"Help me, help you. Help me, help you. Help ME help YOU!" I silently thought as my mother-in-law insisted she'd take out her own trash. (This phrase is my most recent mantra from the movie, Jerry McGuire. For me, it's almost a prayer.)
At 90 years of age, Zee finally relented to family pressure, health scares, and diminishing finances, and moved in with us last year into the garden apartment just below the main house that we'd designed specifically for her. Determined to remain fiercely independent ("fierce" being the operative word), the move hasn't exactly been easy - for either one of us. Two matriarchs with strong opinions and a tendency to speak our minds; it's been a bit like putting two roosters in one hen house.
"I can do it myself!" (No, you can't. For the love of GOD, please let me help you!)
Last week, Zee fell and broke her hip on her way out the door; her untouched walker tucked neatly away in the hall closet. ("It makes me look old.") Yeah, I could see that one coming from a mile away.
Thankfully, the crew who'd come to demo the yard were there to assist and I was unexpectedly, home as well. Cut to: a fire truck, the paramedics, an ambulance, the emergency room, surgery, and her release to a rehab facility three days later. She's back in business and no doubt will be up and running in no time at all (well, walking). Truly, Cliff's mom is a heavy-weight boxer at heart; she's not going down without a fight!
I don't easily discount the fight. Her fighting spirit has created a life that's stood this remarkable woman in good stead for more than nine decades to be sure, but it's also proven, from time to time, to be her nemesis as well. There's a point at which "fighting" for the sake of fighting isn't just less helpful, it's downright foolish.
Zee wouldn't agree with me. (Not everyone does.)
I get it, no one wants to admit they need help. Moreover, when we've been trained to battle, it's tough to know when it's time to lay down your arms.(Help me, help you.) But as my own mother often reminded me (and still does), "Is this the hill you want to die on?"
So how does this family drama relate to Real Estate?
It's this: The desire to fight - at any cost - can and often does, work against you, especially in the heat of the battle.
Recently accused of being too sympathetic to the other side's position by a highly anxious client, I readily accept - without apology - her assessment of the situation (guilty as charged) and here's why: negotiations should never be adversarial. Instead, they should seek solutions that move the transaction forward. When we mindfully navigate what's undoubtedly an emotional transition (for everyone involved) with the intention that both parties will give and get - in equal measure - it's far more likely that when one side needs some flexibility, the other side will be more willing to yield and find a middle ground. (Help me, help you.) In short, save your "asks" for those things that matter most.
Not everyone agrees with me.
That's okay, they don't have to. They can choose to work with an Agent that prides themselves on taking NO prisoners and craves a knock-out punch. (It's still a free world as far as I can tell). But when push comes to shove (and it often does in a Real Estate transaction), I'll seek the high road every time.What's more, I'll encourage you to do the same BECAUSE experience has taught me that good will is never wasted and that kindness pays dividends - even when it's NOT immediately apparent. (BTW- you're not just being reasonable, you're being smart. Help me, help you!)
Can we avoid our negative feelings when we perceive an injustice (or a tough-as-nails mother-in-law)? No way, but we can certainly take a moment to check our responses, bite our tongues, reconsider that late-night text, set a win-win strategy, cultivate empathy, and view the lens from the other side. Conversely, when we set out to make things difficult, you're likely to find yourself out of the deal altogether. In other words, you may have won the battle, only to lose the war. So play nice and "choose your battles wisely," and you're far more likely to have a successful result in the end.
Hey, I'm off to visit Zee at Piedmont Gardens this morning. Today, her physical therapist is getting her out of bed (with the help of a walker). She'll have no choice but to use it now. (Go figure.) Keep fighting Zee; you'll need that feisty spirit to make it all the way back, but remember, I'm here to help. (You can give just a little.) That's what makes us family.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.