leasing center, demanding to see a two-bedroom apartment. Despite my best efforts to engage him, it seemed like every step I took further aggravated him. He was impatient and disinterested in learning about our community. As we reached the apartment model, he abruptly rushed inside, leaving me feeling defeated. However, despite my doubts, I still mustered the courage to ask for the sale. To my surprise, he agreed and eventually became a valued resident.

A Transformative Journey:
In the months that followed, this resident’s attitude underwent a remarkable transformation. It turns out that he was enduring a tumultuous period in his life, including a divorce and other distressing circumstances. He was “hurting out loud,” and his challenging demeanor was merely a defense mechanism. When I asked him why he chose our community, he revealed that we were the only place that treated him with respect and offered him the opportunity to lease. This act of kindness made a profound impact on his life, reassuring him that he would be okay.

The Power of Empathy:
Practicing empathetic listening, as Stephen R. Covey advises, is the key to uncovering the pain beneath difficult exteriors. Rather than responding with aggression, showing compassion and empathy can often lead to a positive outcome. I often reflect on this resident’s story when faced with irate individuals, reminding myself that they may be hurting as well. Being kind, listening, or offering a smile can have a lasting impact, potentially even saving a life. Check out our previous article about Empathetic Listening.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA):
In addition to empathy, we can equip ourselves with tools like Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). MHFA, recognized by the U.S. Senate, teaches individuals to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Just as CPR helps in emergencies, MHFA equips us to address mental health challenges. The National Apartment Association has trained numerous instructors to administer the MHFA course, ensuring more individuals in our industry are prepared to recognize and support those in need.

In our ever-changing industry, being prepared to handle challenging situations is not just good business; it’s excellent customer service.

By practicing empathetic listening and enhancing our skills through education like MHFA, we can navigate difficult interactions while showing compassion for those who may be struggling. Ultimately, understanding the principle that “hurt people hurt people” allows us to be agents of change and support for those who need it most.

For more information about MHFA and how you can find an instructor in your area here:

Here is Smart’s adaptation of the “ALGEE” MHFA Action Plan