I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated. After all, it was my first day at a luxury brokerage in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the other agents weren’t just successful―they were cool. They had the right suits, the right haircuts, and the kind of wry smiles that made them look like they just stepped out of a vintage Ferrari in Monaco instead of a leased BMW three series on Driggs Avenue.
After my first week, I started to notice something odd. The most successful agents were almost always quiet while the mediocre agents talked nonstop all day long. The most successful agent in the office spoke in a hushed whisper that made everyone lean in to hear what she was saying. Where were all the “Type A” agents?
Of course, that was 10 years ago and, today, I spend my days editing and writing instead of showing and pitching. That’s why we decided to take another look at a common question we get from wannabe real estate rock stars and desperate hiring managers. Can introverts still make great real estate agents?
Most of What You Think About Introverts Is Wrong
If you asked a new real estate agent what they think an introvert is, they’ll more than likely use words like shy, quiet, scared, or even weak. They might even puff their chests out a little and proudly claim that they’re extroverted. Boisterous, loud, fearless, and strong. Because, of course, they would. You would, too, if you thought your career depended on it.
What Science Tells Us About Introverts
First of all, introversion does not mean shy. According to the American Psychological Association, introversion just means that someone is more oriented toward their inner world of thoughts and feelings rather than the outside world of people and things.
Introversion Only Predicts Real Estate Success or Failure in Relation to Other Personality Traits
Before you read this section, take that Myers Briggs test you printed out from Facebook and throw it in the garbage. It was designed by HR executives with absolutely no training in Psychology.
Actual scientists who study personality measurement, called psychometricians, use a much, much, more sophisticated tool to measure personality along five different dimensions (the “big five”). Introversion being only one of them. Your unique combination of these traits working along with introversion or extraversion are what determines your personality.
For example, one big five trait called neuroticism is a much stronger indicator that someone wouldn’t make a good real estate agent. Neuroticism, not introversion, is the personality trait that might make someone fearful and self-doubting.
Conscientiousness, which has recently been given the TED Talk treatment and rechristened as “grit” is the personality trait that makes someone hard-working, diligent, and resilient.
Now, if we had a mad scientist’s laboratory where we could build the perfect real estate agent, we could do a lot worse than make someone who is very low in neuroticism, and very high in conscientiousness. In other words, someone who works very hard, is very resilient, and shows very little fear.
With me so far?
“Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say.”―Will Durant
So, what about introversion then? Remember, an introvert just prefers their inner world instead of people and things. If they’re super-hard workers who are basically fearless, introversion shouldn’t matter, right? What if I told you introverted real estate agent can have substantial advantages over extroverts?
Well, how many times have you been working with a listing agent you don’t know and asked a question, or even submitted an offer only to get radio silence in return? Frustrating right?
Even better, who generally wins a negotiation? The person who gushes on for 15 minutes about how right they are and how much leverage they have or the person who sits quietly and then just says, “Thanks, but we’re looking for a better offer”?
If you’re struggling with this question, then just think about who is more likely to put too many cards on the table mistakenly? Who is more likely to get swept up in emotions rather than stick to a strategy? More to the point, who seems stronger?
The simple fact is that confident people with leverage know that if you really want people to listen, you need to talk less, not more.
For Effective Real Estate Leaders, Listening Beats Talking
Dr. Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, once described the most effective leader he ever met in the military. Amazingly, it wasn’t a stereotypical booming extrovert, but a deeply introverted two-star general in the Air Force. Why? Because he listened to his subordinates.
Grant’s research concluded that in certain circumstances, introverts can make better leaders than extraverts when they are leading people who take the initiative and speak out. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, spend half an hour in a busy brokerage office and get back to me.
While this may seem a little counterintuitive, it makes sense when you remember that extraverts can often clash with other extraverts. Here’s Grant:
“Once the extraverted leader responds in a less receptive way, that becomes discouraging for employees and makes them less willing to work hard.” It may also make them less willing to share ideas in the future, which would limit creativity and innovation.”
Listening, Not Talking, Is The Key to Winning Over Leads
Of course, for buyers and sellers, those same listening skills that introverts tend to develop (or at least seem to develop) can be the keys to the kingdom. After all, real estate is about relationships, and listening skills are crucial to building relationships.
Sure, being the life of the party can help you break the ice and rack up leads, but at the end of the day converting that lead to a sale and, eventually, a source of referrals is what separates the good agents from the great agents.
According to data from the National Association of Realtors, the number one thing buyers want from an agent is to help them find a new home. Things like helping them negotiate a sale barely didn’t even come close.
So, what do you think. Who’s better at helping buyers find properties for sale? Introverts or extraverts? Again, if you’re stuck here, who is more likely to spend a Saturday afternoon studying the market instead of at brunch? Who’s more likely to be data-driven?
Introverts Are Less Likely to Make Snap Decisions
Studies have also shown that introverts are less likely to make snap decisions than extraverts. While some snap decisions can be beneficial to closing a deal or getting a lead to agree to a listing appointment, others can and do sink deals. Quickly.
Of course, this also means that introverts are more likely to think through their decisions more thoroughly. So, when it comes to writing a CMA or trying to find concessions for an offer, introverts have the upper hand.
The View From the Top: Can Introverts Succeed in Manhattan Real Estate?
Of course, coming up with a positive result in psychology lab doesn’t always translate into success in the real world. So, to give the eggheads a gut check, we decided to check in with our friends at luxury Manhattan brokerage Warburg Realty to see how introverts do in real estate markets that are more back-alley knife fight than maroon blazers and nametags.
Here’s what they told us:
“I definitely believe that introverts can make great agents. My friend Susie Cain wrote a book about introverts, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,——V” where she provides a great deal of evidence that introverts not only play a critical—and necessary—role in business. In my own experience, while extroverts tend to be more the “norm,” I have worked with brokers who are less gregarious, quieter, reserved and they have been terrific to work with and beloved by their clients. Many of them have more creative approaches to handling issues that emerge in deals and are often more willing to “go out on a limb,” and suggest something not previously considered as they are more immune to the “groupthink” that categorizes so much of how issues are approached in our business. Additionally, I have known clients who feel overwhelmed by more grandiose personalities and appreciating the feeling that they are being better “heard,” which they perceive to be more likely with a more introverted broker.”
—Elizabeth O’Neill, Associate Broker
“A lot of people have suggested to me that I’m an extrovert. I can be outgoing, I’m comfortable in front of a camera, and the obvious, I’m in a sales and business position dealing with many different types of people. The truth is I’m an introvert, and I think there are many advantages that come with the ability to look within. Besides the obvious, such as not suffering from FOMO [a fear of missing out] or having issue with working more hours, even weekend hours, the way I think about and solve problems is fundamentally different from extroverts. Naturally, most successful agents are extroverts, and if you can leverage being radically different, there’s plenty of room for you at the table.”
—Gill Chowdhury, Associate Broker
“I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an introvert, but I wouldn’t call myself an extrovert, either. I’d classify myself as being a bit shy. In my daily life, I’m not comfortable with being super aggressive and asking tons of questions. But somehow with real estate, the minute I walk into a listing it’s almost like I become a different person. It’s as if I am taking on a role and for that period of time when I am showing a customer an apartment, it’s as if I am on stage. I become that outgoing, high energy, super inquisitive broker that I need to be. Several of my colleagues have mentioned to me that I am able to extract more information out of a customer than anyone they have ever seen. One customer who eventually hired me to represent him in buying an apartment asked me if my previous job was with the CIA. Perhaps a less outgoing and less aggressive person knows how to disarm an individual better than someone who is a natural extrovert? I never get nervous before a showing because I know that I will be able to find a way to connect with almost every single person who walks through that door.”
—Deborah Ribner, Agent
“We are in an industry where time spent finding comps and interpreting analytics is essential, so the introvert, using that focused “alone time” can certainly thrive. By learning to “flip the switch” and perform during face to face interactions, introverts can be a trusted source of information that quite a few potential clients will find more valuable or just as valuable as those who thrive in the spotlight.
“Also, the industry is about chemistry. There are quite a few potential clients who will feel far more comfortable with agents that don’t overwhelm them with their social prowess. Can the introvert succeed as a real estate agent? Yes. Our industry is as diverse as the properties and the people we represent, so extroverts and introverts can certainly compete and flourish.”
—George Case, Agent
“I think that many real estate agents, including myself, are natural extroverts. Stereotypically, I think most salespeople are extroverts, as we have to keep putting ourselves “out there,” hoping that we can charm clients and customers. Also stereotypically, introverts are better listeners than extroverts, and good salespeople need to listen to the wants and needs of clients and customers to be good agents. Extroverts are accustomed to being outgoing but need to remind themselves to be good listeners; introverts might have an easier and more natural time making customers feel “heard.”
—Steven Gottlieb, Agent
The Bottom Line: Should You Hire an Introvert for Your Brokerage or Team?
It seems pretty clear that assuming they have other complementary traits, introverts can still make great real estate agents. Of course, looking at the data and making a conclusion and convincing a hiring manager are two different things. Many managing brokers still think that introvert equals shy.
However, once we start looking at markets like New York City or Los Angeles, where competition for agents is fierce, the story begins to change a little bit. Unless we’re talking about elite luxury brokerages like Warburg or Rodeo Realty, a lot of brokerages are competing for warm bodies to fill seats and close rental deals.
That means “standards” are lowered, and stereotypes are more easily ignored. This means that introverts can and do end up dominating some offices. Much to the surprise of the boiler room wannabes who think constant eye contact and a bone-crushing handshake is the way to close deals.
So, instead of denying that introvert a job, why not give them an impromptu quiz on the market or sales and marketing strategies? Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised and wind up with a bewildered young agent wondering where all the “Type A” personalities are on their first day.
What Do You Think?
Are you an introverted real estate agent who wants to come out of the closet? Have an opinion on how introverts can crush it in 2021 real estate? Let us know in the comments or join us in our agents-only Facebook mastermind group.