Essential Negotiation Skill

3 min read

Separate the people from the problem


Separate the People From the Problem – Essential Skill

Real Estate negotiations are a complex mix of people and the terms to be negotiated in the transaction.  

In most negotiations, they become entangled, making finding solutions that satisfy both sides difficult and sometimes impossible.

In challenging markets like we are experiencing now, it is common for emotions to run high and for people to get too invested in their positions. 

This leads to tension, conflict, blame, and, often, impasse. A smart approach to take when this happens is to separate the people from the problem. 

This approach focuses on identifying and resolving the underlying issues while maintaining a positive relationship between the parties involved. 

Easier said than done, but critical to your success in both earning the right to represent someone and helping them make important and often difficult decisions. 

Separating the people from the problem doesn’t mean ignoring the personal side. Emotions are the biggest things that get in the way of perfectly doable real estate deals. Emotions need to be managed. When people feel anxious, fearful, or angry, they tend to see the other side as adversaries in a personal confrontation. 

Our job as paid professional negotiators is to diffuse this tension and help the parties make rational decisions about the substantive issues in the offer.

Separating the people from the problem requires a shift in mindset from seeing the other party as the adversary to viewing them as a collaborator in finding a solution. This mindset shift starts with you as the professional negotiator. This will give you the required perspective to use your negotiation skills to enable the other parties to shift the way they see things. 

You may have to help both the parties to the transaction and the cooperating agent to shift their mindset.

“The Ego seeks to divide and separate. Spirit seeks to unify and heal.”

Pema Chodron

Let’s look at an Example.   

You are talking to a potential seller about listing their home, and you sense that they are feeling some conflict towards you regarding the price you gave them in the CMA. 

Here’s what might be happening: 

(Every situation is unique, and this is for analysis purposes only)

The people:  They are feeling stressed or anxious and believe that they need and deserve more money for the home than the price you have given them. They blame you for the market and whatever else is going wrong in their life. They feel angry and/or disappointed with you, and no matter what you say, they are defensive and not thinking logically about the sale of their home. 

The problem: they need to sell their home, and the current market value does not solve the problem that is causing them stress and anxiety. The market is challenging, and the economic situation is uncertain. 

They need to decide between selling their property at its current market value or finding a way to keep the home until the market improves. This timeline is unknown.   

To earn this listing, you must create an environment where they trust you enough to hear the substantive issues around their problem and work collaboratively with you to find the best solutions. This trust doesn’t come easily, especially since a cognitive bias is built into commission sales.    


  1. Address the people side.
  2. Use your high-level communication skills to understand their perspective, emotions, and challenges.
  3. Don’t try to solve them.
  4. Acknowledge them.

This doesn’t mean you agree; it means you understand. Once you feel you have their trust, ask if they want to problem-solve with you to find the best path forward. 

Addressing the people side first creates an environment where you can look at the problem side together. This helps them see that the market and their situation aren’t your fault and that you are the professional here to help them move forward. 

Tricky? – sure, but this is what people need from us in this market