You walk up the sidewalk towards a beautiful home on a glorious spring day, a bounce in your step, your documents are in your hotshot locking silver briefcase, perfectly printed and ready to go. You have the signers' names memorized, business card at the ready, and .... the door opens. The housekeeper welcomes you with a weak smile as you hear Mr. Smith in the background in a booming voice say, "Can we please just get this damn thing over with!"
But you are not filled with dread.
You are a pro.
This is just the challenge you love - diffusing upset, solving issues, getting the signing done - all while making the person that hired you look like a star, and leaving a much happier, and calmer, borrower in your wake.
You introduce yourself.
"Hi Mr. Smith, I am theDocument Ninja and I am the signing agent that will be conducting your refinance signing. We spoke the other day; it's nice to meet you in person!"
"Look", he says. "This has been a total nightmare, and I just want to get it over with."
"Great! I want nothing more than for you to have a successful closing as well, so we are totally on the same page!"
This is called FINDING AGREEMENT, and goes a long way to
establishing rapport and an energy of cooperation.
"Well that's good, he says. I have been trying to reach someone all day and get some answers on some things, maybe at least I can get them now!"
"You are upset and have questions that are important to you that you want answers for", you reflect back to him.
This is called REFLECTIVE LISTENING. You simply paraphrase back
to them what you heard them say.
It is different than "agreeing" with them. My job as a Signing Agent is to represent the Title Company and Lender and to never disparage or appear to disparage them in any way. How often have we heard that they have been trying to reach someone all day when actually they only left a voice mail 5 minutes ago? Often, folks are just upset because they had a bad day, are feeling sensitive or defensive about issues they had to disclose in the loan process, or they are just plain feeling ornery. And I don't need to know the why! When I simply reflect back what I heard, without defensiveness or agreement, the person feels heard and usually begins to calm down immediately.
But notice I have not validated his complaint as being true - only his feelings and needs. The wrong way to do this would be to say, in true people-pleasing, conflict-avoiding mode:
"I don't blame you. Borrowing is so frustrating and it is so hard to get answers."
No. It is my job to elegantly guide him into serenity, not to become his complaint ally. Once you reflect back to him what you hear him say, "You are upset and have questions that are important to you that you want answers for", you meet a MUCH calmer individual.
"Yes, exactly!" he says.
He leans forward and rests his elbows on the signing table.
YOU lean forward and rest YOUR elbows on the signing table.
This is called MIRRORING.
And boy oh boy, does this work to calm things down.
Notice how the person is sitting.
Notice their body language.
Mirror it back to them.
If they are leaning back, arms across their chests in a defensive posture, lean back with them, but keep your arms open and gradually move them into a closer and more intimate posture. Most of the time they will follow you. Once you connect, it is astounding to watch it happen!
Try This Experiment!
Next time you see folks sitting in a row together, just watch. You will be shocked at how they end up sitting the same way, crossing their legs the same way, even resting their hands in identical fashion. Then watch closely. One of them will change the way their legs cross, or where they have their arms, and pretty soon many of the others in the row will follow suit.
The empathic energy of a group is an unconscious, but powerful, tool that we as signing agents can use to help the borrower get on board, and to get the job done successfully for our clients.
"So what are your questions?" you respond with confidence.
Asking a question can be a powerful way of moving them into rational, problem solving mode, and out of reactive anger. It also helps to further move them out of the fight or flight based sympathetic nervous system and into the tranquil space of the parasympathetic nervous system. And that is no small thing!
"Well, he stammers, I just need to know if my property tax is going to be included in my payment or not! And also, what the heck is included in my closing costs? I received the number, but I have no idea how they got to that. I want to see a breakdown!" He is still a little grumpy.
Notice any defensiveness you are holding. Are you taking his attitude personally? I like to remind myself that this is not personal. It is not about me. And I try to remember a time when I, too, was upset and taking it out on a salesperson, or someone in line at Walmart. Connecting to my compassion in that way, instead of going into defense, not only changes me - but it changes them. They can feel my energy, tone and body language; they are picking up cues at all times.
When I meet someone's upset with compassion, it is often so startling for them, and so rare, that they soften immediately. And I am happy for them when they do, not just for myself. Feeling stressed and angry can be awful!
"Great questions!" you continue. I can show you on your settlement documents where all that
information is. Once I see your I.D.s and go over some signing instructions with you, we will get started. And I will be swearing you in for the documents that require an oath. Is there anything else you have questions about?"
As he lowers his tone of voice, begin to match it and gradually you can move him into an even quieter tone if necessary.
This is another way of matching called Tone Matching.
You continue to MATCH TONE and BODY LANGUAGE. He continues to calm down.
"Let's get this over with", he laughs.
Smiling in return, you reflect back:
"You are ready to have this over with. I understand. And I want to support you by making sure you understand the general purpose of each document and where and how to sign as we go through them. You deserve to have me take the proper time and attention as we proceed; I know how important these documents are to you. So you have my commitment that we will be thorough and get through the documents efficiently, yet make sure you have all the information you need. Does that sound like a plan?"
This is called a REFRAME.
He started out by presenting the length of time necessary for the signing as a problem. You, Signing Agent Extraordinaire that you are, reframed the length of time as something he was entitled to, and told him you were the one going to make sure he got it!
"Yes, that sounds like a plan. Can I get you something to drink?" Mr. Mellow Smith now asks. Which of course you decline, if you are me, because you are a bit of a clumsy dork and don't want to trash his documents with a nice cold glass of iced tea.
The signing goes smoothly, the borrower is happy, you have remained loyal to your client and you are on your way to FedEx, then happy hour - all in one piece.
The Awesome End.
It Ain't Easy - But YOU ARE A DOCUMENT NINJA!
If we do nothing more than:
Mirror body language
Match and guide tone of voice into a calmer state and,
Reflect back a few sentences in a paraphrase,
we will be gratified with the results. Reflecting can be awkward at first - I recommend practicing on family members and friends. It feels strange! But practice makes perfect, and you will prepare you for when that tense moment happens. And it will.
Just try it.
You might be surprised. I have never had anyone ever say, "What are doing? Why are you repeating what I said?" Because they don't hear it that way. They simply experience the empathy and sense of being heard - and frustration cannot live in the face of that for long. I like to practice mirroring body language as well. Once you try it, wait a bit and shift position - and be amazed as they follow your lead. It may take a minute or two, but if rapport and empathy is established it works like a charm.
Taking someone from upset to empathy is a challenge. But it is also a gift - to them and to us.
For me it is one of the best parts of this job. As I learn and practice patience, empathy and compassion at the tables of complete strangers, I develop an even greater patience and compassion for myself. It is a total win/win. Sure, this job could be just about getting a bunch of docs signed and getting the heck outta there. But it can be so much more when I open my heart.
I would love to hear your tips and experiences with challenging situations as well, as I learn and grow from all the great signing agents out their who share their stories and experience with me. Another thing I love about this job is the community of support that we share together.