One of the qualities that makes Seattle such a wonderful city to live in is its diverse population. There are 94 different languages spoken in Seattle public schools. This diversity introduces cultures that we might not have known about otherwise, provides us with some of the best ethnic cuisine restaurants and expands our horizons.
However, having a diverse population, even though it enriches our lives, can also create some rift, at least unintentionally. Ninety-four different languages spoken in our public schools means that we can expect to encounter many cultures that may be very different from our own. Each culture has its own unique customs and interacting between them can be tricky sometimes. Personally, I have lived in three different continents and I know firsthand how easy it is to misunderstand or be misunderstood. I also know that this is often where problems begin.
All of us in the real estate industry have and/or will encounter multi-cultural home buyers and sellers and we want to be able to serve our clients the best that we can. However, sometimes we end up offending them, despite our good intentions. With a little bit of awareness, most of these misunderstandings can be prevented. Below are some tips for you to keep in mind:
- Remember that some individuals from different cultures, such as those from some Middle Eastern countries and Orthodox Jews, don’t allow handshakes with the opposite sex. When in doubt, a smile and a simple head bow will go a long way.
- In some cultures, men prefer to do the talking, yet the women help with the decisions. Making quick eye contact with the women while smiling will let them know that you are acknowledging them also.
- If you have a hard time understanding their accent, just politely ask the person to repeat what they said. They know that they have an accent and they will do their best to communicate with you so you can understand them. Avoid comments like “you have a cute accent”. Not everyone will find your comment CUTE.
- Don’t racially profile. Not all Asians are Chinese and not all people with dark hair and eyes with olive skin are Latin.
- Don’t talk louder because they can’t understand you. They are not deaf; they just can’t speak English that well. Instead, speak slower, use simpler words, and ask if you need to confirm that they understood what you said.
- Avoid using slang.
- Some hand gestures, like thumbs up, are viewed negatively in some Middle Eastern countries. Be safe and don’t make any.
- You should keep in mind that the American real estate process is very unique in comparison to most other countries. Don’t assume they are familiar with it. BE PATIENT! Explain steps carefully and again ask for confirmation that they have understood your instructions. Encouraging your clients to come with a fried and/or a family member who speaks English well will be helpful to all of you. Don’t shy away from asking.
- Visit a few open houses with them and let them know what they are competing against. This is a MUST!
- Multi-cultural home sellers will look to you for answers and guidance. Be a problem solver and address their issues and concerns. What seems obvious to you might not be so clear for them.
- Avoid talking politics at all cost, especially about their origin countries. They might want to tell you about their own views about politics. Listen and keep your own views to yourself. You might open a can or cans of worms without knowing it.
- Respect the extended families. Many cultures don’t make any decisions without the blessing and/or approval of their parents. Elders are very important. Do welcome their input.
- Multi-generational living arrangements are very common in many cultures. Avoid making jokes about this cultural choice. Respect is everything.
- If you find yourself stuck and have doubts of how to handle a situation, just ask them. “How do you prefer …..?” or “What is the best way …..?” This shows respect and they will be glad to share their culture and preferences with you.
- Respect the “lucky” and “unlucky” days on the calendars. It is not a superstitious issue, it is a cultural one. Therefore, if you hear something like “it is unlucky to sign papers on such and such date”, just present another date. Don’t discuss it.
Summary: By following some of these suggested recommendations, you will be successful in dealing with your multicultural clients and helping them to reach their sales goals. You should also know that once you have gained the trust of a multicultural family and have helped them to succeed, they will be your best source for referrals. RESPECT is everything.
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