Episode 23: Hamza Khan – What Makes a Leader?

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for and about Canadian REALTORS® brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association, one of this country’s largest single industry associations. I’m your host, Erin Davis. 

Today it’s my pleasure to share with you an amazing chat with Hamza Khan, about what makes a leader. Hamza, as you’ll soon hear, knows where of he speaks. He’s a bestselling author, a teacher, an avid learner, and of course, a sought-after public speaker. Mr. Khan has two TEDx talks that I know you’re going to want to look for, especially after hearing our discussion. I can’t stop thinking about some of the things we talk about today. Active inertia, you stress, and how your social media are all about, give, give, give, and then ask.

Hamza Khan joins REAL TIME to talk about what it means to be a great leader as the workplace and workforce continue to evolve. What do employees look for in leadership? How can those in charge pivot to thrive in the future of work? What does that even look like? How can employees thrive to be seen as a leader in real estate? We’ve got a lot to cover. Buckle in and get set to take some mental notes from episode 23 of REAL TIME.

Thank you so much for joining us here, Hamza. We are so excited to be listening to you and chatting with you. You’re a celebrated thought leader who has spoken to hundreds of audiences globally about the future of work, and of course, you’ve written books on business resilience, even delivered a TEDx talk about the differences between management and leadership. Whew. All right. How did you get here? Tell us a bit about your journey.

Hamza Khan: Wow, wow, wow. First of all, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I’m really, really excited. A little bit about my journey, I began my career working in the education space, specifically within student affairs, both at the University of Toronto and at Ryerson University. Those experiences then set me down the path of entrepreneurship. I created a boutique digital marketing agency that worked primarily in the education space as well. I got to work with institutions outside of those two that I just named. Then that put the wind in my sales to start my current company, which is a soft skills training company known as SkillsCamp.

Throughout that journey I’ve been very fortunate to do a lot of public speaking, to write two books, and to do considerable research on the future of work where I’m now studying at Ryerson University. I’ve come full circle in a sense. I’m studying the future of work, specifically the relationship between organizational leadership and occupational burnout, really interesting stuff.

Erin: It is, it is, and you’ve never stopped learning, which it’s a great message right off the top too.

Hamza: Yes. Thank you, Erin. I would describe myself as a lifelong learner.

Erin: How about the time you were an intern at Sony? That is a fascinating little beginning as it were, and something that you saw that a lot of people didn’t.

Hamza: Yes, that was a really, really formative experience in my career. One of first jobs that I had while I was at university, studying at the University of Toronto, Scarborough in my fourth year, I got an internship at Sony Music that was supposed to only span three months. Now mind you, this was in 2007 at a very interesting time in our history. This was right before the 2008 financial crisis, and then at the same time, the music industry was going through considerable disruption.

I watched from the inside out as an intern, as a fly on the wall, as somebody who had access to all of the different conversations, as many as I could at the time, just hopping into meeting and talking to this person and that person, I got to watch from the inside as active inertia, the tendency to repeat tried and tested behaviors, even in response to dramatic environmental shifts. I watched how active inertia collapsed Sony Music entertainment.

This is a company that had to engage in layoff after layoff during the time that I was there, and what should have been a three-month internship ended up spanning for more than a year, Erin. Actually, my boss pulled me a set and said, “Hamza, I know you’re only here for three months, but you might want to stick around. This is going to be like a compressed MBA for you.”

It truly was because I got to see again how Sony music, but not just only Sony Music, the entire industry responded to these external forces of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, and it was a compressed MBA, an unforgettable rehearsal of the four stages of an organization’s evolution. Every organization is introduced, it grows, it matures, but then it has to decide, is it going to renew or decline? Unfortunately, and I hate to say it, Sony didn’t renew itself in time. They eventually did, but it was quite a turbulent journey. I consider myself very fortunate to have seen that from the inside and then taken those lessons with me throughout my career.

I think often about this quote from Jack Welch, the ex-CEO and chairman of General Electric, which interesting fact about them, they’re the only company from the 1917 Fortune list, which remains on the Fortune list today, the Fortune 500 list specifically. I think it’s because they’ve embodied the ethos that Jack put forward, which is, change before you have to. That’s rooted in another one of his quotes that I think about often. He said that if the rate of change on the outside of the organization exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is nearer.

Erin: As Jack Welch himself would say, prepare for when your leadership is challenged, and that really brings home the message that we’re talking about today. You’ve been quoted as saying that you sink to the level of training, preparation, and character with belief that another crisis will happen and more things will test you throughout your career. Can you explain what that means, sinking to the level of training, Hamza?

Hamza: That’s really interesting. I had a very vivid experience at the start of the pandemic. Like many people, I was afraid, I was spending time with my family, not sure how all of this was going to play out. My father, God bless him, a very hard worker, a very resilient man, but he was terrified at the start of the pandemic. Anxiety got the best of him and one night he suffered a panic attack, and thank God I was at home. I was able to see it and get him the necessary help. In that split second where I saw him fall on the ground and have a panic attack, which then led to a seizure, my mind went to a really dark place. It was an out of body experience. In the flash of a second I rehearsed my entire life experience with my father, every memory, good, bad that I’ve had with him just in the blink of an eye.

When I reflected on that experience afterwards, because suddenly in that moment, I remembered how to deal with somebody who was going through this, I remembered how to administer CPR, all of this training that I picked up throughout my life within the Canadian Armed Forces and courses that I’ve taken with the Red Cross just came back. I booted up a dormant program, if you will.

When I reflected on that experience, Erin, it reminded me of something that I talk about quite often, especially when I’m talking about burnout and stress. There’s something known as the amygdala hijack that happens to people when they’re overwhelmed by sudden and unexpected stress. A part of their brain known as the amygdala, a primitive part, overrides their prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that you and I are using right now. It’s used for high cognitive functions. It’s used for complex planning, creativity, so on and so forth.

When we are stressed in a sudden and unexpected way, like I was, when my father suffered his panics attack, the amygdala took over, it overrode, and in effect hijacked the prefrontal cortex and sent blood away from my brain, away from my prefrontal cortex towards my extremities. It got me prepared for fight, flight, or freeze. I learned in that moment something that I had been theorizing up until that point, which is when faced with a crisis like COVID or anything for that matter, a new competitor entering into the space, a conflict at work, whatever the case may be, a leader doesn’t actually rise to the occasion. That’s an optical illusion caused by other leaders falling back, and you sink to the level of your training and preparation, and your preparedness for that leadership moment depends on what happens in the moment, it depends on the days, weeks and years of planning and preparation that go into that.

Erin: Hamza Khan polishes his crystal ball and focuses on soft skills and what we can expect the next decade to bring. One thing that’s hard to predict is style, but you can stay on top of what’s new and now in everything from housing trends to design tutorials at REALTOR.ca/Living Room. Check it out for inspiring and entertaining articles always at REALTOR.ca. Now, back to Hamza Khan. 

Hamza, your keynotes are grounded in preparing organizations to thrive in the future of work. What does that future look like?

Hamza: Excellent question, Erin. I appreciate you giving me the space, the platform to share these insights.

Erin: Are you kidding?

Hamza: Published a book.

Erin: We’re so glad to have you here. Honestly, this is amazing. Sorry, go ahead.

Hamza: Thank you. I’m getting a little emotional thinking about that experience with my father, because that served as the impetus for me to then write my second book, Leadership Reinvented, a book that I immediately started writing after reflecting on that experience, because I thought to myself, Wow, every leader in the world right now, government, nonprofit, or business leader, especially in the real estate world as well. Every leader who is being forced to contend with the increased volatility, complexity, and ambiguity caused by Covid-19, this is a reflection of who they truly are. The actions that they’re taking, the thoughts that they’re having, this is their true leadership disposition because they’ve all sank to the level of their training and preparation.

Anyways, that experience inspired me to write Leadership Reinvented which is about being distinctly human in the future of work, of leaning into the things that can’t be easily distilled down to binary code. The things that can’t be reduced to ones and zeros. I believe that in the future of work, the things that are going to be done by human beings are going to be those that can’t be done by machines.

The future of work, like I said, looks distinctly human. By 2030, Deloitte estimates that 70% of the workforce as we know it, will be disrupted by technology. Advances in automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, you name it. Like I said, what’s left will be the jobs that can only be done by humans and those jobs will require the soft skills, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking. To anyone listening to this, get bullish on the soft skills because by 2030, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be forced to rethink your entire career game plan. I promise you that what’s going to be left are going to be the things that make you, you. The things that make us human.

Erin: The job of leaders is going to be, if I understand your message correctly, taking care of their people, enhancing the human resistance to creating leaders.

Hamza: Amen. Absolutely. Couldn’t have said it better.

Erin: You did say it. I’ve read your stuff. You’ve also said something that stuck with me from the jump, and it should be a meme, it should be a t-shirt. It should be on everybody’s desk, if we have desks. You can’t always make the right decision but.

Hamza: You can make a decision and then make it right. Story of my life.

Erin: That’s beautiful because it encompasses forgiveness, forgiveness of ourselves, for others to look at us and see the humanity but can we delve into that a little bit deeper please, Hamza.

Hamza: Yes, certainly. We can’t always make the right decision but we can make decisions and then make them right. Especially when we’re talking about the future of work and being prepared for those leadership moments, the key is to just keep on moving. Keep moving forward and keep striving to reach that forth point in the evolution of an organization and have the necessary training and preparation, so that when you are faced with the turbulence, the stress of that decision, the decision between renewal and declining that you default, you sink to the level of training and preparation that results in you automatically engaging in the behavior that will lead to the organization renewing itself.

It’s a messy process. We can’t get it right. You can plan as much as you want. You can forecast as much as you want. At the end of the day, it’s still you, it’s still your colleagues. It’s still the organization that has to go through the process and take the actions and you’re going to misstep along the way but that’s part of the process, that’s part of the journey.

Erin: I think the time in this case though, time is seen as a luxury when it comes to making things right that perhaps was not the right decision to begin with. You’ve got to be given that time. It’s a necessity and not a luxury.

Hamza: Well said, and I think it was Boston Consulting Group who said that changes that were planned over the next five years will need to be made in the next two. That’s how much time is being compressed according to them as a result of the pandemic. Every organization, entrepreneur included, sole proprietor, somebody listening to this who might just be an agent of one, running a one-person operation, that includes them too. They’re going to have to change faster than they think. We don’t have as much time as we thought.

Erin: Why is it compressed?

Hamza: I think a whole host of factors. Again, I keep on coming back to that acronym that I learned when I was in the Canadian Armed Forces as a way to describe our external environment. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, VUCA. If I had to break them down even further, the more volatile the environment, the faster and further conditions change. The more uncertain environment, the hard it is to forecast, the more complex the environment, the harder it is to analyze and the more ambiguous the environment, the harder things are to decipher.

Another way to think about VUCA, those four forces, is as entropy. It’s essentially a law of the universe that things that are unattended to get worse over time. If anybody listening to this is engaged in avoidance, if they’re ducking and cowering and thinking that the external environment will reset to a more comfortable time, I think they’re in for a rude awakening. Like I said, if left unchecked, disorder and randomness tends to increase over time. Let’s just put it this way, Erin. Chaos is hungry for failing organizations, failing professionals and it thrives when people are unprepared.

Erin: That’s chilling, and undoubtedly dead on. We’ll be back in a moment with leadership speaker, author, educator and so much more, Hamza Khan imagining the world a new and envisioning fresh ways to work. 

Celebrate two years of REAL TIME with us by revisiting some of our most popular episodes from these two seasons. We’ve talked about design ideas, social issues that affect us all no matter where we live, living green and plenty of great ideas on how to get your message out. Hamza discusses that a bit later too. Catch them all and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss one episode of REAL TIME.

Other than the entropy that we’ve talked about, what work related trends are we seeing as a result of the pandemic? Let’s get positive here because there have been a lot of good things that have come out of this as we now have two years in the rearview mirror. Let’s look at that and what you think is or are likely to stick.

Hamza: Yes, and I appreciate you shifting us in this direction because I think, especially given the focus of my research, it tends to focus on the consequences of inaction. It tends to focus on the people and the organizations who aren’t moving fast enough, but you’re absolutely right. There’s so much to be gained by this. I often think about a quote from a poet by the name of Arundhati Roy who wrote at the start of the pandemic.

She wrote, historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. I love that quote because it gives everyone, yourself and myself included, the permission to innovate, the permission to see new ways of working. Your question is a really good one. What work related trends are we seeing as a result of the pandemic and what’s likely to stick?

I think the big ones, Erin, are permanent working from home arrangements as well as hybrid work arrangements. Those two things we have demonstrated over the last two and a half years almost, not only can people be productive while working from home and having flexible work arrangements but in most cases, I would say, they can be more productive. That I think is going to stick, it’s going to be left to the leaders to figure out how to do so in a way that also respects the need for collaboration, for the serendipity that comes from being in a physical workspace.

There’s benefits to all three of those styles in-office, hybrid, and working from home. I think in the prevailing paradigm of work, working from home and hybrid work arrangements were the exception to the rule. That’s perhaps the biggest one that I think we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic and what’s likely to stick. 

We’re also seeing this final sweep of digitization. Any industry that hasn’t been touched by digital disruption, to be honest, every other industry I can think of has gone through it, beginning with the entertainment industry back in 2007.

I think the final bastion of change is traditional education, a space that I’m intimately familiar with, that I currently work in. To a certain extent I would also say the real estate industry has a couple of elements that require digitization but I think it’s already happened as a result of the pandemic. I’m not too worried about that. We’re also seeing an increase in uptake in gig work and side hustles. More people are getting into the industry. More people are adding on different components to their portfolio of work which is really great.

The one that gets me really happy or the two that get me really happy, Erin, are a reprioritization of well-being at all levels. I get really happy about that. People taking the time, taking the opportunity to step back and reflect on where the imbalance in their life occurs or maybe present and thinking about well-being in a more holistic way. Not just physical well-being but also mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. That’s been really cool to see.

Then, I also think that we’re seeing a great leadership reinvention. Every leader in the world right now, myself included, is taking a hard look at their assumptions about leadership, their leadership style and are thinking about ways to be more human-centric. 

What’s likely to stick from everything that I just listed right now will be everything except the great leadership reinvention but not if we can help it and that’s why we got to get this podcast out to as many listeners as possible.

Erin: The great leadership reinvention. What do you mean by that? Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Hamza: Sure, sure, sure. There’s so much over here but I’ll try to keep it succinct because I could go on for like five hours about just this topic alone.

Erin: We could listen, trust me.

Hamza: You think about the old way of leading or like the old playbook. It was rooted in what was known as the Theory X style of management. This was advanced by Douglas McGregor, a professor from MIT. In the Theory X style of management, the leader assumes that the employees are lazy, that they want to avoid work, that they need to be micromanaged. This is how some leaders thought about their employee at the start of the pandemic.

What was true was that younger and younger generations, certainly my generation, Gen Y, and I know this to be true for all of the students that I teach as well in Gen Z, that they require a Theory Y style of management, which isn’t really management at all. It’s actually just being led. It’s assuming that these people are adults. They’re perfectly capable of managing themselves. They have the best of intentions. They’re creative, they’re self-reliant, they’re resourceful, et cetera, et cetera.

In the words of Admiral Grace Murray Hooper, you manage things and you lead people. The great leadership reinvention is going to see people shift away and just abandon the Theory X style altogether, unless you’re dealing with a problematic employee in which case you might have to step in and micromanage a little bit over here but I would contend that it’s also the leader’s responsibility to see to it that those employees are phased out of the organization. I’m a big believer that there’s no such thing as bad employees, there’s only bad leaders. I will be the first to say that as somebody who has been a bad leader in the past and is actively working to be a good one.

The great leadership reinvention is ultimately about four qualities, of leaders becoming more human-centric. That’s prioritizing people over everything. It’s about them being changed friendly, making innovation a priority. It’s about becoming values-driven and Gallup has shown this time and again that what employees want out of the workplace more than money, more than titles is they want purpose, they want meaning, they want engagement. I think that being a values-driven leader is really important and that can go into a whole other area of study which is the Theory Z style of management. I’m not sure we have enough time for that one.

I gave you human-centric, change-friendly, values-driven and the last one is self-disrupting. This goes back to the quote that I shared earlier from Jack Welch which is, change before you have to. All of the organizations and the people listening to this podcast who were shocked by Covid-19, this is a wakeup call for us, that this event can happen. It can stress us out, it can disrupt our business. Let’s use this as the impetus to start disrupting ourselves well in advance of whatever that next disruption may be.

Erin: You’ve also talked about embracing the flexibility. It was birthed through necessity totally like so many great things. Now can you put that genie back in the bottle once people have said what I really hate that commute in the morning or I’m enjoying having this melded life, this balance of home and work? Now, of course, with real estate and REALTORS®, you can’t do everything virtually, but can that flex be flexed even more in the future as we head through that great gateway as you quoted the poet earlier?

Hamza: This is going to be tricky. I think about this all the time as somebody who does a lot of solo work. I’m studying right now attachment theory and it’s talking about how at the end of the day we are social creatures, we need each other’s company, we need to be with people that we like including our coworkers. The research is showing that this is a great way to reduce our stress, to reduce cortisol, and to produce oxytocin, the bonding chemical that has tremendous benefits for us just on a biochemical level alone. Being around other people, engaging with customers, with clients, with colleagues, with managers, it’s really important.

I think that Zoom and Microsoft Teams and other virtual communication technology that we’ve used, Slack, Discord, whatever you may be using over here, was a good holdover. It has shown us that we can maintain relationships. We can continue to do work, if needed, virtually but where possible we should find ways to incentivize employees and teams to come together in-person. I think the onus is on leaders and I would also encourage leaders to include their subordinates in the decision-making process with the question of how can we make our shared workspaces more conducive to productivity and collaboration?

I think you’ll be surprised by the answers that you get. Like where I’m recording this podcast right now, I can look out and I can see an office building right beside my home here and it’s empty. It’s empty at the time of recording and I think that’s largely because if I look inside all of these windows, I see a very boring space. It’s cubicles. In a strange way, Erin, cubicles reinforce isolated work.

Can we reimagine what a shared workspace looks like? Maybe it’s hot desks, maybe it’s an eclectic combination of seating and standing arrangements. Maybe it’s something that’s conducive to bumping into people. It allows for the kinetic energy that comes from when the right people, the right engaged people are in a shared space together. Maybe leaders need to think about intentional ways to bring people back to the office. For theme days.

Maybe they can say, if you’re coming back to the office two to three times a week, and let’s say that that’s your prerogative, on Wednesdays from this time to this time, we put our computers away and we all meet up in the boardroom or we all meet up in this creative space and we do some innovation exercises. We try to imagine what sort of organization would disrupt this one and we try to emulate attributes of that organization. There’s so many possibilities.

We sometimes focus on all of the things that we’ve gained from working from home but I would encourage everyone listening to this podcast to also think of the things that you’ve lost. Trust me, one of the things that we have lost is people and being in an environment where the magic that comes from people seeing each other and not being mediated by the screen is possible.

Erin: When Hamza Khan returns, sharing the lessons he teaches about social media, this is so good. 

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We return now to our enlightening and fascinating talk with educator, speaker, author, and leadership expert, Hamza Khan. 

Part of what we are embracing now is of course, the myriad ways that we can get our messages out, whether it’s TikTok, Insta, Facebook, all of these different platforms. How important is it for people to be using these keys in order to reach the audience? What do you put out there? You have a pretty good formula as to the give and ask that’s really important for people to hear.

Hamza: One thing I should mention is that I’m also an educator teaching at Ryerson University and prior to that, I was one of the founding members of Seneca College’s social media certificate program, which was the first in the country and I’m really proud of that. I teach social media classes. It’s a really interesting class because it transcends the technology itself and it has less to do with the individual platforms like Instagram and TikTok and more to do with branding, marketing, and communications as disciplines.

I assure all of the students, and I want to give the same assurance to all the listeners today, that being effective online in terms of branding yourself, in terms of using social media to get your business out there comes down to these four words. Do things, tell people. It’s really that simple. Do things, tell people and you’re already doing incredible things. The business that you’re running, the sales that you’re making, the testimonials that you’re acquiring, the connections that you’re fostering, the events that you’re volunteering at, your presence in the community, you’re doing these things but now you have to let people know because this is where our market has gone.

At least for the last 10 years, certainly I would argue even longer than that, there’s been a gradual shift to people living their life offline to living it online to the extent that now we’re having conversations about we’re going to go fully online with the metaverse. I don’t know how we’re going to eat in the metaverse. I think we’re going to have to come back out of our virtual reality from time to time to perform some very basic bodily functions, if you will. The point remains that the audience’s expectations and behaviors have shifted to spend increasingly more time online.

The last time I checked, Gen Z is spending something 15 to 17 hours a day connected to the internet. This is where our audience is. If this is where our future customers are going to be, then the onus is on us to present ourselves in a way that is memorable. That we’re top of mind when it comes to this generation. I would include myself as well in that to make decisions about buying a home, about renting, whatever the case may be, about getting mortgage, all of that.

There’s a couple of things that you can do to create an effective personal brand online, again, and they all fall within the do things, tell people model. The first thing that you can do is share testimonials that you’re getting from the different clients that you’re working with. Ask for them. If you’ve done a really good job with a particular client, ask them to write you a Google review. That’ll go long way towards increasing your searchability. You can also take that Google review and turn it into an Instagram quote and share that. You could also perhaps even record them if they’d like talking about what it is that you did for them and how hands-on you were and what the experience of working with you is like and that can serve as some social proof that you can broadcast across your social media.

You can then also ask for warm introductions via social media. I’ve seen a couple of REALTORS® do an exceptional job of giving resources and information generously. I’m in the process right now of buying a home. I’m working right now with a REALTOR® who I followed for a number of years and didn’t do any business with but they were so great in terms of providing education.

What’s the word I want to say? I don’t want to say it was easy because as a social media user and a content creator myself, I know how much work goes into this but they seem to have found their groove with producing their Monday tips and providing eBooks that I can download. A whole manner of things. Do that. I would say, what should govern all of this, the sharing of testimonials, asking for warm introductions, giving resources and information generously, just be a mensch. Try to be helpful, try to be useful to your community. You give, give, give and then you can make that ask. I think a lot of people make the mistake of jumping onto social media, creating a website and making the ask right away, but you actually have to earn the trust of your audience first. I think that this real estate agent did a phenomenal job of earning my trust over years of nurturing me in their funnel.

Erin: That’s amazing. Build the bond without necessarily being on topic but on brand. Playing the long game, it is a long haul.

Hamza: Playing the long game. Actually, earlier today, Erin, I was looking at another one of my friends who is running a fantastic real estate account on Instagram. They were talking about their experiences of going through a pregnancy. You might think listening to this, what does being pregnant and sharing that have to do with my business? Well, it creates a bond. It humanizes you. It makes your story very compelling.

In 1927, a doctor by the name of Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik advances a theory known as the Zeigarnik effect that states that humans are irritated by unfinished tasks. I think that this can also apply to social media. If I’m invested in your story, I’m more likely to continue to follow your story until it reaches its resolution. By simply engaging with one piece of your content, that’s all I need, if I just for the first time see your post about you going through your motherhood journey, I want to know what’s going to happen next because I’m invested at a subconscious level. I want to see this through until the child is born, but then I’m not going to stop at the child anymore. I actually want to follow through the child’s evolution and development.

Throughout that entire process of you sharing, you can definitely weave in elements about your work. Even if you don’t want to talk about your work at all, if I’m curious enough, I will actually click on your bio and then I’ll see, oh, wow, you’re an agent. If I go on your website, you’re offering this webinar series that I can attend. Fantastic. It’s free of charge. Next thing you know, something will click. I’m looking for an open house and then I remember what’s top of mind for me is that you shared on your Instagram story or on TikTok that there’s an open house coming up this Saturday. That’s how the new sales funnel looks like in this digital world.

Erin: As my mentor, Valerie Geller, who is an amazing broadcast journalist and teacher of broadcasters, just this tidbit is, be personal but not private. There is a line in there and it’s brilliant.

Hamza: Be personal, not private. I love that.

Erin: She’s great. Is there a telltale sign in the online world, Hamza, that tells you, that’s a good leader?

Hamza: That’s tough because it really depends. I’m thinking about this especially in the context of like some of the listeners of this podcast are sole proprietors, others are organizational leaders and especially online, trust, leadership, and authority are tightly grouped together. Be ridiculously helpful. I can’t stress that enough. I think that everyone, regardless of what you do for a living, if you strive to be genuinely helpful, that is going to take care of all of your other success metrics, because the natural byproduct of being ridiculously helpful is all of the success that comes with it. I would advocate that the best leaders that I see out there are ones who are genuinely helpful and actively helpful for that matter.

Erin: You’ve said that there are two kinds of marketers, pull marketing and push marketing. Can you tell us what that’s about?

Hamza: Yes, sure. The push marketers, you know them, and you’ve probably unsubscribed from their newsletters and you’ve probably muted them on social media. They’re annoying. They’re in your face. They’re human popups, if you will. God bless them. They’re trying their best, I understand. But maybe if you are a push marketer listening to this, let me tell you very respectfully that you might be annoying your audience.

What you want to do instead is become a pull marketer. Again, provide value. Solve a problem for your audience. Help them do something better, faster or cheaper. At the very least, help them do something better, faster, cheaper. If you do this enough, if you do it consistently, if you do it actively, and if you do it with good intentions, eventually what’s going to happen is you are going to pull people towards you. You are going to be top of mind for them. You are going to be unforgettable.

I’m a very good example of this. The agent that I defaulted to when it came time for me to make the decision about who I want to work with to go through this process of buying a home was the one who earned my attention over this long funnel. I was pulled to them. They didn’t have to push their services to me, they pulled me into their orbit.

Erin: Excellent. Now how can sole proprietors, Hamza, like many of our REALTOR® listeners strive to be seen as leaders in their field? I know you’ve been reading a really good book that has this acting as if sort of an underlying theory here. Have you got anything out of that that you can share with us?

Hamza: Winning by Tim Grover. What a book. It’s quite an intense read, I must say. Again, I feel like a broken record over here, but think it’s worth repeating over and over again, but you just have to be useful. You have to give, and that’s how you’re seen as a leader. It’s very clear to your audience that you are helping other people. Unabashedly share those testimonials that I alluded to earlier. Capture them and share them.

Like I said, if you’ve done a great sale, if somebody is happy with your level of service and you’re working with them, make that known to your followers. It’s a feel-good story. It’ll impress people and it’ll create the narrative in their minds that you are somebody who is helpful, who can get the job done, who is effective, who is again, human-centric, has all the values that we’ve been talking about throughout this entire discussion that we’ve been having so far.

Act like the sort of person that you would want to work with. Act like the sort of person that you would do business with. Act as if you are already this successful business owner, this business person, this REALTOR®, whatever you may be right now. Act as the best version of yourself and conduct yourself accordingly online and the rest will take care of itself, I promise you.

Erin: Our final segment with Hamza Khan is next. We’re going to talk about stress. Guess what? There is a good kind, and he’s going to share that insight and wisdom with us in just a moment. 

Whether you like to unwind or get a kickstart with a latte or an Earl Grey, we’ve got just what you need at CREA Cafe. It’s a cozy place for REALTORS® to connect on the latest real estate news and industry developments. Kick back with your favourite beverage and spend some time at creacafe.ca.

Now, as we’ve discussed, real estate runs on an entrepreneurial spirit and certainly, so do you, so tell us, how do you stay grounded and healthy and avoid burnout, Hamza?

Hamza: That’s a great question. There’s something that’s very helpful in the conceptualization of burnout known as the conservation of resources theory. We experience stress typically in three instances. The first one, when there’s a threat of a loss of resources, the second one, there is an actual net loss of resources and the third one, there’s a lack of gained resources following the spending of resources. I’m not just talking about money, I’m also talking about time, energy, and attention.

It’s really important for entrepreneurs and people with an entrepreneurial spirit to do two things. There’s so many I can give you, but I think the chief among them are to assemble boundaries and to guard your precious resources, to guard your time, to guard your energy, to guard your attention. One way to guard your time, for instance, is by putting non-negotiables in your calendar.

Let’s say that it’s really important for you to replenish your energy by working out in the day. Well, don’t leave that to chance. Don’t let it be something that is occasional. Make it likely. Make it consistent. Put it in your calendar every morning from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM, I’m going to work out. Fantastic. If you find yourself consistently pushing off lunches, well, put them in your calendar the same way that you would reflect a meeting in your calendar or a showing in your calendar. Put in from 12:00 to 1:00 every single day I’m going to eat lunch and I’m not going to do any work while I’m eating lunch, because that’s just working while eating. 

Assemble those boundaries against your precious resources, number one. That also includes your attention. Being very intentional, for instance, about turning off notifications, maybe using some app, like I use the Pomodoro technique to guide how I work. I work in 25-minute bursts with five-minute breaks.

The second part of the solution that I would advocate for entrepreneurs, and those who are entrepreneurially spirited is a guilt-free replenishment of your energy. Imagine that every day you start your day with four full buckets of energy and you have the mental bucket, the emotional bucket, the physical bucket, and the spiritual bucket, and you empty these buckets as the days’ tasks require.

Now, most people wait until the end of the day to maybe sit down with a warm meal and watch something on TV and replenish their energy, but they never quite get all of their energy back. They go to sleep waking up the next day feeling groggy. The year that I burned out in 2014, I didn’t take a single break for 11 months and I hoped that I could take this miraculous trip around the world in December of 2014 and recover. Unfortunately, I burned out in the process. I learned the hard way that if you don’t pick the time to relax, your body will pick it for you and it usually picks the most inopportune time.

Replenish your energy on a daily basis, ideally throughout the day, if you can. If you have the opportunity in the middle of the day, if you’re big on naps and you can take a nap, take a nap. If you have the opportunity to drop your kids to school and that replenishes your energy, build that into your calendar, make that non-negotiable. Guilt-free replenishment of your energy, I would argue, is part your job. It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s not an augment. It is essential to the work that you do.

Erin: I love that. It’s permission. Thank you. Then there’s your idea of reconceptualizing bad stress as good stress?

Hamza: Yes, yes, yes. I thought, like many of the listeners, that there’s only one kind of stress, distress, and that is stress that causes trouble, danger, feelings of alarm. I learned, after I had burned out in 2014, that there was such a thing as good stress, eustress, E-U-S-T-R-E-S-S. This is stress that is helpful, plentiful, is a precursor to something more desirable.

Research out of Stanford by Dr. Kelly McGonigal who wrote The Upside of Stress, a fantastic book, by the way. She revealed through her research that simply reframing a stressful experience as one that produces eustress instead of distress is enough to change your reaction, your body’s reaction to that stressor. You actually register that stressor as less stressful.

I actually did this quite recently too. I’m in a master’s class right now and I thought to myself, “Oh, man. I don’t want to do this. It’s a huge drag on my time. I don’t feel quite ready for this.” I found myself going into a mental spiral. Then I took a step back and said, “Well, this is actually a precursor to something more desirable, I want to continue to develop my understanding of this subject matter. I want to become more adept at the work that I do. So, this is necessary for me, this is the thing I got to do to get to do the thing that I want to do.”

I know that many of the listeners right now feel that way about a lot of their portfolio, there’s things that you don’t like to do right now that are causing you psychological stress. Coming back to the conservation of resources theory, you might be perceiving it as a threat, a net loss, or an insufficient reward. I promise you, if you drop a T-chart, and in one column you write down distress and the other you write down eustress as the labels, and then you just move things from one column to another, there’s a very, very good chance that the things that you are perceiving to be stressful right now, for example, let’s say updating listings, you think, “Wow, I don’t have the time for that right now. It’s really stressful.” If you see this as important to building your book, to meeting your targets, and then you take it a step further, what is the transcendent end result of doing this work? Well, I get to have all the things that I want and enjoy them with my family. I promise you that you will actually process that stressor quite differently.

Erin: That’s amazing. As we end, could you – there’s just been so much. You have filled our buckets again and again here, Hamza. If you could share one last tip to help our listeners become stronger leaders, what would it be?

Hamza: Okay. Ready for this one?

Erin: I am.

Hamza: As counterintuitive as it sounds, be more human.

Erin: Be more human. Is there any way you can elaborate on that at all?

Hamza: Absolutely. Coming back to an earlier question that you asked about what the future of work looks like, I think that, again, everything that can be automated will be automated. By the year 2030, we are going to find ourselves in a very, very different epoch of work than the one we are in right now. The most effective leaders, the ones who are able to attract and retain and engage top talent, the most effective entrepreneurs, those who are able to compel others to work with them, the most happy people are going to be those who have made considerable investments in their humanity.

These are people who have gotten bullish on soft skills, they’re creative, they’re empathetic, they’re emotionally intelligent, they’re collaborative. Again, the jobs that we’re going to do in the future of work are going to be those that can’t be done by the machines or can’t be easily done by them. You just have to extrapolate a little into the future, not that far, just 2030, those jobs are going to be distinctly human. That is what is going to remain at the end of the day.

In the words of futurist Alvin Toffler, I think about this quite often, he said that the illiterate of the 21st century won’t be those who can’t read and write, it’ll be those who can’t learn, unlearn, and relearn. Mental dexterity, flexibility is another fantastic skill to invest in that’ll allow everybody listening to this to be prepared for when the next change comes and to continue to change themselves and arrive at that fourth stage of the organization’s evolution, and renew every single time. In this way, you cross the chasm of time, time and again.

Erin: Thank you so much for the time you’ve spent with us today, you went past your Pomodoro rule of 25 minutes. We are so, so grateful to you, Hamza, it’s been a pleasure and all the best to you in the future. Thank you for helping us with ours.

Hamza: Thank you so much, Erin. I really, really appreciated this.

Erin: We appreciate you listening and joining us for this 23rd episode of REAL TIME from the Canadian Real Estate Association. We know your time is precious, and thank you for spending some of it with us. 

On our next episode, we’ll keep our eyes on the road ahead with an expert on AI and the future of work, Sinead Bovell. You’re not going to want to miss it, so be sure and hit that subscribe button. 

REAL TIME is produced by Rob Whitehead with Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis, and we’ll talk to you here next time on REAL TIME.

Episode 22: Dr. Wes Hall – The Art of Negotiation

Whether it’s our salaries or family dinners, negotiating is part of daily life. For REALTORS®, it’s fundamental to their business. On Episode 22 of REAL TIME, we’re joined by Wes Hall, one of North America’s most influential business leaders, to wrap up the year with some practical knowledge and inspiring stories. Wes shares his journey from humble beginnings in Jamaica to Bay Street in Toronto, and how negotiation was foundational to his success. As the newest dragon on Dragons’ Den, he also shares tips for staying grounded as an entrepreneur. From knowing your audience to knowing your worth, gain insight to help build your skills as a negotiator and an advisor.

Episode 22: Wes Hall – The Art of Negotiation

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME. I’m Erin Davis. Whether it’s our salaries or our family dinners, negotiating is part of our daily lives. For REALTORS®, it’s fundamental to your business. On episode 22 of REAL TIME brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association, we’re joined by one of Canada’s most influential business leaders, the dynamic and very entertaining Wes Hall who brings us some practical knowledge.

With Mr. Hall, the newest member of CBC’s Dragons’ Den team, we’ll explore principles, best practices, and trends in negotiation, as well as key takeaways to help you as a REALTOR® to strengthen that skill. Look at you with the still new dragon glow to you. [chuckles] You said on a promo for CBC that everybody was going to love you and all the dragons were going to love you. How has that worked out so far, Wes?

Wes Hall: They still love me.

Erin: Oh, good.

Wes: That’s what happens when you’re a lovable person. Everybody is going to love you, right?

Erin: Oh, okay. All right. I’ll keep that in mind for our conversation here. It’s great to have you with us. Your story is unbelievable. You did, as you know, grow up living in a tin shack in Jamaica, and now here you are one of North America’s most influential power brokers, a hugely successful entrepreneur, an anti-racism activist, and of course, as we mentioned, the newest dragon in the den. Tell us if you can, Wes, here, and it will make a best-seller one day if it hasn’t already, your journey from such humble beginnings to where you are today. Would you, please?

Wes: It is indeed a journey. When people hear about this tin shack, they probably roll their eyes and go, “Of course, everybody is from a tin shack.” I literally was from that tin shack. It’s got the zinc roof. If you look it up on the internet Wes Hall’s tin shack, you probably will see it. Me and my grandmother in a picture standing looking at the shack and me saying to my grandmother at the time, “I’m going to get you out of this place one day.”

I have 14 brothers and sisters, by the way, a traditional Jamaican family where I have zero full brothers and sisters in that number. My mom and dad was never married. They had a one-off and I was that one-off. That’s why I’m so special because you just can’t replicate Wes Hall.


Erin: I wish you’d work on your self-confidence a bit.

Wes: I’ve tried. It’s just so hard.


Wes: It’s hard to be humble but I try.

Erin: You came to Canada in your teens.

Wes: September 27th, 1985, Friday. I came to live with my dad and I moved to Malvern. That’s where my dad was living at the time and he had five kids in Canada on his own. I came in to live as number six in that household. He had another daughter that was in Jamaica that came later on, but I was out of the house by that time. I was added to that household and it was the most amazing thing for me because it was my first time on an airplane, my first-time seeing traffic lights because I lived in literally the bush in Jamaica.

When I came here, I got off the airplane at Toronto International Airport, Pearson. I walked outside and I saw these people, my siblings, and my stepmom, and my dad waiting for me. Oh, man, it was just a euphoric moment. Then I got into their vehicle and I’m driving on a six-lane highway, the 401. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Then we landed at his house in Scarborough that the whole neighborhood was still under construction. It was mud and dirt but to me, that was paradise. I found paradise coming to Canada.

I kept that picture of me and my grandmother in that tin shack on my desk on Bay Street for two reasons. One is to remind me of where I came from and never to forget, and two, to celebrate this great country of ours. It’s only in a place like Canada – I hear about the American dream and so on. You never hear about the Canadian dream, but the Canadian dream is alive and well. For me having that picture, it’s really celebrating the Canadian dream, that you can come from a tin shack and you can end up at the top of corporate Canada on Bay Street.

Erin: It is an amazing story. The Canadian dream, as you say, we don’t tout it enough. It’s our nature to downplay stuff like that. Your grandmother who raised you and your brothers and sisters, what kind of an impact or influence did she have on the man that you are today?

Wes: Everything, every aspect of who I am today was architected by her. When you think about it, she didn’t sit me down and gave me lessons and say, “Here is how you become a man, Wes.” She used her example of industriousness to show me what I should be when I grow up. See, I was abandoned. My oldest sister, she was two years older than me, my younger brother who was a year younger than me, and I was 18 months at a time and we were left in a house by ourselves by our mother. A neighbor heard us crying and went to the plantation. My grandmother worked at a plantation. She worked in a plantation, banana plantation, a coconut plantation depending on the season.

The house that we were raised in was provided by the plantation owners for the workers to raise their family, so my grandmother had this two-room tin shack that she was given. She came and got us from the plantation and brought us to live with her. I was 18 months old and she wasn’t argumentative about it or was bitter about it. She was 60. Could you imagine at 60 years old, you have all these grandkids that you’re raising already and then you inherited three more and the three was all under five years old? You would have some resentment towards your children or your kid that did to you or towards your grandkids.

My grandmother, I never ever remembered her holding it against me as a child. She was working extremely hard to make sure that there’s food on the table for us, to make sure that we went to school. We didn’t have much. I didn’t wear shoes to go to school because we couldn’t afford it. There are times when I didn’t even have food to bring to school to have lunch. The fact of the matter is that she knew that education was important, and she made sure that we went to school. I grew up watching her, and as a result of watching her, it was instilled in me what I should be when I grow up and I wanted to be like her.

Erin: She taught you the art of negotiation, I understand too. As anyone who has been to a Jamaican market, as a tourist, I always go in there and I go. “Oh, I hate to haggle. I hate that bartering back and forth.” If you don’t know how to do that, you don’t belong there.

Wes: Listen, when you are poor, you have no choice. Just put it that way. If you think about my grandmother raising all these grandkids, and she has a finite amount of money to spend. If you think about what it’s like to work on a sugar cane plantation, you’re in the hot Jamaican sun, you’re bent over with a machete in your right hand and grabbing the stalks or sugarcane with your left hand and you’re chopping at the root. Then you chop the stalk at the top and then you put them in piles, and you do that for 10 hours a day. The only time you stop is to drink some water, wipe the sweat off your brow and have a little bit of a snack or something to eat quickly and you go back at it again.

When you get that paycheck, once a month they pay you, you have to stretch that money as far as you possibly can. When you go to the market to shop, you have to make sure that if they’re saying that tomatoes are $2 a pound, you try to make sure that you get that tomato for $0.50 a pound. That’s what I saw in my grandmother when she would take me to the market with her that not a single price that she was quoted she end up paying for that product. She always negotiated and she always got the price she wanted.

Erin: She was also someone who was selling her wares as well, so you sold from the other side.

Wes: Exactly. I saw the buying part and the selling part. When you’re buying, you want to get it as cheap as possible. When you’re selling, you want to get the most money as possible. One of the things that my grandmother would do is because she would sell puddings, for example, she would bake these amazing puddings and she would sell them. Her puddings were so good that she would be selling it for more than everybody else in the market. She’ll be sold out before everybody else. That would create this amazing word around the neighborhood that if you want to get the best pudding at the market, you have to go early because Mama Julia’s pudding is always sold out early.

When you’re creating that kind of demand for your product, it doesn’t matter what the competition is doing because you’re always going to get your price. Especially when you’re going to be sold out before everybody else, you can keep on marketing that up. That’s what my grandmother would do, that her pudding was the most expensive pudding in the market and it’s always the one to go first.

Erin: Before we leave Jamaica and head to Bay Street, which is where we’re speaking to you today, what became of your grandmother? Were you able to share some of your bounty with her before she left us?

Wes: You know what, thank you for that question because I never really got asked that question in the past and I really appreciate it. In that tin shack picture that you would see if you search on the internet, I was 22 years old and my grandmother was a very old woman at the time. I went back and I said to her, “Mama, I’m going to get you out of this tin shack one day. I’m going to work hard enough in Canada. I will continue to work hard to get you out to that tin shack.” I got my first big break on Bay Street, the first one I became a vice president on Bay Street, I’m like, “Finally, I’m ready to get my grandmother out to that tin shack,” and she died two weeks later.

She never saw the ultimate success. See, I had three children. I was working hard. I was trying to provide for my family, and I was waiting for the perfect opportunity, the perfect timing to bring her over to show her my success. As a result of waiting for the perfect opportunity, she never saw any of it. I shouldn’t have waited. I should have brought her in here a lot sooner so that she can see what I saw when I came here at 16-years old, September 27th, 1985, because that impressed me, just being in this country impressed me. I know she would be impressed by this country and by what I was doing to work hard and to try to provide for myself and my family here.

She never saw it. She died in that tin shack. That’s one of the reasons why, Erin, I push myself as hard as I do because she deserved to be where I’m at, she deserved to appreciate the fruits of my labor because she was a big part of that and she never got it. I don’t really work for money anymore. Yes, I initially started by saying I want to make as much money as I possibly can, but now I try to change people’s lives by the wealth I’ve created for myself by working hard. If I can change people’s lives like my grandmother changed my life, this world will be so much a better place.

Erin: That is so beautiful. Thank you and I am so sorry. I’m so sorry for that regret for you, Wes.

Erin: Coming up, how Wes Hall just about let his biggest break slip away because he had to. It’s a great story. Love REAL TIME? Thanks for finding and supporting us. Subscribe to our channels on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher to stay up to date on future guests and stories, or visit CREA.ca/podcast for more details and to catch up on past episodes. They are all worth your time.

You referred to that job, that vice presidency that you got on Bay Street. Your first really big break, but you almost talked your way out to that one. I just love the lesson in here. Be prepared to lose, Don’t pick a fight with someone who’s got nothing to lose. Tell us that story, Wes, if you would, please.

Wes: I was living in a 1100 square foot house with my wife. We couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage. We had three kids under three years old and I had this job offer to be director of business development for a US company and I was going to be business development director in Canada. I had this mindset that my next big break has to be a vice president position. I won’t accept anything less than that. This gentleman, the CEO of the company, offered me this opportunity to be director of business development and he told me what the salary was and so on.

I remember when he gave me the call, I was in the master bedroom with my wife. We didn’t really have enough money to afford a bed, so the box spring and the mattress was on the floor and that’s where we’re sleeping. I took this call and the gentleman says, “I have exciting news for you, Wes. After the job interview and everything, I’m offering it a position of direct to business development.” I said to the gentleman, “I really appreciate the offer, however, I would like to be a vice president.” He said to me, “I don’t have the authority to offer you a vice president position but director of business development is yours”. I said to him, “When you have the authority to offer me that job, give me a call”.

Erin: Oh.

Wes: He said, “Okay.” [chuckling] He hang up the phone, and that was it. My poor wife was laying on the mattress on the floor. She could not believe what just happened because we didn’t even have enough money to buy diapers for all the kids and I’m turning down this job not because of the money, but because of the title. She couldn’t believe it, but guess what happened. Two weeks later, I got a call from that gentleman and said, “I have the authority to give you what you want,” and I became a vice president on Bay Street.

Erin: Oh. Those were some tense two weeks with your wife, though, I’m going to guess.

Wes: [chuckles] We’ve been married for 30 years now and I can tell you if I didn’t get a job, it probably wouldn’t have made it to 30.


Erin: Wes, why is it so hard for us to negotiate fair compensation?

Wes: I think we’re afraid of losing out. When you think about it, that’s your value. That’s what’s going to create wealth for yourself and your family. That compensation is going to allow you to take nice vacations, live in a nice home, be able to do things for others philanthropically, and so on, but yet we find it very difficult to tell people this is how much I’m worth, this is what my value is to you. We go into companies and we create massive values for companies.

When I was working at this vice president level at this company, I was creating a ton of value. I was underpaid and I went into my boss’s office and I said, “Listen, I’m underpaid because here’s the value that I’m creating for you, and here’s where my compensation is. They don’t align with each other.” They fundamentally disagreed with me on it and I left to start Kingsdale. If they didn’t disagree with me, I would be still working for somebody else and I wouldn’t have started my own company, Kingsdale.

As a result of starting this company, I became one of the most successful person in the industry and become the person that I am on Bay Street today because I wasn’t getting fair compensation to begin with. I tried to do something about it, and when they refused to do something about it, I decided to go on my own and bet on myself. That’s the problem, a lot of people aren’t prepared to bet on themselves. When you think about it, would you prefer to invest in somebody else or would you prefer to invest in yourself because you know what you can do, you know what your limitations are, you know what your capabilities are as well?

Why not bet on yourself especially when you want to be an entrepreneur, but you go, “Man, I just don’t know if I can do it.” You need to get those doubts out of your mind, at least give it a shot. That’s why I decided to do, when I started this firm, I said, “I don’t want to be sitting here 20 years later regretting the opportunity that I’ve missed. I want to know that I’ve tried it, it didn’t work and I can pivot and figure something else out.”

Erin: Boy, have you ever made it work out for you? Let’s talk a little bit about high-stakes negotiation. How do you go about reading the room?

Wes: Every single negotiation we go into, we have to figure out who’s on the other side of that negotiation. Some people are prepared to pay more than others, some people are just not. When you are in a business where there’s no particular price list, for example, if you look in the real estate business and there’s typically if you go down a particular street in a particular neighborhood, every single house is not exactly priced the same.

There’s room there, wiggle room for your creativity, and for you to now determine to the market why your house should be more valued than the other houses in the neighborhood, and in sometimes, 20%, 30% higher. There may be features that you put into your house that others didn’t put into there. How do you value that? In terms of negotiating, you have to figure out how important are these things to the person buying my house?

Erin: How does a REALTOR® go about finding out what’s important? Just listen or what hints would you give, Wes?

Wes: I would say the questions that you ask. When you’re going through a showing, for example, you have to appreciate what are the things that are getting the person’s attention that you’re touring through the house. Sometimes, for example, we’re going through and we are just excited about, “Oh, I can’t wait to show them this part of the house,” but yet that person is still in the kitchen looking around the kitchen, but we want them to hurry up so they can show them the important part of the house. Guess what?

The reason why they’re in the kitchen, maybe he’s a chef and he loves to cook. He’s picturing himself in the kitchen cooking a beautiful meal and you’re trying to interrupt that by showing him the gym when he doesn’t care about the gym because the gym is so beautiful or the theater is so beautiful, but he doesn’t watch TV or he doesn’t watch movies, or he doesn’t really care about those things. We need to read the audience and to see what’s appealing to them and then focus on those moments.

One of the things that somebody said that I heard great about selling the house is that sometimes after you finish the showing, just sit in the living room or some great part of the house with the person and have a conversation with them because then they can visualize themselves living in that house, sitting in that room, maybe reading a book, maybe the fireplace is on and it’s snowing outside. All of a sudden, it changes their view on the place because they see themselves in it. Sometimes we miss those little part of getting things done. If we focus on those things and pay attention, we can close deals really quickly and we can actually get the prices that we are looking for.

Erin: So much of this is listening, isn’t it?

Wes: It is. One of the things that I tell my team when we’re negotiating, for example, and sometimes in real estate, you’re on the phone negotiating with the other side and you give them all the this is why this house is so great and everything, the feature sheets is all there and everything. Then you tell them, “Okay, but this is my price, $10 million.” Let’s say, for argument’s sake, we’re in the big leagues here, $10 million. This person on the other end, you convince them that this is the best house for them and you know you convinced them is the best house. Then when you put the $10 million on the table, again, you try to justify it still.

Why? You’ve already convinced them that this is a house for them. Now you have to convince them that $10 million is a price that they need to pay in order for them to own it. Let them determine why it’s not worth $10 million. Sometimes we try to sell against ourselves. We tend to just oversell when we already have this person closed. Then we try to justify the price tag that we put on there.

We shouldn’t justify. If we list the house for $10 million, once you start to you put your feature sheet out and you start to bring people through it, $10 million is $10 million. You bring me an offer for $10 million, nothing less. You bring me something less, I’m going to have a conversation with my seller about it, but at the end of the day, this price is the price that you’re going to pay ultimately. You’re not going to get me to say it’s eight or seven because other come say this is unique, and these are the reasons why it’s unique. When you find that buyer that know that this place is unique, you got to close them.

Erin: Sometimes it’s listening to the seller too, the seller who maybe doesn’t want this house torn down for a replacement. That they want to be able to come by and see it again with their grandchildren one day and say, “This is your parents were born,” or something like that. There can be things to listen to in the seller’s story too. Can’t there?

Wes: Absolutely. I sold my first house for $200,000. Bought it for $112,000 and I sold it for $200,000. It’s over 30 years and every year, I go back to look at that house because I remembered when I was standing in the bedroom, when I got that job offer and I turned it down, I remember that I fixed that porch at the front. The porch was done by me, my hands. 

I take pictures of that house it’s important to me that I do that. Then I bring my kids by to say, “This is the way you were born.” If I now, let’s say, when I was selling that house and I had that emotional attachment to that place, and somebody said, “I’m going to rip it down and I’m going to this amazing building there and the house is going to be fantastic,” fine, that’s your dream, but you just took away something that’s really important to me because you’re going to demolish it.

As a result of that, I prefer to sell it to someone for less money who’s going to preserve it than somebody who’s going to destroy that memory. Sometimes if we don’t appreciate the seller’s motivation for selling, we could be leaving a lot of value on the table and we completely could be losing opportunities because we just didn’t listen to the reasons behind why this person is selling this house.

Erin: When we return to REAL TIME, our guest, Wes Hall, one of Canada’s top rank business negotiators looks at the things that hold us back, the barriers when it comes to negotiation. If you’re like me, you find the best coffee or tea is the one you’re enjoying at home, maybe right now, but the best content is at the CREA Cafe. Tap into the knowledge of REALTORS® across this country of ours. Share your own lessons and insights by visiting REALTORS® Corner on CREA Cafe, a hub of great content created by REALTORS® for REALTORS®.

When we’re talking about negotiation, as you’ve pointed out so perfectly, it can come with a great range of emotions, especially in an industry like real estate where clients aren’t just buying and selling houses, they’re buying and selling homes. They’re buying and selling the place where your children came into the world and where you took that phone call and said, “No, I’m going to wait for VP.” Wes, what are common emotional barriers to negotiation? You’ve said there’s a thin line between arrogance and confidence. What are some of the most common emotional barriers?

Wes: I think sometimes it’s really not really understanding people’s motivation. When you think about the real estate transaction is one of the most important transaction that you’ll ever do in the business world. I buy and sell companies and so on, but that’s only a very small number of individuals that are in that category. Most people that own a home, at some point, they’re going to transact. At some point in their life, they’re going to sell that home, and then they have to make that decision very, very quickly. The longer you stay in that home, and the more improvements that you make to it, the more difficult it is to part with it.

You’re parting with your neighbors that you’ve built great relationship with over the years, you’re going to the unknown in the future. If you don’t understand the emotional attachment that people may have to that piece of asset that they’ve cherished for so long, that have built their value – My company, for example, that $112,000 home that I bought, for example, allowed me to a bigger home that allowed me to put a leverage on it to start my company, Kingsdale. That home created a value that I have and the wealth that I have today. It was an emotional attachment because it’s my future.

If you don’t appreciate it, that it’s my future, and don’t really treat it like that, then all of a sudden I don’t want to do business with you because doing any type of business, especially in that space, it’s about trust. I have to have trust and confidence in you that we’re going to have a good working relationship, you’re going to respect what I bring to the table, and I’m going to respect what you bring to the table.

When you give me the advice to say, “Wes, you should take this undervalued number or this price,” that I trust that you’re coming from the right place and that you just don’t want to turn me over because you have so many deals on the table and you have so many other clients, I have to be so special to you that I believe that I’m the only client that you have even though you may have hundreds. You have to give me the impression that I’m so important to you, that there’s nobody else that you’re paying attention to. My business, Kingsdale, when you think about what we do, we advise companies that are doing hostile takeovers and shareholder activism.

When I’m advising a CEO that’s under threat, somebody is saying that we’re going to replace you because you’re not competent. Then I’m talking to that CEO and I’m saying, “Wait a minute here, I’ll call you back because I have somebody else on the phone to talk to,” how do you think that person feels? In their mind, they’re the most important person on your list and you’re telling them that no, let me call you back because I have other things to do. We should make sure that we spend as much time.

If we look at it to say, “You’re not paying me as much as somebody else,” guess what? That person in the future could be paying you so much more because you’ve cultivated that relationship. Again, I spent $112,000 for my first home. Could you imagine had the real estate agent, who actually didn’t, treated me just like a sale? Then I bought my second house for double the price and then my third house and my fourth and my fifth to now I’m here in Dragons’ Den and I’m creating this wealth.

Could you imagine if that $112,000 relationship had been kept to this point how much more successful that relationship would be for that initial agent? We have to look at relationships as very, very long-term and thus forget about the price because people go through cycles in their career, and you want to follow them through that cycle. It’s all dependent on how you treat them from when they’re at the beginning of the cycle to all the way through the cycle.

Erin: In their career and in their families. You’re going to need more bedrooms, you’re going to need fewer bedrooms. You might want to buy a second home, if you’re able to, for your children to live in.

Wes: Exactly right.

Erin: All of these and the importance of building relationships. Just before we get off this particular part of the conversation, Wes, and we’re just loving having you here today, how do we cope with our own humanity? How do we cope with our emotions and not let that overrule the sense of a business decision?

Wes: When you’re successful, there’s a lot of pride and ego that comes with success, the reason being is because everybody’s telling you how great you are. Your staff’s telling you, “Wow, you’re number one in the city,” or you’re number one in the province or you’re number one in Canada. Then all of a sudden, there’s other things that start to come with that. Hubris comes with it and you need to have people around you, they’re just not buying it.

I always use the expression with my wife that we’ve been married for 30 years next year. We go for walks every morning and literally I say she carries a pin around with her so that when my head is getting too big and bloated, she just takes the pin out and just pop it. That keeps me grounded because I know that that person, she’s going to call me out. I want people around me to call me out because that’s the only way that you are levelheaded because sometimes we get ahead of ourselves, and even the people that like us hate us as a result of it.


Erin: I can’t imagine.

Wes: I know. The kids are like, “This is too much, he’s too much.” If that start to happen, that means that you just aren’t surrounding yourself with the right people or maybe you have them but you’re not taking their advice. I know some of the most successful leaders that I know today are people who have amazing people around them and they listen to them, and they get good counsel from them and it allows them to be grounded and still be very, very successful.

One of the things that I look at as well is, philanthropically, if you’re a successful person, do you give back? Because it takes a certain personality to go, “I’ve earned all this money, I’m going to give it to help certain causes,” or if you don’t have it financially yet, to donate your time to mentor maybe kids in underserved communities or people who want to be a part of your sector to be able to bring them in and give them that free advice and mentorship. If you do those things and you do a lot of them, they automatically keep you humble.


Erin: When we come back with negotiator extraordinaire and newest star of CDC’s Dragons’ Den, Wes Hall, does he ever get intimidated? And a tough message that Wes had to deliver that ended up being called the best advice the anxious recipient had ever gotten. 

Every day, more and more Canadians are discovering the joy of house hunting, apartment searching, and all kinds of real estate finds from the comfort of their own home. In fact, there were 1.6 million searches for REALTORS® on REALTOR.ca last year alone. You can make the most of those visits with the REALTOR.ca tools we provide as part of your membership, REALTOR.ca. 

Now back to Wes Hall on REAL TIME. As somebody who leads shareholder activist campaigns, what strategies have you used for approaching sensitive or difficult negotiations because you are involved, you are giving back, you are being the person that little Wes in bare feet going to school needed at that time other than your dear grandmother? What strategies have you used? What do you keep in your heart while you’re doing this?

Wes: First of all, I’m never intimidated by people. I remember I was advising the CEO of a very large company; it was a hostile takeover and a proxy contest. I was brought in on the file pretty late. I was in my late 30s and this was a very big transaction. The CEO made a lot of fundamental mistakes in communicating to the market and strategic decisions that he made. These shareholders came out and said, “We want him fired.” The board and the CEO hired me to defend them. After analyzing the situation, I decided to set a meeting with the CEO, and I went into his office. His office was massive, massive, massive office. It took me like five minutes to walk to his desk from the door.

I sat there in front of him and I said to him, “I am really good at what I do, but there’s so many mistakes that were made I can’t help you and you’re going to lose this fight. My recommendation is for you to get into the boardroom and negotiate an exit package with the current board because we’re going to lose this fight and you’re going to have a hostile board coming in. It’s either negotiate with friends now or enemies later. Which do you prefer?” That’s a tough message because at the time, this gentleman was making a few million dollars a year in compensation and he had a great life. I told him there to go resign tomorrow.

The next day he actually resigned. Still today he’s like, “The best decision, best advice I’ve ever been given.” If I was intimidated by the size of his office, how much his compensation was, that I’m just this 30 something-year-old Black guy walking into this accomplished person’s office to give him this piece of advice, he wouldn’t have gotten the right advice because of me being intimidated and me being afraid to do the right thing and say the right thing because of how he was going to respond to it. We have to always appreciate that integrity first, that matters.

Sometimes we’re giving people advice that they don’t want to hear because we’re intimidated by them. If we allow that to stop us from giving the right advice, I don’t think we’re being good advocates, I don’t think we’re being good advisors. In the real estate business, that’s what you are, you’re an advisor. You’re going to walk into somebody’s home and you’re going to tell them, “I know you think this house is worth $10 million, but it actually doesn’t. It’s worth 5 and there’s a reason why f5 is a good price for it.” You’re going to sit there and go, “Well, you know.”

If you were intimidated to have that conversation with that person, you’re going to take it at 10, you’re going to try to sell at 10 and you realize that you can’t execute at 10. You’re going to bring them an offer for 5, which you know is the right offer, but then all of a sudden, your credibility is out the window because you weren’t upfront and you weren’t transparent in the beginning.

Always be transparent because at the end of the day, after giving that CEO the advice, if he didn’t resign and we lose and he loses everything because all of a sudden, the new guy’s coming in going, “I’m not going to negotiate your compensation package with you, I’m firing you right now and you have to sue me to get what you’re entitled to.” He would have been worse off in that situation. I would feel bad that I didn’t give him the right advice, to begin with, because I was intimidated or was afraid of what he was going to say. We always have to think about our integrity when we give advice, is this the right advice, and why? If the client doesn’t want to take it, you’re not going to have any regrets.

Erin: When we wrap up our talk today with Wes Hall, how to navigate the waters when you’re working with family, don’t miss it. 

In our previous REAL TIME episode, you heard about homelesshub.ca and so many more valuable links as part of our REALTORSCare® Week. REALTORSCare® is all about bringing you information to help you help others, a national guiding principle celebrating the great work done by the Canadian Realtor Community. You can help raise awareness for the charities and causes closest to your heart by sharing your story. Just use #realtorscare on your favorite social media platforms. 

Now back to our guest. He’s a master negotiator even when it comes to family, Wes Hall. I can’t imagine what it was like growing up one of your five children with a master negotiator. Did anybody ever get a raise in their allowance or how did you move your negotiating prowess into parenthood, or was this something that you left mom to do? How did that all work out, Wes?

Wes: First of all, two of my boys are working with me. One is working with me very, very closely. Last week, he said to me, “I know we’re on compensation season, so I just wanted to know what’s going to happen with my comp?” I said, “How much are you making?” He told me and I said, “Why do you need more than that? I’m paying your rent, you’re living with me at home, I’m buying your food. The only thing that you have to worry about is the clothes that you wear. Why do you need more money than that?”


Erin: Not fair.

Wes: That’s a reasonable response to it. He started to stutter a little bit because he didn’t really know how to respond to that. I said, “Plus, the work that you’re putting in, you’re going to inherit in the future anyways. Why do you need money now? You’re fine.”


Wes: I said that in a sense that I want to see how he responded to it. He certainly held his own and justify why his compensation should be higher and he will get a higher compensation. What my wife said to me at times is that just remember that you were dad first and you’re their business person and the boss second. How you interact – When you’re working closely with your son or your daughter, especially in the real estate game where there’s a lot of families working together, sometimes we forget the fact that we’re just a parent first and the business will be fine.

I keep that in mind every time we’re having conversations, whether it’d be about tough conversations like compensation, conversation about discipline in terms of a work discipline, meaning that you messed up on this thing, and how do I respond to you? Do I respond to you as your boss or do I respond to you as your father? When I get home, do I have the boss hat on at home or do I have the dad hat on at home? I make sure that I’m very careful in terms of what hat I’m wearing when I’m having those conversations because it could ultimately affect our relationship in a very negative way if that’s not managed properly.

Erin: Is there a limit on how much shop-talk at home or over the dinner table?

Wes: [laughs] My wife manages that, Erin, very, very well. She’s very good about – We try to have dinner as a family at 6:00 PM every evening. Around the table, we talk about different things but we’re very balanced in terms of what we talk about. If I’m sitting on the couch reading a book or I’m watching a show, he doesn’t walk in and say, “Hey, by the way, that deal, here’s what’s going on,” and all that. He respects those boundaries.

If we’re having a five-minute conversation about something business at the dinner table, we do that but it’s not an hour conversation. It’s a very short conversation, but the rest of the conversation is about family, about us, and the business will come. We don’t overly focus ourselves on business, business, business, because that could be draining and there’s no time to unwind and there’s a lot of stress that comes with that.

To the extent that when I’m walking with my wife, for example, if I have something on my mind business-wise, that’s where it gets resolved because it’s amazing. When you’re talking to somebody who’s not in the sector that you’re in, they can see problems from a completely different perspective. I value that perspective because I would never have thought of the solution the way that she would think about it. I find that we solve a lot of problems in my business world by having those walks and having those conversations with her about challenges that I’m facing and coming up with a completely different way of thinking about it that I wouldn’t have.

Erin: You know, Wes, that once COVID’s over, you’re not going to be able to hide behind the mask and everybody’s going to be recognizing you from TV. Your wife’s going to need a bigger pin.

Wes: [laughs] It’s funny I was walking through the neighborhood, and this was when I was just announced on Dragons’ Den. This young lady walked by me and she turned around and said, “Are you Wes Hall?” My wife was with me, and I said, “Yes.” She’s like, “Oh, I love you. I can’t wait to watch you.” My wife after, she turned around, she looked at me and said, “Oh, man. I’m not going to live this down.”


Wes: I’m like, “See, I’m a big deal, honey. You got to treat me like a big deal.” She shaked her head and go, “Yes, never.” [laughs]

Erin: That’s great. Great, great, great. Thank you for helping us to talk about negotiating deals and everything that’s been a part of this, Wes. It’s been just such a pleasure, and you are a big deal.

Wes: Erin, you know what? You’re so kind, you should be my PR person.

Erin: [laughs] Oh.

Wes: [chuckles] I probably can’t afford you for that.

Erin: Now that you’ve taught me how to negotiate.


Wes: That’s right.

Erin: Thank you.

Wes: Thank you, Erin.

Erin: Best of luck to you in everything. I can’t wait to read an autobiography about you, or I’ll write it with you.

Wes: It’s coming out next year so stay tuned.

Erin: Awesome. Thank you, Wes, so much.

Wes: Perfect. Thank you.

Erin: Thanks again to Wes Hall for joining us for this episode of REAL TIME brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. 

Remember to be sure to visit CREA.ca to access valuable resources and discover more fantastic real estate-related content. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button. Will you, please? REAL TIME is produced by Rob Whitehead with Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis. Thank you for making the time to join us.

Episode 21: Dr. Naheed Dosani – Approaching Homelessness from a Place of Empathy

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast for and about REALTORS®. I’m your host, Erin Davis, and it’s great to have you sharing this time with us. We explore everything in this podcast from living green to marketing tips, design, and so much more. 

On episode 21 of REAL TIME today, we’re joined by Dr. Naheed Dosani to compliment REALTORS Care® Week 2021. Dr. Dosani, a Toronto-based physician and humanitarian, has been making headlines, and more importantly, a real difference while providing palliative care to the homeless and vulnerably housed since 2014.

In this episode, we’re going to explore Dr. Dosani’s perspective on the state of homelessness in Canada, the impacts of health and social system inequities. We’re going to talk about PEACH, and it stands for Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless and how Canadians, we, can seek humility and empathy in supporting marginalized people. Dr. Dosani, thank you so much for taking some of your precious time to be with us here today. It means a lot to our members and to me. Thank you for this.

Dr. Dosani: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.

Erin: You are amazing. As a physician, you must’ve always wanted to help people, but tell us about your journey in medicine, Doctor, and what drew you to caring for the homeless and vulnerably housed in particular.

Dr. Dosani: I’m the son of two refugees who came to Canada in the 1970s from a country called Uganda in Africa. My parents came to Canada as refugees with nothing, fleeing war and persecution. My upbringing was really focused on justice, community wellbeing, and what social change could really inspire. I originally wanted to pursue maybe journalism, maybe law, but then found myself in healthcare and in medicine.

It was a turning point for me working as a resident doctor at the University of Toronto in my training. In my first year of residency, actually, where I met a man named Terry who presented to the shelter I was working at, and he presented in pain crisis because he had a widespread head and neck cancer. He had been on the streets for over 15 years. He had a longstanding mental illness, schizophrenia, and he was actually diagnosed with his cancer a year before at a local cancer center. 

Unfortunately, due to his mental health, he wasn’t able to follow up for appointments. The tumor grew, and so he started to experience pain, and he did what any one of us would do. He went hospital to hospital, ER to ER, walk-in clinic to walk-in clinic, seeking the kind of pain control that anybody in this country should have access to.

Terry was denied access to pain medicines. I could read this in the medical notes and the charts. Maybe it was because of stigma. Maybe it was because of bias, but he’s found himself in our care on this day. I remember building a somewhat of a trust with him in the sense that he promised he’d start some pain medicines the next day. 

I got to the shelter early the next day to work with him, and I couldn’t find him anywhere, and I had found out that he had died. He had overdosed on a combination of alcohol and street drugs. He had turned to the best pain relief that he knew. It was too little too late. This was a life-changing event that showed me that people experiencing homelessness lack access to care, and particularly people who experience homelessness lack access to palliative care. It’s a human rights issue.

Erin: I think that what you said that jumped out to me there was that he went hospital to hospital, and right away, people thought that he was just a guy there trying to get a fix. Would that be a summary of his situation before something like PEACH could have intervened?

Dr. Dosani: Yes. This is a great question because many people listening might think, well, he had access to healthcare because we all have access to healthcare. It’s “universal” in Canada, but that’s actually a common misnomer in the sense that there are still biases, stigma, and discrimination that exists in our healthcare facilities and in our healthcare programs for people who are unhoused, people who use drugs, people with mental illness, racialized folks. 

I’m sure we’re going to talk about this throughout the conversation, but while you may all technically have equal access to healthcare, it doesn’t mean we have equitable access to healthcare, and Terry needed equitable, justice-based access to healthcare, and particularly palliative care.

Erin: Can you define the difference between equal and equitable perhaps in Terry’s case or in some example that can illustrate that for us, Doctor?

Dr. Dosani: For sure. I love this contrast and comparison because I think it’s such a crucial pillar of understanding when it comes to why this kind of work is so important. Our healthcare system is pretty good at being equal. 

Most people in this country get the same things to be happy and healthy, but that doesn’t work for everybody, especially for people who might need more like someone who lives on the streets or in shelters or someone who lives in poverty. People like this need equitable care. They need a health system that gives people what they need to be happy and healthy.

In justice-based health systems, that takes us one step further where our systems are rearranged in a way that people are empowered and supported with the resources to make their own healthy lifestyle choices when they want, how they want, where they want. It’s an empowering way. 

We need to go from equality to equity to justice. Unfortunately, Terry didn’t have access to equity-based palliative care or justice-based palliative care. That’s why he died. His death has become – I carry it with me everywhere I go. It’s in my heart right now, Erin, and it’s a big reason we do the work we do.

Erin: His death and that brief ships in the night that you had with this man has turned into a catalyst for your life.

Dr. Dosani: Yes. A turning point, a life-changing event that led to me becoming really focused on the issue of homelessness and healthcare. I spent my entire residency learning more about the intersections of healthcare for people experiencing homelessness, and then later applied for a palliative medicine residency at the University of Toronto, where I spent my entire training program figuring out how we could make and inspire a change.

In July of 2014, with colleagues at the Inner City Health Associates in downtown Toronto, we developed the PEACH program, Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless, a mobile street and shelter-based palliative care program that provides healthcare for people, whether they’re under a bridge, on the street, in a shelter, so no person falls through the cracks. It started a very basic with myself and a street nurse named Namarig Ahmed driving around in a Honda Civic. I just actually got rid of that Honda Civic very recently. I had that for a long time.

The program has grown, and in 2021, we have a pretty robust program. We care for between 120 to 130 clients at any time. We have a health navigator on the team. We have a nurse coordinator, five palliative care physicians, a PEACH psychiatrist. We also have had iterations of peer workers, people with lived experiences on the program, and integration with our home and community care colleagues, including physiotherapy and PSW supports to really meet people where they’re at.

Erin: Incredible, and without being too precious, you literally grew PEACH from the pit, the whole, the deficit that was on the Toronto streets in terms of the state of palliative care for the homeless and vulnerability. How many other people were paying attention to this when the whole issue of Terry and your residency coincided, Doctor?

Dr. Dosani: The issue of homelessness and healthcare – and particularly access to palliative care – has actually been written about around the world for quite some time. It’s not a new concept per se. A lot of people around the world have written editorials and commentaries and the literature and even popular media articles about the fact that we need to do better, but what was lacking was a real robust view of how we can clinically create models to make this happen.

In most jurisdictions across North America, Europe, and Australia, there is access to community-based palliative care; but what doesn’t actually happen is that those community-based programs orient themselves towards people who live in respite shelters, drop-ins, rooming houses, and really where unhoused populations reside; but also bringing it together with a trauma-informed approach to care, recognizing that many people who live on the streets and in shelters have experienced significant loss and trauma.

Also recognizing that people who live on the streets and in shelters also are people who use drugs, and a lot of the time, they don’t get access to palliative care because the requirement for access to palliative care is stopping the use of drugs. We know that doesn’t work. Abstinence doesn’t work, so we provide harm reduction palliative care. I think it’s the combination of those concepts that make PEACH unique.

Erin: Well, PEACH is unique, as a matter of fact, in all of humility. I really want you to blow your own horn here, Doctor, it has been brought to the attention of cities worldwide, has it not?

Dr. Dosani: Yes, we’re really lucky and feel honored to be part of a network of family of programs that exists in cities all around the world, right here in Canada. Colleagues in Victoria, Edmonton, and Calgary, to name a few, have developed programs that feature mobile supports and mobile programs for people who are in need of palliative care and provide palliative care for structurally vulnerable people. The model has actually been replicated in cities like Seattle and Brisbane, Australia, and even as far as ways as England as well. This really is a global health issue. It’s this intersection of the need for palliative care and the need for homeless healthcare intersecting together. It really makes a lot of sense.

I think it’s important for us to reflect on the fact that people who experience homelessness are 28 times more likely to have hepatitis C virus, five times more likely to have heart disease, four times more likely to have cancer. The average life expectancy for people who live on the streets and in shelters is actually 34 to 47 years old. When you look at the life expectancy of Canadians, that can range from between 77 and 82 years old. Homelessness cuts a person’s lifespan by half. It is a terminal diagnosis of the social determinants of health, how we live, learn, work, and play. This is really how we conceptualize the issue.

Erin: 34 to 47. That’s an incredible number just to stop and look at. It’s almost as though being unhoused or vulnerably housed in itself is a deadly disease.

Dr. Dosani: Totally. Then when you throw in the addition of a life-limiting illness, like cancer or end-stage kidney disease, or COPD, or liver failure, for example, you really see mortality go up. We recognize that to be on the streets, to live in a shelter is already taking years off of your life. Then when you have another medical illness, it’s clear why access to healthcare is key, of course, but access to palliative care is an important component of any approach that supports healthcare of people experiencing homelessness and focuses on human rights, and of course, people’s dignity and their quality of life.

Erin: Back with Dr. Naheed Dosani in a moment. He’s a man who, with his team, makes a difference on the streets of his city, throughout the country, and the world. We’re going to talk about that and so much more on this special edition of REAL TIME that comes while we’re marking REALTORS Care® Week. 

REALTORS Care® is a national guiding principle celebrating the great charitable work done by you as a member of the Canadian REALTOR® community. Help raise awareness for the causes closest to your heart and home by sharing your story. Using #REALTORSCare on your favorite social media platform. 

As we return now to our chat with Dr. Naheed Dosani, I asked him what impact this PEACH program has had and just what he has seen with his own eyes.

Dr. Dosani: It’s a fair question. What does the PEACH program really do? At the outside, it’s important to recognize that we provide medical care, and those pieces are key. We also, because we’re a palliative care program, prioritize people’s pain and symptom management, and particularly their quality of life, which is bread and butter for what palliative care and healthcare programs really do. It’s so much more than the medical model. It’s about meeting people where they’re at.

When I talked about trauma-informed care, that’s really supporting people and connecting with people. It’s allowing people to heal, even if they’re really sick, giving people a hand to hold or someone to talk to when no one else is around. It can also be very practical, particularly when working with this population. Palliative care is not just providing the medical care, it’s actually ensuring people have the basic necessities of life, like a roof over their heads, so finding housing is a huge part of what we do. Securing food for people. Ensuring people have money in their bank account. People have social supports and human connections when they need them.

There’s an aspect of this that’s psychological or even emotional or spiritual care in nature to recognize that there’s a higher power or something out there that’s driving our soul and our will so that people can heal. Each team member, depending on their discipline, leverages these different components of that holistic biopsychosocial-spiritual model to make this work.

Erin: You mentioned the spiritual aspect of it. How do you get up every morning knowing that this is what you’re going to be doing? Is it the hope or the difference that fuels you, or how do you do it, Dr. Dosani?

Dr. Dosani: I think that’s a very fair question too. At the outset of that question, I will say that a lot of the time I have difficulty, and I’m going to be just vulnerable with you for a second, Erin, to say that this is not easy. Our team sees a lot of suffering in different ways. Remember, we’re dealing with people who have fallen through the gaps again and again and again, and then towards the end of life, are fallen through the gaps again at a time when no one should ever fall through the gap.

If we can’t get the dying part right to help people, how are you going to work on the living part? It’s frustrating. It’s sad. It’s heavy at times, but on the flip side, what drives me is that in just a short amount of time, just a few years, a few people who care in healthcare and social services have come together to develop a model of care that inspires change, a new way of thinking, a new way of being, and we’re doing it. Then we’re doing it in a lot of cities across Canada now, and now people around the world are doing it. Like, what’s not to be inspired by?

The other thing that really drives me is that this work is not being done in isolation. It’s not like I’m doing my clinical work and then going home and hanging out, it’s tied to advocacy. I could never imagine doing this work in an isolated way. It’s connected to advocacy around anti-homelessness policies, around ending poverty, because a lot of Canadians don’t realize that homelessness is a human-made problem. It was created by humans, and it can be ended through policy choices, like housing first or housing for all, which actually saves the system a lot of money. 

I advocate in a systemic and structural way at a population level. That makes the clinical work make a lot more sense because you know you’re working on something better.

Erin: We’re going to get to that in terms of integrating it with our message here today for REALTORS Care® Week. Let me go back to the personal for a moment, and just as you open the door to vulnerability, which of course, shows such great courage, what kind of life does this leave you with? Do you have time for your own personal life?

Dr. Dosani: Balance is really important. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of these cases and you’re in it deep with people who are dealing with such strife, it’s hard to see that, but wellness and resilience is really important. We’re hot off the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re still in the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s be real right. More than ever before, health workers have been pushed in a way that we haven’t been pushed before. I don’t like calling it burnout because I think that places the blame on colleagues.

I think a lot of people, including folks who work on the PEACH team, including myself, are at times facing moral injury and even compassion fatigue, because this work is heavy, because it’s hard, we’re not getting breaks. Specifically for people who work on the front lines of homelessness because the policy solutions are not being put into place to prevent homelessness.

Our work and our services are being accessed more than ever before. That’s a scary thought, but I got to say that there’s hope. One of the things that we do as a team to support each other is to support our grief. We recognize very early on in this journey that people working in healthcare and in social services, providing a palliative care for people in the community needed help and support around their grief and their loss experiences, particularly when we were supporting clients who ended up dying.

We developed these things called grief circles. There are actually ceremonies that happen when a client dies. We will descend on a respite shelter or drop-in. We will hold a minute of silence. We will light a candle, and then we will cry together. We’ll laugh together. We’ll tell stories of what it was like to care for the person that we cared for. Then we’ll think about how to not just remember or reflect on that care, but how to renew and reinvest in each other. We call it the 4Rs, and then we’ll hold that moment of silence and put that candle out and go out and do it again.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we had these grief circles virtually, and actually, the PEACH program got utilized in the city of Toronto to actually hold these grief circles for health workers working in the COVID recovery models, maybe not working in palliative care, but people who are working just in the healthcare models for people experiencing homelessness because of all the overdose deaths that we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do I think grief circles are the answer to your question? No, it’s scratching at the surface, but we need to develop safe, structured ways for people to address their grief, and me having that space through the grief circles with the PEACH program helps a lot.

Erin: Good. It’s good to hear that there are ways to take care of you because we’ve all been so loud and rah, rah and banging the pots and pans, and it’s quieted down, and then you start wondering who is taking care of the caregivers.

We’re so grateful to Dr. Dosani for sharing his passion and commitment today towards helping the most vulnerable among us. His chat with us is complimenting REALTORS Care® Week. There are incredible stories that you can access by following REALTORS Care® on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and using your own #REALTORSCare. Now, back to Dr. Naheed Dosani. 

Tell us, Doctor, how has the pandemic impacted Canada’s unhoused and vulnerably housed populations specifically? You mentioned the drug overdoses. In what other ways because so many of us have just been tied up with our own dramas and mourning and challenges during this time?

Dr. Dosani: People experiencing homelessness were hanging by a thread before the pandemic, and that thread essentially snapped. People were disconnected from their social and healthcare supports via their respite shelters or drop-ins, and many of these facilities and institutions that support people who are unhoused had to close or reduce services due to physical distancing. Remember, this was before we had a vaccine. This was very hard for people. We ended up seeing more people than ever before on the streets and in parks.

What we did see to be positive about things was an incredible response that was collaborated from our health facilities and health workers to social care agencies, to activists, to government agencies, to faith groups, who in different cities and towns across Canada said, “We need to respond to support people experiencing homelessness and to make this work to save lives.” We saw the development of hotels, and motels, recovery programs.

I had the distinct pleasure and continue to be the medical director for the Region of Peel’s COVID-19 Isolation Housing Program. The development of these programs that we saw spread up all across Canada. This was an amazing feat. It actually showed me that there’s a lot more ability for us to collaborate and make magic happen than we thought. Before COVID, it was always, “There aren’t resources, and we can’t make that happen.” Look, COVID showed we could do it. I always say, “COVID has proven we can cure homelessness if we really want to.” That’s really exciting.

On the flip side, and it’s more of a negative tone, I also saw the increase in criminalization of poverty through and through. In cities like Toronto, the people I care for used to maybe get ticketed if they were panhandling. Now, we saw actually violent encampment clearings by the City of Toronto and Toronto Police. This happened in many cities across Canada, where they were actually sending drones, horses, police, and militarized operations to remove people.

One report done by the media here in Toronto, they removed 60 people from parks in Toronto and spent $2 million. That equates to about $33,000 per person. Imagine if that money was just spent on housing. Well, in one way, we saw the rise of empathy, compassion, and collaboration is magic to respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Our cities and police forces across Canada actually criminalize poverty in a way that I’ve never seen before. This should be concerning to people who are listening to this discussion.

Erin: Now that our eyes are open, what would you suggest we do so that we don’t see a clearing like we saw before, but that the city gets to reclaim the open spaces and safe spaces for families? Where’s the compromise? Where’s the common ground, Doctor? What would you have done?

Dr. Dosani: Well, I think we need to really ask ourselves about these incredible programs that have been developed across the country. These COVID recovery models are potentially new best practices that will allow us to help people off the street and give them a pathway and then provide social and healthcare supports for them. Then, of course, hopefully, support and empower them to be on a pathway towards housing from those sites.

Many of the leases on these COVID recovery models across Canada are actually ending very soon. I would be really disappointed if cities across Canada and our country said, “Yes, that was COVID. COVID’s over now. Go back to the streets and in shelters. Go back to how things were.” No, our legacy, the silver lining of a post-recovery world is that we can actually end homelessness.

I think we also need to really think about some of the assumptions we make when we’re having these conversations. Some of the politicians made statements that these people were making parks dangerous. Well, in actuality, there’s very few reports of that. When you look at the data, there was accusations that they were starting fires. There was, again, very little data to prove that. There’s a lot of bias and stigma and discrimination that comes into that.

The other thing is just to recognize that these are people with complex issues, complex feelings of hurt, and loss, and trauma, or sometimes mental illness, other physical illnesses. We need to build relationships with them. Of course, there is a desire to get people housed and connected, but if people don’t feel safe with their options, we need to listen to them.

Instead of putting the onus on people who are in encampments to find the solution, let’s put them back on our politicians who have to respond to these feelings and just say it’s their duty to make these spaces safe. That means increasing the amount of affordable housing supply in this country and making sure that this housing supply is high quality and safe for people because housing is a human right.

Erin: You’ve also said that housing is healthcare. Can you explain this and why you believe this, Doctor?

Dr. Dosani: I think in 2021, we’re pretty much in agreement that the social factors that impact healthcare impact health outcomes. This includes people who don’t have a home, people who don’t have money, people who don’t have access to food, security, and so homelessness or houselessness, the state of being itself is a risk factor on health.

I shared some of these statistics earlier with you just to say that just not having a home itself is a serious and often life-limiting disease. It can take 50% of a person’s lifespan away, so when you actually provide housing, and then you also provide access to social and healthcare supports, people can dramatically heal from their mental health to their physical health, just feeling dignity in society and feeling a sense of purpose. You can really work to heal people, even if they’re really sick.

When we say housing is healthcare, we’re trying to really frame housing as a healthcare issue because it actually has impact on healthcare outcomes, not to mention the outcomes that it has on society. It saves money. We know through the Housing First study done called the At Home/Chez Soi demonstration project, which was a three-year study done in Canada between 2014 and 2017. We know that for every $1 that went into housing for people with severe mental illness, Canada got $1.87 back. Not only does it make people feel better, it saves us money in the long run. It has the potential to save us millions and even billions of dollars over the years. That’s what we mean when we answer that question.

Erin: Coming up, using social media to spread the word, and how the doctor uses various platforms to lift himself up and get his message out. You can do it too. When you volunteer your time, make a donation, or raise funds for a cause you truly believe in, you’re making a difference in your community. Post that inspiration and have an impact by sharing your story online using #REALTORSCare. 

Now, you’ve got a big following on social media, Doctor, which you use to help destigmatize homelessness and poverty. Do you think the message is getting through? How do we go about becoming better informed about these issues?

Dr. Dosani: I’m always honored to be supported by a community that just really cares. I’m actually blown away at the emails and messages and tweets I get and posts on Instagram and people commenting about how they believe in this issue too. They believe that health equity is crucial to a brighter future, but the reality is if you go and survey most Canadians, many people still believe that people who experience homelessness are lazy. Many people believe they did it to themselves. Many people believe people are choosing to be on the streets and in shelters.

Having cared for so many people over the years, I’ve never met one person who wanted to be in the situation that they’re in. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people I care for may have made a bad decision, a decision you and I might not make perhaps, but really, there are structural factors at play that cause homelessness.

We need to destigmatize homelessness from “a person who did it to themselves” kind of view or blaming people for their situation and start looking at things structurally because we know that there is not enough affordable housing in this country to support people. We know that there has been a weakening social safety net at the federal, provincial, regional, and city levels over the last three decades around healthcare, social assistance, PharmaCare, social supports. This has led to this trajectory of people experiencing homelessness.

We’re seeing a growing trend of people who are older and frail, who are experiencing homelessness for the first time after the age of 50. This is a growing trend. This is one of the elements of capitalism on steroids. We really need to think about that. I hope that through my posts on social media, we’re able to send those messages across and sometimes telling a compassionate story that derives empathy from people. Sometimes it’s just using capital letters and yelling because you just think there’s no other response. There is no other way to respond. It depends on the day, maybe the hour.

Erin: Yes, right. Are you seeing progress in terms of people’s perspectives or willingness to help? I’m thinking, you don’t have to be a Dr. Dosani or a Nurse Ahmed or somebody with a degree in order to help you. Are you seeing more people saying, “What can I do? I want to dive in.”

Dr. Dosani: I think the COVID-19 pandemic shined the light on inequities in a way that we have not seen for quite some time. People are more aware of these issues. That might be a silver lining of what happened during COVID. The fact that despite the inequities we saw, we did see more focus on these discussions, and that is power in and of itself.

I was blown away to see the response when cities, like Halifax and Toronto and other cities, actually criminalized poverty and supported violent encampment clearings. We saw the public come out, actually step out to support their unhoused neighbors. We saw people tweeting, posting on social media. We saw outrage, so yes, I do believe there’s progress, and people’s perspectives are changing.

In terms of how Canadians can become better-informed, I think there’s often a desire to go out and act, and I’d say the first step is to become informed, so to listen first. I’d encourage people to visit homelesshub.ca, the York University Observatory on Homelessness, which is a great repository of information on homelessness, both social health and other spheres.

I’d also encourage people to check out the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, who is doing excellent work to advocate for strategies and pathways to ending homelessness through policy, through real change on the streets, in shelters, in our communities. Their website is a really great resource as well.

I think those two resources have been helpful for me. Also just seeking out locally, who are your local respite shelters, drop-ins? Who are the activists who are doing this work? Follow them, support them, support their causes in your local communities because they need your support to derive health equity in your community.

Erin: That may go hand-in-hand with this next question for you because, of course, as you know, this episode is complementing REALTORS Care® Week 2021. During this, real estate boards, associations, and their REALTOR® members are making a collective impact volunteering in supportive housing and shelter-related charities right across Canada. Your advice to any organization, institution, or individual, Doctor, looking to volunteer their time or resources, go to homelesshub.ca, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. Anything else that you can recommend?

Dr. Dosani: Look, first, the REALTOR® community is a very special community. I’d first appeal to them by saying REALTORS® are as much or more than anyone else, a person who understands how much a home can mean to a person. There are thousands of Canadians who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses, the illnesses of not having a home, or what that means for them. You can play a real role. You can actually support the creation of new affordable housing. You can help on a policy level. Can you help local charities?

REALTORS® in Canada are often community leaders and influencers. Can you help to create and support community leaders who are working to end homelessness? Can you help to rally their communities, their communications, and their actions? REALTORS® are also respected voices on housing issues. When the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness or other institutions or organizations worked on policy, can you be powerful? Can you be influential? Can you join us in our campaigns?

Then finally, a lot of the time, the solution is really supporting people with resources. Many of the campaigns that we’re working on need money, need support, donations. There’s a bazillion REALTORS® in Canada, you guys are awesome. Your money and supports can really actually make a huge change. I think any opportunity to speak out around policies that will create a more affordable housing supply or directly support through in-kind support, these campaigns will make a huge difference, we need you.

Erin: What a great message. How do we go about ensuring, Doctor, that our support is meaningful for both parties? That we gain empathy and perspective as volunteers, not just showing up and getting that reward of making a difference? What’s your recommendation there to find that support meaningful for both sides?

Dr. Dosani: For sure. I reflect on two concepts here. The first is that sometimes when we go out to do good for communities that experience structural vulnerabilities, sometimes we project what we feel is the best thing for a community on that community. I’d ask you to not project what you think is best for people experiencing homelessness, but seek out the answer to that question, “What is it that the community I live in needs?” You’ll learn.

If you support your local shelters, respites, drop-ins, housing agencies, case management programs, they’ll tell you like, “We need money today because we are out of our compassionate funding,” or, “We’re doing a sock drive, people need socks, we need socks. We don’t need shirts, we need socks.” Very specifically. Listen to the communities that do this work and what they need, and they will guide you.

The second concept is reflect on your vulnerability. I will say that COVID-19 put us all in very unique situations where we all had this experience, where no matter – whether you lived in a home and felt very supportive, or you live on the street, or in a shelter, everyone felt vulnerable during this time. It was hard not to because of this virus and this pandemic.

I know people were thinking about what their mortality or their death might look like, people were thinking about like, “What if I go to hospital?” Tap into that vulnerability. I know that many people have moved on, and life is moving on, but don’t lose sight of what it was like to feel vulnerable, because if you tap into that, you have the potential to derive empathy and compassion for a community in Canada that does not have a home and do not have homes because of structural issues. Tap into that, tap into your empathy and compassion. I know you’ll find the way.

Erin: That’s amazing, it really is the strength and vulnerability. Many people just moved on from it, said, “Okay, what’s next? We’re going to be okay.” 

Remembering how we felt the most vulnerable, we felt most of us in our lives. Thank you for reminding us of that. As we wrap up our chat for today, Doctor, and thank you again so much for your time. It’s amazing to look at the calendar. It’s felt like the longest year, and yet it’s amazing that 2021 is almost done. What has been your biggest takeaway from this year of so many images? How are you hoping to finish it off?

Dr. Dosani: I learned that despite our best efforts in society, even in the midst of a serious pandemic like COVID-19, we may have tried to all be in it together, but we were not. Some of us were in yachts thriving through this pandemic, and others were in life rafts barely surviving. What I do appreciate is that we can have a conversation about this. I can say this to you, Erin, and this resonates, it’s hard to deny that that’s true. We saw the outcomes on people’s experience during COVID-19.

The silver lining for me is at least we’re having the conversation. At least inequity is on the radar for people. Look, we’re doing this recording. It shows me that we are moving towards a society where we are thinking about the impact of a lack of housing for social assistance rates, PharmaCare, and the need for PharmaCare for people. 

We’re thinking about food insecurity in unique ways and other kind of social inequities that really are impacting people in our communities. It’s everybody’s business. Everybody’s responsible to derive equity and justice for the people around you.

Erin: Do you think it’s possible?

Dr. Dosani: I do, I really do. There’s something called the spirit level, and there’s a famous book that was written about it that societies that are more equitable, people actually tend to be more happy, there’s less crime, the spirit level rises. 

Actually, I’m hopeful of the fact that people recognize that when we are more connected, when we are more socially supported, and when people are not marginalized, people do better in all aspects of the world and in society. If this little dive into the world of palliative care, and what it’s like to support people who experience homelessness gets us there or one step towards that place, then I think this was a good time. I think this was totally worth it.

Erin: Oh, what a great conversation. Thank you so much for honoring us with this. Thank you, Dr. Dosani, so much.

Dr. Dosani: Thank you, Erin, really appreciate it. To all the REALTORS® out there, thank you so much for everything you do, I appreciate your time.

Erin: As we do appreciate yours, Doctor, not that there’s a lot of it. 

Learn more about Dr. Naheed Dosani and how you can help him make a difference right across Canada, and as he stresses, locally, where you are. Again, that website he mentioned is homelesshub.ca, and check out the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

REAL TIME is a production of Alphabet® Creative, Real Family Productions, and Rob Whitehead. I’m Erin Davis. We invite you to join us for our next episode of REAL TIME, brought to you by The Canadian Real Estate Association when we’ll sit down with the incredible Stefan Swanepoel, a leading visionary of real estate trends. It promises to be exciting, and you don’t want to miss it, and so you don’t because we know you’re busy. Subscribe to our channels on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher, and we’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME. Thanks for coming by.

Episode 20: Brad McCannell – The Positive Effects of Universal Design

What’s cost-effective, functional yet invisible, and has the power to improve homeowner safety and strengthen communities? Universal Design: an approach to designing spaces that are inclusive and equitable for all. On Episode 20 of REAL TIME, we speak with Brad McCannell, Vice President of Access and Inclusion at the Rick Hansen Foundation, to explore the personal, societal, and financial value of adopting Universal Design practices in both our homes and shared spaces.

Episode 19: Chantal Hébert – In Pursuit of Housing: The Impact of Canada’s Federal Election

Canadians have had their say in Canada’s 44th federal election, ushering in a new Liberal minority government. What led to this result and what does it mean for Canadians? On Episode 19 of REAL TIME, we’re joined by one of Canada’s most prolific political journalists and commentators, Chantal Hébert. Join us as we unpack the election’s political implications for Canada’s housing crisis, including the newly-elected government’s housing promises, and how all parties might align to support a more accessible and sustainable housing sector.

Episode 18: Heather Bayer – The Evolution of Canadian Vacation Properties

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast for REALTORS® brought to you by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association. We are all about sparking conversations with inspiring people about all things Canadian real estate and topics that impact REALTORS®, and really all of us. I’m your host, Erin Davis and our guest for episode 18 of REAL TIME is actually a host in a lot of ways, and you’re going to find our chat fascinating. The appeal of vacation properties skyrocketed during the pandemic as Canadians look to create memories close to home. This scramble for real estate dovetails with another phenomenon, vacation rentals and the sharing economy.

With record numbers of people looking to get away close to home, can any property become a vacation property, and what are the pros and cons of investing in one? In episode 18 of REAL TIME, we take a closer look at the trends and opportunities with Heather Bayer. She’s a vacation rental expert, speaker, podcaster, broadcaster, and mentor of short-term rental managers and owners. Heather Bayer is also CEO of one of Ontario’s leading cottage rental agencies. We’re thrilled she could carve out time to be with us on REAL TIME during one of her busiest seasons ever. Thank you, Heather, for joining us. This feels like a virtual vacation and no matter the time of year, I think we can still all use one. I appreciate your time.

Heather Bayer: You’re absolutely welcome, Erin. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here.

Erin: You’ve been in the vacation rental business for more than 20 years. How did you get into the industry, and what makes you so passionate about it? Tell us your story, Heather.

Heather: What it was, it was very much by accident. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur since the 1980s. I love to start-up businesses, but until 1998, I’d had nothing to do with hospitality apart from partaking of it myself. In fact, at that time, back in 1998, I was running a management training company, I had a psychotherapy and hypnotherapy practice and happily hypnotizing people and running my training and it was great.

Then the adventure started. My brother was getting married in Midland, Ontario. Of course, as you know, from my accent, you can probably understand, I was in England at the time. He was getting married in Ontario. A week later, my niece was going to be married in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We had a family of 12 Brits and Scots, and we planned this two-week adventure and my brother organized our accommodation in Ontario. It sounded absolutely marvelous when he told us. It was a four-bedroom cottage on a pristine lake, and that’s all he said, and it’s something we never experienced before and we just couldn’t wait for this to happen.

What he conveniently forgot to tell us was that it was a water access-only property. Although we were ferried across to this cottage on this very nice motorboat by my future sister-in-law’s stepson, all we had after that was a tin boat with a nine horsepower motor, which was meant to ferry us back and forth to the mainland and the motor kept going wrong and things were happening. He also neglected to mention that the cottage hadn’t been occupied for the previous six months. At least it hadn’t been occupied by humans and it was overrun by mice and for the first three days, we cleaned the place.

Which sounds like a complete nightmare, but in fact, it was probably the most amazing vacation we’d ever had. We swam in the morning at dawn with the loons, I’m getting poetic here. We sat around the campfire telling stories and roasting marshmallows, and it was bliss, idyllic. On the last night, my sister and I sat on a rock and we were having a gin and tonic and looking out over the most amazing sunset, and I just said, “Hey, we could do this. We could actually buy a property and rent it out and do it much better”.

My husband always raises his eyebrows. When I always say those four words, “I’ve got an idea”, he wants to run a mile. I went back to UK and decided we’d go into the travel industry, and I was going to source the best in Ontario cottages and rent them to the British market. Oddly enough though, in a couple of years we did that, we got more business coming from Toronto, calling us in the UK and trying to rent a cottage two hours north of them.

Eventually, I moved out in 2003. I’d had enough of going backwards and forwards to Ontario every six weeks to buy another property because we kept buying them. We had six at one point and I was also looking at third-party properties and managing them from England. My husband had been in the UK military in the RAF for 35 years and it was time for him to retire. We said, “Hey, let’s move to Ontario.” That was the start of the adventure and here we are 18 years later.

I now run one of Ontario’s most popular rental management companies along with my business partner. We have 160 properties and I’ve written a book about how to rent. I have a podcast with 400 episodes and nearly a million downloads now, and I live, eat and breathe this business. Yes, the passion that started in 1998 has not waned one iota since then.

Erin: What an incredible story. I’m still stuck on the hook that you were a hypnotherapist and a psychotherapist because I want that in everybody that I know, oh my goodness, boy, you changed lanes in such a big way. Of course, the whole world did in the past year and a half, Heather, with COVID-19 having such a major impact on travel and tourism. What have been the immediate effects on Canadian vacation rentals that you’ve seen?

Heather: It’s been a story of famine and feast really because it depends where you are. Here in Ontario, we serve a domestic market, so 90% of our travelers come from the major cities from Toronto, with less so from Ottawa, but it’s domestic. When the borders closed and people couldn’t go traveling, they decided that they would stay at home and do the staycation, and that turned out to be the best year in 2020 for us. This year, 2021, it is just as busy, if not busier. We’ve never had busier years. However, that’s not the same for every part of Canada because there are areas that don’t have that high level of domestic travel. They have more international travel people crossing over the border.

For example, property managers and owners, let’s say in Canmore and Banff, less likely to have a domestic market because it’s only an hour or an hour and a half away from Calgary. People are more likely just to do a day trip rather than to book accommodation because the majority of their business comes from the US. Many of the managers I spoke to have told me about the famine effect. It’s been the same in the urban markets for those who had properties say in downtown Vancouver or in Toronto or in Montreal because people weren’t visiting the cities anymore. It has been either feast or famine.

Erin: Do you expect, Heather, the pandemic to influence any long-term trends even after we returned to, “Normal”?

Heather: The issue of what’s going to happen next year, don’t we all wish we had the crystal ball, and people say, “when we returned to normal”, always waving those air quotes to normal, we look at it two ways. We’ve had to explain to a lot of new owners this year when they bought properties and they paid a lot of money for it, and they are coming into it at a period of the highest rental rates we’ve ever seen.

We raised our rates between 25% and 30% this year just to remain competitive, and owners have come in saying, “This is amazing. I’ll feed this into my spreadsheet.” We’re going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” 2022 could be very, very different because we don’t know what’s going to happen when international travel helps people to move south and move east and west, just go away from where they’d been stuck for the past 18 months.

On the other hand, some people have found the secret door to what’s in their backyard, which is lakes and areas of pristine natural beauty that they may not have even realized was so close to home. Yes, a crystal ball would be fantastic. I’m ever the positive. I always have a glass completely full, and I am suggesting that we will probably maintain some good rates next year, good occupancy, but there’s always a but isn’t there? We’ve also had this massive increase in rental inventory as well because everybody that’s come in and bought properties has been wanting to rent it. We’ve got a large inventory too. There’s a lot of moving parts in this and we have a lot of fingers crossed right now.

Erin: In talking about the prices of cottages and cabins having skyrocketed by as much as 30% and I’m sure you’ve seen percentages even higher than that, Heather, does renting the property suddenly make owning more realistic for the average Canadian?

Heather: I think it’s the only thing people can do unless they’ve got oodles of money and can maintain two properties, one of which they just spent way over the odds to get hold of, I think they have to rent. In the past, rental was seen as something that you did to just fund the project, fund the renovation or a new deck but now, the buyers that I’ve been speaking to over the past year see it as an absolute part of their investment strategy and it has to be built in to ensure costs are covered.

There’s the mortgage, there’s taxes, there are all the costs for rentos because many people have bought properties that need significant renos to be able to be put into the rental market. Yes, renting does make it more realistic.

Erin: Coming up with three kinds of rental property buyer. Are you one of them or perhaps one of your clients is? As we mark a year and a half of CREA REAL TIME episodes, why not take the time to do a bit of a deeper dive into some of the fascinating and still very timely chats we’ve had? REALTOR® Chris Jovic is an expert in his field on sustainability and you probably saw him quoted on CBC just last week in a piece about climate change and homeowners’ protection. You’ll find him in Episode Two of our first season. Subscribe, so you don’t miss any of our talks. Go to Spotify, Apple, Stitcher, or visit CREA.ca/podcast for more details.

You have cited that there are three types of buyers, can we break it down into the three, and then we’re going to focus on one of them in particular because I know you’ve piqued a lot of people’s interest in this today, Heather? Let’s dive into that a little bit, shall we?

Heather: Buyers come in many different shapes and forms but you can usually put them into three separate buckets and the first one is the traditional family buyer. This is usually people who’ve been brought up going to the second home, whether it’s on Vancouver Island, whether it’s in Ontario, whether it’s in Nova Scotia, it doesn’t matter. They’ve had the second home that they were brought up as kids going to on vacation.

As these kids have now grown up into adulthood with their own families, they want to recreate that and we see a lot of those, “We want to buy something so our children can experience what we did when we were kids”. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to work out that way because when those parents were kids, there was no internet, technology wasn’t as it is now and I think it’s a little bit of a pipe dream expecting that their kids will be just as happy with some water and some sunshine and not have YouTube and TikTok however-

Erin: Logging on meant actually putting wood in the fireplace.

Heather: I love that. The second group are the retirees. The ones that are looking at it and thinking, well, if I don’t buy in now, I’m not going to get into it in the future and I want to retire to this place. They want to get in early, buy what will be their second home, and use rental to pay off as much of their costs as possible until the time comes for them to sell their primary home and moved to it. We see quite a large proportion of those as well and while they’re not using it, they’re going to pay for it by rental.

Then the third type are the pure investors and Airbnb has delivered us a lot more investors because it’s made it so much easier for people to get into the business and taken a lot of the work away from it. An investor can come in, buy a property, perhaps engage a co-host, somebody who will manage it for them online, and then they just sit back and take the money and that’s a very lucrative business if you’re doing it in the right area.

Erin: It sounds very lucrative. It sounds very attractive and now we’re going to focus on that, let’s hone in on number three, that third group. What would you say, Heather, are the benefits of owning or managing a vacation rental and don’t forget this woman has been doing this for 20– and I’ll say 20 odd years because I’m sure they have been odd, my dear.

Heather: Still are.

Erin: I bet you. Every day, a new adventure, if you want to call it that. All right, what are the benefits of owning or managing a vacation rental, Heather?

Heather: The benefit, certainly from an investor standpoint, is over a period of time, that property is going to increase in value, that’s basically it. When I started to invest here in Ontario, it didn’t take very long for my investment to increase in value, and I was able to use rental to pay all the costs involved, and the capital grew, and I sold each one for a nice profit, but that didn’t take very long. Now I think the benefit is only if the investor is going to be in there for the long haul because we don’t know what’s going to happen with property values.

There’s benefits to doing it yourself. There’s two models of running a short-term rental business. I say business because every single person who buys a property to rent is going into business. They’re joining the travel and tourism and hospitality business. Something I always say to my owners when we first take them on board as property management clients, is regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself or you’re using a property management company, you’ve now entered the hospitality industry and there’s huge responsibilities that come with that.

Erin: That really does seem like an aha moment, I think, for a lot of people, that suddenly you are part of the hospitality industry, you’re not just mom and dad renting out a cottage on an island or something, you’re part of a much bigger picture.

Heather: Yes and mom and dad did it 20 years ago and they just put the sign on the lawn or a classified ad in a newspaper but now to achieve success, it has to be done professionally. Every part of it has to be done professionally. From the photos that are taken, to the amenities that are offered, to the level of communication with guests. It’s no longer the quick phone call with somebody saying, “I want to rent your place” and you saying, “Yes, come and give me $750 at the door when you arrive on vacation and leave it as found.”

I’m glad I experience that actually because I remember arriving at so many properties to find that the previous guests hadn’t cleaned it so I had to start cleaning it myself but that was the way it was then. Now, it is so, so different. People are expecting– let’s talk about the guest expectations because guests, we don’t call them renters any more, they’re guests and they have massive expectations.

They expect their vacation rental to be as well presented as a good or top class hotel or resort and any deviation from that brings a complaint and that brings me to something else is that we live, eat and breathe by reviews. Anybody going into the business now has to understand that that you can’t go into it half-hearted because the moment somebody gives you a negative review, wherever you are, whether it’s on Google or Airbnb or VRBO, that almost can spell the death knell for your business at the very outset.

Erin: Coming up the pros of hashtag book direct. How many people use the bigger companies and why your client may want to go his or her own way or not? Whether it’s by a lake or walking distance to the best mall in the city, the heart of your home is the living room, we get that. It’s why REALTOR.ca Living Room is your source for free engaging content for your social feeds. From key 2021 housing trends to design tutorials, Living Room is here to bring you entertaining and inspiring articles. Pull up a chair and join us there, won’t you? 

Now back to Heather Bayer, CEO of one of Ontario’s leading cottage rental agencies and our guest on REAL TIME. What share of vacation properties are independently owned and managed, do you think, Heather, versus those managed commercially or by an agency?

Heather: There’s two ways of renting out a property: one is the do-it-yourself model and the second one is to go with a property management company. I don’t think I’ve seen any real statistics that show what that ratio is. I would say it’s somewhere around 70% independently managed and maybe 30% are managed by professional agencies. I could be way off whack there but that’s what it’s certainly what it seems to be here in Ontario when I look at the wealth of properties that are available on some of the major listing platforms.

By listing platforms, I mean platforms like VRBO, what used to be Home Away, what used to be Canada Stays, they change every month, it seems and, of course, Airbnb, but if you go through Airbnb listings, you’ll see probably about 70% of them are managed by the owners and probably about 30% are managed by agents.

Erin: Do independent investors compete with property management agencies for the same business, do you think?

Heather: Oh, yes, absolutely. Yes, we all compete for the same travelers. I think what we have as property managers that stands us out is that we have much better marketing clout. We don’t have to just sit on Airbnb or VRBO. Every property management company has their own website; they go for the direct bookings. In that way, we tend to achieve many, many more repeat guests because we are encouraging people to come back to us. If you’re advertising on one of the major platforms as an independent owner, somebody will see your property and then perhaps go on to another property and never come back to you again.

At least with an agency, as a guest, they’re probably going to stick around with that agency if they get really good service. About 70% of our guests are our returnees every single year, not necessarily to the same property but they come back to our company every year. That’s the same for many of our competitor companies.

Erin: Well, and that’s the best review you can possibly get, isn’t it? That and referrals, right?

Heather: Oh, absolutely. When we have guests who are now on their 16th, 17th, 20th visit, and they post that on a Google review, you don’t get that if you are doing your own advertising. That’s a benefit. That’s real benefit of going with an agency. I always talk to new owners just about these two different options they have and suggest that, start with an agency and get your feet on the ground of this hospitality while somebody is holding your hand and they’re helping you through absolutely everything, they’re dealing with the issues that come up, but then sharing why those issues came up and how you can prevent them in the future.

We have a lot of owners who come to us maybe for the first one or two years and then go, “Right, I’m ready to take the training wheels off now”. They go off, they create their own websites, and love doing the marketing and management themselves. You have to bear in mind that it’s not just a matter of posting a listing on one of these websites, you have to expect to hear from your guests, sometimes 10 times a day with the most minor things.

Erin: Okay, the questions and I’m sure a lot of them have to do with things that maybe perhaps city dwellers have never seen before like there’s a skunk in the yard, what do I do? Or there’s squirrels or whatever, you’ve probably heard them all, Heather, I’m sure.

Heather: Well, yes. Just recently, “There’s a bat in the bedroom”.

Erin: Oh, how lovely.

Heather: Guest woke up in the night, and there’s a bat flying around the bedroom. This is two o’clock in the morning. Now we have a 24-hour call answering service and somebody will answer the phone at two o’clock in the morning. We were talking these guests through their panic and their fear and anger because we had let this bat in apparently. 

Erin: Yes, really, your fault. That has to be something that a potential owner who’s looking to have guests in their property is going to have to be able to commit to. You are basically on call 24/7 or you’re not giving people maybe what they’ve come to expect.

Heather: That’s exactly it, Erin. We are on there 24/7 and I noticed last night, my customer service manager was still answering texts at half-past eleven about how to get the Wi-Fi to work in a property. For that guest, it is hugely important to them. They might be night people and they’re going to spend the evening and night working and they need that Wi-Fi. Yes, if you’re doing it yourself, you’ve got to have somebody who’s able to deal with those things at any time because we live in a 24-hour society and we can’t just say, no, you’re only allowed to have an emergency between the hours of this and this and your emergencies can only be in these categories. 

Erin: Yes, that’s right. Because people aren’t all just there to kick back on floaties. There are people like us who work from remote locations and need that Wi-Fi. Okay, well, you know what, we’ve talked about remote locations in terms of truly rural and remote but can any property like a condo be a vacation property, Heather?

Heather: Any property. You’ve talked about RVs and trailers and things being turned into rentals. Yes, there’s tree houses and there’s yurts and air streams. Absolutely anything can be out there now as a short-term rental property, providing it meets with local regulations and that’s the big, big issue right now. Cities, townships, municipalities across the world are getting into the idea that this industry must be more regulated than it currently is.

Erin: Do you agree that it needs more regulation?

Heather: I do. I do agree that it needs some regulation. I’m fully in favor of licensing properties because I believe that a licensed short-term rental property that meets the proper safety regulations, et cetera, meets occupancy limits, is a responsible rental. The whole issue of responsible versus irresponsible rental is what has made some of these municipalities and townships go this route anyway. I’m in Huntsville, Ontario, we have a great system, every short-term rental property has to be licensed, somebody will come out to the property and check that there are fire extinguishers and CO monitors, et cetera. Check for egress.

You can’t rent a place with a bedroom that has no window, that hasn’t got the two methods of egress, for example. Once you’ve gone through the licensing, then it goes up on the township website and the guests actually pay a 6% hospitality tax to stay at that property. That tax goes to the township. Now, there’s arguments against this, but quite honestly, I think fair regulation is what we all need.

Erin: It is because there will always be those who ruin it for the rest of us and you also have to make peace with the neighbours too, in terms of occupancy and noise. We’ve all started to see signs in different areas that say “Ban short-term rentals”, and that’s not a nice feeling if you’re going in there for a week or two to know that you’re not welcome. If everybody’s on the same playing field– I do have a question, Heather, how much is the license? Do you know?

Heather: The licensing varies, certainly here, every township seems to have its own. They vary from $500 to $2,000. Once they get up to that level, they are trying to knock out the small players, which I think is a shame, because often, it’s the smaller rental operations that just renting two or three weeks a year to pay some taxes, those are the most responsible.

I think putting a high figure on licensing cuts those out. The people who are buying multiple properties, investing in multiple properties just to yield the greatest income aren’t going to be bothered by $2,000. I prefer to see the lower rate, $300 to $500 on an annual basis to pay for inspection and have some fair criteria for rental. One of them being occupancy so that we don’t see a three-bedroom cottage being open to 20 people, for example,

Erin: Right, there’s that. That’s where their screening of the potential guests comes in too. It goes back to being in the hospitality industry. If you’re just some person who’s playing with a whole bunch of little houses and hotels on the Monopoly board, you don’t really care who goes into them but if you’re invested in that property and in your neighbours, you want to make sure that those people going into that place are not going to be partying at all hours because they’re on vacay, right? Or in the one case, you had someone who was complaining because the guests were too darn friendly.

Heather: This is an issue that you will get in more residential areas where there’s been an influx of short-term rentals where it was all generally nice and tranquil residences, and now you have what they’re calling the revolving door. Every week, a new group arrives. Every week, they’re excited and they can’t wait to get going on vacation, and they meet the neighbours and the next-door neighbour is really friendly and they ask him over for a drink or ask the family for a barbecue. That was when we did hear from one neighbour of a property that said, “I really like having the rentals next door but could you possibly tell them to stop being so friendly?”

He said, “Because if I responded to every request or every invitation for me to come across for drinks and a barbecue”, he said, “I’d never get my gardening done”.

Erin: Oh my goodness, one must have his priorities. Oh boy.

Erin: When we return with Heather Bayer, the important big eight questions a REALTOR® needs to ask if a client is considering buying a property and entering that hospitality business of which Heather speaks. Here’s another number, nearly two million, that’s how many searches there were for REALTORS® on REALTOR.ca in 2020. You can make the most of those visits with the REALTOR.ca tools provided as part of your CREA membership.

What questions should a REALTOR® ask their client to determine what kind of vacation property is going to be the best fit? Because I think if I’m living in, let’s say Toronto, because you’re talking about Toronto and Midland, I think, okay I’d like to get someplace say up in Georgina or Keswick. Certainly, I can’t go in there knowing little but a REALTOR® who’s going to represent you should make sure you’re going to be the right fit for this kind of a position as a hospitality owner. Help us help REALTORS® know what to ask and find the right fits. Would you please, Heather?

Heather: I think it’s really important that a REALTOR® assesses what the buyer’s goals are for rental, is it for pure investment? You want to get the maximum out of the property. In that case, then the property they should look out should be year round not a seasonal property. Also, to find out what level of ownership they want. How much do they want to use it themselves. Because you get to this point where you think, do they want this as a pure rental? In which case they might want an entirely different property from one that they’d want to use themselves.

For example, a nice riverside property that is rentable year-round may suit somebody who wants to get as much rental income as possible because a river property will rent. It’ll rent really well, but it may not suit a family who wants to use a Sea-Doo or go water skiing. They will be better off getting out onto a lake. Whereas rental guests in general don’t have their own boats, so they have different needs. It’s a matter of assessing the needs of the owner and telling them about the different types of things that guests want because often what owners want and what guests want a very, very different.

I actually like to, if it’s okay, I’ve got some questions actually, that an owner would ask a REALTOR®, which is turning your question around a bit, but there’s eight key questions that your buyers could ask. If you can get these answers right, then you’re going to have a happy buyer who buys the right place.

The first one is, they’re going to say, what’s the best area to buy for getting the best rental occupancy? You mention Georgina and Keswick, that may be okay in terms of summer occupancy, not great for the Winter. You might know that to get up somewhere where there’s a ski area, maybe not so much Collingwood, but perhaps up towards Mount St. Louis Moonstone, about two hours north of Toronto, they’re going to get better rental value in that area. It’s about knowing the different areas where they’re going to get the best occupancy.

Second question: what rental rate should I expect in each location? That’s just a matter of researching what’s being charged for different styles and types of property.

The third question is what do rental guests look for in a vacation property in this location? Your knowledge of the tourism demographic is important. If you have that information to hand to know that there’s a strong winter market and to know that you’d need an open source of heat, a fireplace and a sauna, might be more important than a on-suite bathroom, for example. Travelers have very different needs than the second homeowner who’s using it for their own purposes.

The fourth question would be, do you know of anybody who can manage the property in my absence or who can manage a property for me? That’s all about talking to local property managers, rental managers and finding out what services they offer and perhaps going into some referral partnership or something like that. We work with quite a number of real estate agents just on a very flexible basis that really, really helps because they know how we work.

The fifth question we’ve just covered, every REALTOR® needs to know what restrictions there are in any area because these restrictions are becoming more commonplace. Awareness of zoning, bylaw restrictions, anything that’s there and also anything that’s upcoming. It’s always worthwhile really. This is a really good tip that I heard from somebody else is in an area where somebody is looking, go into the municipality or the township website and look at their meeting minutes and just put it in the search box, short-term rental. Something may come up that says somebody raised this and there’s a likelihood that there’s going to be some action taken in the future.

Number six: how is rental income taxed? That’s always good to know because we’re always asked that, I always refer people to an accountant, but you will get asked that question.

Then number seven is knowing what the seasonality of rental activity is in the location. Majority of areas have seasonality built into the rental potential. Just go into the local tourism office. They will usually have that information on the inbound traveler demographic. Low and shoulder season vacancies can really impact a bottom line. Any prospective owner wants to have a clear indication of what they should expect, particularly in areas where there’s a high concentration of rental properties.

Lastly, and I touched on this, is who is this rental demographic? Where did the guests come from? As we’ve seen in the last two years, that is super, super important. Is it a driving location? Is a domestic market? Is it predominantly flying? What’s the age demographic? How long do they stay? Do they stay for short, two nights? Do they stay for weeks?

Those are the eight questions that I think every REALTOR® should be prepared to answer. You could actually create a binder for prospects demonstrates that the vacation rental business and how it’s presented and operated in your area because that’s so invaluable for anybody wanting to invest.

Erin: Absolute gold. There’s more to come including a real eye opener for me and probably for you on how potential property owners can keep their eye on just how many people are in their place. It’s not how you think. I love learning new things through hosting REAL TIME and I hope you feel the same way listening. Here’s another way of tapping into the knowledge of REALTORS® across the country and sharing your own lessons and insights. Visit REALTORS® Corner on CREA Café, a hub of content created by REALTORS® for REALTORS®. Check it out.

We return now to Heather Bayer, vacation rental expert, a speaker, podcaster, broadcaster, and mentor of short-term rental managers and owners. Heather Bayer is also CEO of one of Ontario’s leading cottage rental agencies. She wants us to remind you to #bookdirect.

Before we look back at 2021 and maybe ahead into 2022, let’s talk a little bit about high-tech. You mentioned a binder and there something about holding a folder in your hand and looking through those pages and knowing that your REALTOR® knows her or his stuff when it comes to what you want to know. I can’t even fathom the changes that you’ve seen in the past 20 years in what you’re doing and how it has changed things. How do you anticipate tech is going to further transform the short-term rental industry in the future specifically post pandemic, Heather?

Heather: Tech has come a long, long way. Nowadays there is tech for everything. I was talking to an owner this morning who was talking about how do we know how many people there are in their property? In the past, I would’ve said, well, you don’t, you don’t. Once people arrive, if it’s a remote-ish property, you don’t know whether they brought in 10 of their friends. Now you can use a device called StayFi. That ensures that anybody in the property who wants to connect to the Wi-Fi has to register their email address.

Erin: Oh, that’s good.

Heather: There is another one called Party Squasher. That one just detects how many working devices there are in the property. It would detect how many phones, how many tablets, et cetera.

Erin: Wow. I thought you were going to go with ring cameras and stuff, and that can get hanky, right? People don’t want big brother or sister watching over them, but it’s your Wi-Fi, you’re paying for this? Oh my, that’s fascinating, Heather.

Heather: There’s a third one called NoiseAware. Which I love NoiseAware. This is better for maybe for condos because it measures the decibel level in your home. You can set it to a particular level and for a particular duration. If you’ve got a family in there and they’ve got a screaming baby, then it’s going to register. If that goes on for an hour, you might consider that maybe it’s not a screaming baby, it may be this fledgling party just kicking off.

Erin: Or hit the Mary Poppins App and make her appear and take care of the child. That’s your next thing, Heather.

Heather: As an entrepreneur, I’ve just filed that away.

Erin: All right, so let’s do this. Let’s fast forward a few months. How do you hope to describe 2021 when you look back on the year?

Heather: Best year ever.

Erin: Good for you.

Heather: Well, that’s me. I hesitate to say that because it sounds as my nine-year-old granddaughter goes, “Grandma, you’re bragging”.

Erin: You’re not bragging if you can do it. That’s what I say.

Heather: Exactly. Yes, best year ever, but also, I look back on a year of learning because we’ve had plenty of time to learn. The first six months of our year were canceled, basically. We’ve had everybody out there learning new stuff. It’s also been a year of tolerance. We’ve learned that everybody is so different and people will react to things in very, very different ways. We’ve seen that more so in the last year. I think we’re coming out of this. I’m talking in terms of my company, we’re coming out of it as a kinder, more tolerant and accepting company.

We are far more accepting of somebody who’s going to flip out because the neighbours have a party one night, and we’re far more accepting of somebody who goes bananas because there’s an ant. People are reacting. We used to say they’re overreacting, but no, they’re just reacting a little bit differently to what they would normally do. I really thought about this and I think tolerance is the biggest thing that’s come out of it for us, but also a lot of excitement about getting out of all this and what’s going to happen in the future.

Erin: Oh, I love your full glass, Heather. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining us. It’s been insightful, delightful. I got to give you a plug here because you’re in the midst of writing a course.

Heather: Yes, I am building a course for people who are going into this business, who are going to invest and want to treat it as a business. I wrote a book back in 2005 and then went into the podcast. Now I think I’m trying to get it all down into a really easy to digest course.

Erin: The book was reprinted in 2007, so your message is getting through and the changes, it seems like it’s almost time for a re-up, in your spare time, Heather.

Heather: Well, that book in 2007, when I look back on it, and particularly I look back on the marketing side, and it’s how to write your classified ad.

Erin: Oh my gosh, it was delightful talking to you, Heather. Thank you so much and may the future be as full as you see it. You deserve everything.

Heather: Thank you so much, Erin, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you.

Erin: Don’t miss our next REAL TIME Episode. We’re going to the polls in a few weeks, and our CREA REAL TIME Team, along with Alphabet Creative is putting together analysis in real-time as we move into the future in Canada. 

REAL TIME is produced by Rob Whitehead and REAL family productions plus Alphabet® Creative. Thanks again for joining us. I’m Erin Davis. We’ll talk to you again soon on REAL TIME.

Episode 18: The Evolution of Canadian Vacation Properties

Vacation properties have been around for decades, but their popularity has sky-rocketed over the last few years. What’s driving that trend, and how is it changing the current market? Heather Bayer, co-founder of Vacation Rental Formula, joins us for a deep dive into the dos and don’ts of vacation property investment, how the sharing economy has affected the way vacation rental businesses operate, and the responsibilities all owners have to their guests and neighbours. From helping your clients find their own vacation property, to what the next year may hold, Episode 18 of REAL TIME is a must-listen for the latest trends and insights.

Episode 17: How Different Generations are Rocking Canadian Real Estate

We might think we know what characteristics define each generation, even when it comes to real estate. Baby Boomers are downsizing, Millennials can’t afford to break into the market, Gen Z are tech obsessed, and Gen X… who are Gen X again? But are any of these prevailing notions true, or are they just stereotypes? In this special episode of REAL TIME, we talk to four REALTORS® from across the country about their experiences with clients of all ages and how each generation is navigating and redefining the landscape. First, we chat Gen X and Gen Z trends with Davelle Morrison and Austin Titus. Later, we explore what’s hot in real estate for Baby Boomers and Millennials with Rob Marland and Tanya Eklund.

Episode 16: Dr. Winny Shen – Building a Healthy Professional Mindset

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast, the podcast for REALTORS®, and especially in this episode for everyone. Brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m your host, Erin Davis. Delighted to share the messages in today’s episode because they’re issues that affect us all from boundaries to burnout, but with a ton of positive messages and motivation, just what the doctor, this doctor, our guest, Dr. Winny Shen, has ordered to take us through the second half of 2021 and beyond.

While highly rewarding real estate is just one of the many industries that at times can also be highly competitive, fast-paced, and yes, that dreaded word — stressful. In this Episode 16 of REAL TIME, we’re lucky to be joined by Dr. Winny Shen, Associate Professor of Organization Studies at York University, as she shares the latest thinking in industrial and organizational technology techniques for REALTORS®, and all professionals to gain a mental edge by better managing work-life balance, career uncertainty, and interpersonal conflict.

Thank you so much for joining us here today and giving us a different perspective on where we are and where we’re going. Dr. Shen, may I call you, Winny?

Dr. Winny Shen: Yes.

Erin: Thank you. Can you start by defining your field of work and study? Industrial and organizational psychology.

Winny: Yes, of course, Erin. Industrial-organizational psychology or IO psychology, as we often call it, for short, is psychology theories and methods applied to understanding the workplace. A lot of times we think about it in terms of A, our field is interested in helping identify the best people for the job. A lot of times that is, how do we hire? How do we train people so that they can perform these jobs effectively? Also, the other piece is how do we create optimal workplace environments so that people are really motivated and can do well at their job? We’re interested in both that pre-hire piece but also in how can we continue to create a great workplace environment so that workers can really flourish.

Erin: How does this differ from other psychological disciplines, though?

Winny: I would say that IO psychology differs from other psychological disciplines in that it’s a scientist-practitioner model, in that we are trained to be scientists so that we understand data and use it to understand workplace phenomenon. Also, we are trained to be practitioners so that we can also help organizations to address these questions. That’s another one of the differences too, is that most IO psychologists tend to work with organizations or other organizations like trade unions, for example, rather than individuals, though, there are some IO psychologists who work as, let’s say, professional coaches and do work with individuals.

Erin: Putting this into the day to day, can most working professionals, Winny, benefit from a basic understanding of IO principles and how to go about applying them day to day?

Winny: I definitely think so. We spend so much time at work. It really makes a lot of sense to understand how to make the most of this experience. Additionally, our work lives really intersect and affect our other life domains, for example, how we interact with our family, our health, and well-being. It really should be carefully managed, so that we can really ensure that people can meet all of their life priorities. Work is just one major part of that for a lot of people.

Erin: In the past year or so, the lines have become so blurred. We’re going to talk about this as we continue on with REAL TIME. When we’re talking about REALTORS® here, most would characterize themselves as entrepreneurs in a competitive, constantly changing industry. Are there approaches or best practices to finding success, specifically in highly competitive fields, Winny?

Winny: Yes. I think when we look at what makes people successful in, let’s say, highly competitive fields like entrepreneurship, there are a couple of characteristics that really set people apart. First, it’s really important as an entrepreneur, for example, that you are self-driven because you are often running your own little shop in a lot of ways, that you have good stress tolerance in a changing environment. That’s really necessary. We also think it’s really important, or the data has shown that it’s really important to have a proactive personality. If you’re someone who can see the difference between the current status quo and how things you think should be, and really are motivated to close that gap, then you are probably someone who has a proactive personality.

I would also say, though, that there are some maybe pitfalls or things that we should be aware of, that might trip us up in more competitive fields. One of those things is that competition tends to be associated with some greater likelihood of unethical behaviors or misconduct. If we really think about our field as a very winner takes all kind of mentality, then we have a tendency where it’s very easy for us to say things like the ends justify the means, or we might be willing to cut some corners.

I think it’s really important that even though this environment might be competitive, that we need to make sure to think about the long-term consequences of our actions versus really focusing on short-term wins. Because, especially in a field like real estate, reputations are probably very difficult to build but are actually quite easily lost or tarnish. I think we need to be really careful to not think like, “I’ll cut a little bit of a corner here or there in order to make the sale or make something happen,” and lose sight of why we’re doing this job maybe in the first place.

Erin: Yes. That reputation, the integrity that you talk about that takes a lifetime to build up, it only takes now a flash because of social media. All it takes is a couple of posts, and they spread it and they spread it and they spread it. Suddenly, that cut corner turns into something that you really, really wish you hadn’t taken.

Winny: Exactly.

Erin: What do you think is the best or most productive way to manage high-stress work situations? I know that that is a big bite to try and digest here. You have looked at this, you’ve studied it. Help give us some ideas, some hacks, if you will, for the best ways to manage high-stress work.

Winny: Yes. I think maybe the first thing to really think about is, not all stressors in our environment are created equal. I think step one is probably to think about, “What are the stressors I’m faced with?” We often make the distinction in the research literature between two kinds of stressors. One set we’ll call challenge stressors. They tend to be stressors that although cause us stress, also push us to grow and develop. A lot of times people would say things like having a little bit of a higher workload or having there to be some time pressure on the job as might be common in real estate or to have a greater responsibility on the job. These are all things that can be stressful, but also really help us to grow and develop and mature.

Now, we might contrast these stressors with what we call hindrance stressors. Now, these stressors are often more roadblocks. They don’t necessarily help us grow. They just prevent us from going where we want to go. Many people would say things like organizational politics, or red tape on the job, or job ambiguity, where you don’t really know what you’re supposed to be doing, those things are hindrance stressors.

I think if you are feeling really stressed, the first thing to do is to think about, “Am I being stressed because these are challenge stressors? I’m faced with a lot of stress, but I think I will come out of the other side of it stronger, have developed. Or am I really just being bogged down by these hindrance stressors? If so, how can I manage them better or how can I get rid of some of them? For example, if there’s a lot of red tape, can I make suggestions about streamlining some of these processes so that I’m not dealing with this much bureaucracy?” as an example.

Erin: Coming up, the power of detachment. This is great. We’re super excited to share that Canada’s number one real estate platform REALTOR.ca now has a new app. Rebuilt from the ground up and designed to reflect the needs of today’s homebuyers, the app helps REALTORS® get connected to more potential clients. Download it on the App Store or get it on Google Play. 

Now back to Dr. Winny Shen, who not surprisingly, was named a rising star in 2016 by the Association for Psychological Science.

Part of your message that comes out of your research is one really important word and that is detach. Detach can mean so many different things. It can be detaching from negative social media. It can be detaching from news that is completely dominating your thought process. It can be detaching from those hindrances or challenges too. Tell us about the power of detachment, Dr. Shen.

Winny: I think the power of detachment is really important. What we know is that although, let’s say, challenge stressors often result in better stress in that it might really motivate us to work hard and do our jobs well. Even the benefits of good stress can wane over time if we don’t take time to detach from the workplace. What that really means is, oftentimes, we talk about it as psychological detachment. That you should stop thinking about your job sometimes. That really allows your body and your mind to reset and to step away from being in that stressed-out state all the time because our bodies are really not designed to be stressed all the time.

Even in a very challenging, rewarding jobs, it’s really important to take that step back and recover. That can be if you’re feeling a little bit tired, to taking a quick break. It might mean to detach from work and turn off your email at the end of a workday. It might mean to find time to take regular vacations so that you have a longer period of time away from your work. Probably something that we’re struggling with right now, but I think still important to keep in mind. I think those are some things that we should think about as we try to detach.

Erin: Writing down that time for you in ink instead of always making it something that– it reminds me of a sign that I saw at a gym that– of course, I was walking by at the time. That you always have the time for the things you put first. We all tend, especially when we’re busy and in a super competitive climate that we’re in right now in real estate, to put everything for ourselves to the back burner and then just leave it simmering until the pot is empty, don’t we?

Winny: Exactly. I think in addition to that, sometimes people will borrow against things that are really important to their health like sleep. They’ll be like, “I can just sleep a little bit less.” That can really add up over time in terms of starting each day more and more exhausted. I really agree with you, Erin, in that it’s really important to make these recovery breaks part of your schedule so that you can come back feeling refreshed and energized, as opposed to thinking that these are luxuries. Because I really think that these are actually necessities.

Erin: Yes, and I can hear people thinking, “Oh, yes. Easier said than done because I’ve got a house that’s going to have six offers on it. When am I supposed to take the time?” I guess, what do you do when you’re right now in such a high-pressure situation? Do you just look down the road and say, “It’s okay. I’m going to take a week off, or I’m going to delegate some of my work, but right now I’m going to power through this and that will be my reward.” How important is having that mental reward, that carrot or something to look forward to at the finish line?

Winny: I think it’s really wonderful to have something to look forward to. I think that’s great. The other thing you can try to do is if you do have something that’s really stressful is, I think we do have some power over how we frame the situation. Especially, if you’re feeling stressed because of some of those what we talked about earlier hindrance stressors, I think you could potentially try to reframe that as a challenge stressor. Look for a silver lining or something to think about, “Can I think about how this could make me grow, even if this is a difficult or maybe currently unpleasant situation?”

That might also be helpful in terms of helping you get over that short-term hurdle. I think that it’s really important to keep in mind that we often don’t. Two people can be faced with the same stressors, but have very different reactions to it. A lot of that is in our mindset. We do have a lot of power in terms of how we think about the situation that can really motivate us to power through them or get through them and then I think we should definitely reward ourselves and regularly plan for some recovery.

Erin: The Dalai Lama said, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” We’re going to talk about that a little later in our conversation. This is me doing time management because we’re about to talk about good time management. Of course, in real estate, it’s crucial. Now, I have to ask you, Winny, is this a skill you just do or don’t have like a talent, or can it be learned and strengthened.

Winny: I think that’s a great question, Erin. There is definitely evidence that time management skills can be trained. I think that it’s helpful for us to think about first, what do we mean by time management? Actually, when we break it down, there’s a couple of things involved. First, there’s a self-awareness of one’s time use. Are you cognizant of how you’re spending your time? If you’re not sure, I would encourage you to maybe do an exercise like a time diary. Spend a couple of days just actually jotting down what you’re spending your time doing.

I think that perhaps you might be surprised. For example, I think, many of us might be surprised, perhaps even in my case horrified, at the amount of time that we’re spending on things like social media, or things that perhaps feel urgent, but actually aren’t very important. Like responding to emails as they come in. I think first is, we have to be able to be aware of our time usage.

Now, the second piece of that is good planning. Are you doing things like setting goals, planning your tasks, making to-do lists? Are you thinking about how you can group tasks together so that they can be accomplished more efficiently together? There are some tips that might be helpful here too in terms of perhaps taking some time at the beginning of each day to make a list. I often also take time at the beginning of my work week to make a list. Then I do build in some slack time for unexpected things that might happen.

Also, I think that that also pushes us to think about how to say no to things. That if our agenda is actually too full, that there’s actually not a very realistic way for us to get everything done, to think about what are things that we actually should work on getting off our plates. Because there’s often some tasks that we find later on that you wonder, “Why am I even doing some of these things?”

Then lastly, I would say that once you have and enact these plans, it’s really important to monitor these time management tasks. For example, are you allocating enough time for some of these activities? I think it’s also really important here, there’s some evidence that we should engage in some contingent planning. The best-laid plans often go awry and so I think we need to anticipate possible interruptions in our work and plan for them.

Especially in a setting like real estate where there might be a lot of things that happen unexpectedly. Your client unexpectedly decides to make an offer, or unexpectedly there’s a new house that comes on the market that they’d really like to see right away. I think it’s important to have an idea of, “Oh, what interruptions might come up this day, and how can I accommodate them?” so that you’re not surprised by them, or that you’re inflexible because you’ve already made a plan and you really like to stick to it for the day.

Erin: I can think of few professions where somebody is almost on-call virtually 24 hours a day. Of course, there’s doctors but if you call a doctor’s office at four o’clock and say, “I need to see you at five.” They’ll say, “Okay, you go here or talk to this doctor or whatever.” It seems like that those unplanned interruptions are almost a fact of life. They really are something that has to be budgeted into that time diary that you so wisely recommend, Winny. That’s a great point.

More great points when we return as Dr. Shen explores the importance of mentors. What to look for, and where to find one? REALTOR.ca Living Room is where you’ll find all things home. From market trends and home improvements to DIY hacks and design inspiration, you’ll find everything that you and your clients need in one place. Now, that’s organization. Something that our guest today, Dr. Winny Shen is an expert in, as Associate Professor of Organization Studies at York University.

Now, many REALTORS® are still new to the profession, having worked in the industry for fewer than five years. For professionals who are just starting their careers, let’s talk about mentors. How do you go about finding one first off?

Winny: Well, I would really recommend new professionals look for a mentor. There’s a lot of evidence that there can be a lot of career benefits of mentoring, both in terms of objective career success, so things like compensation and promotion, but also in terms of subjective factors. Things like career satisfaction and commitment or job satisfaction. People who are mentored typically have much better and more positive attitudes towards their jobs.

Now, I think as you go about looking for a mentor, it’s important to think about what a mentor is supposed to do. A mentor really is supposed to have three functions. First is probably what we think about a lot. A mentor is supposed to help you with career development. This might be someone who can sponsor you in the workplace. Someone whose opinion, other people really would listen to. They should maybe be someone who’s knowledgeable who can coach you in terms of your development.

Some people also say that a good mentor might also be able to protect you. Someone in the workplace who can maybe stew you away from problematic issues or difficult encounters, that might be another function a mentor can serve. Or someone who can help you gain challenging opportunities or increase your exposure or visibility. There are a lot of things I mentor can do to help us in terms of career development, but also for most people, we also want someone who’s there to support us more broadly.

A lot of people would say that in addition to maybe someone who’s helping you in your current job or in your current career, that really, you’re looking for someone who could help you grow as a person. A mentor might be someone who can be a good sounding board, provide you with counseling, someone who is a friend who’s gives you respect and support or someone who really is another source of acceptance and confirmation. I think it’s also important to think about not only when you’re looking for a mentor, someone who has a lot of expertise, but someone who can also give you that support that’s really important. A safe space for you to develop.

Then lastly, I would say a lot of people say that people who they seek out as mentors are there role models. Look around for someone whose maybe position or you would really like to have it in the next 5 to 10 years. Someone who you really admire. I think that when you keep these things in mind, sometimes you’ll be lucky and you’ll find one person who can fulfill all of these roles, but sometimes perhaps you might have to think about having a board of mentors instead, or multiple people who together can fulfill all of these functions that great mentors really do for us.

I think you might sometimes need to be open and flexible and think about, “How can I get all of my mentoring needs met?” Sometimes that might be through multiple people, and sometimes through peers as well. We usually think about mentors as someone who’s more experienced, but I think we can also learn a lot from people who are going through the same things as us at the same career stage.

Erin: Well, then on the other side of this, there are definite benefits, I’m sure, to being a mentor, if you’re a seasoned professional, as of course, many REALTORS® are. What are some of the pluses of being a mentor yourself because of the three steps that you’ve mentioned, develop, support, role model, those things that a mentee is looking for. It sounds like a lot. Tell us, what’s in it for the mentor?

Winny: Yes, I think that’s a great point. Now the research evidence really suggests that mentors also benefit from this arrangement or relationship, and that giving others career advice can sometimes really help us with our own career success. Sometimes it’s a bit of a mirror in terms of, “Am I following my own advice? Am I spending my time in the right places?” Sometimes it helps us reflect.

Also, I think people often reaffirm the value of the work that they’re doing, as they go through this mentoring relationship. I think that as we move on in our career, a lot of people find it really important to give back. Mentoring is a really great way to do that, and there is also some evidence that mentors can also reap financial benefits, for example, salary, promotion rates from engaging in this too, because I think, it also speaks well to your expertise, but also perhaps your character, if people know that you are a sought-after mentor.

Erin: Say I’m new in the business and I’ve had this happen to me in my own career, in radio where people finally approached me and said, “Well, I didn’t want to talk to you because I figured you’re so busy and I see this and this and this, and I figured you’ll never have time for me,” when quite the opposite was true, because it’s exactly, as you’re saying, Winny, when you get a chance to look at what sparked you, what gives you joy in the job that you do, then it’s a gift to you to be able to go back and say, “Yes, this is why I love this. This is what you’re going to love too.” How do you go about approaching someone that you want to be your mentor? I can recognize how that would be intimidating for some people. Do you have any advice on that?

Winny: Yes. When we ask mentors, what are they really looking for in a protégé or a mentee, the number one thing most mentors say is that they’re looking for someone who’s willing to learn. I think that you really need to express your interests and your desire to grow and learn as you are approaching your potential mentor. I think that you will be surprised at how open and interested people are in being able to help you in your developmental journey. I’d really suggest that.

Now, I would say that if a mentor seems really much more interested in themselves than perhaps you, then perhaps they’re not a good mentor. I would also say that probably a mentor that’s accessible and available is also a really critical ingredient. That although someone who’s perhaps really well-regarded, but too busy to really have much time for you may or may not be a great mentor for you. I think it’s really someone who is going to be as invested in this relationship as you are.

Erin: We’ll be back with Dr. Winny Shen in a moment. Embracing the change. As you sip your latte or grab a traveler, remember, there really is a place where everybody knows your name or soon will. I don’t mean Cheers. CREA Café is a cozy place for REALTORS® to connect and stay up to date on the latest industry happening over a virtual cup of coffee or whatever you like. Pull up a stool and join the conversation at CREACafe.ca. 

Now back to our conversation on REAL TIME with Dr. Winny Shen, Associate Professor of Organization Studies at the Schulich School of Business York University. Do you remember a book called, Who Moved my Cheese?

Winny: Yes.

Erin: Yes. Well, perhaps you can sum it up better than I, but it’s just like, “Okay, that happened, now, how do I keep up or get ahead of that? How do I find my cheese again?” There’s a reason why this book resonated so clearly some 20 years ago. The benefits of working in a competitive industry like real estate can be great, but there can be a lot of cheese moving, a lot of uncertainty, shifting market forces, commissions-based earning, et cetera. How can professionals overcome uncertainty and embrace the change?

Winny: Uncertainty is something that’s very difficult, for most of us, but first I would say is to think about, the emotions you feel. I think probably when most of us are faced with uncertainty, the predominant emotion that most people feel is anxiety. Really nervous about what’s going to happen. I think there’s another opportunity or option here. Another emotion that’s associated with uncertainty is hope actually, because maybe we’re a little bit fearful at what will happen. We don’t know what will happen, but perhaps we are also hopeful that the ending will be positive.

I think that when we’re confronted with these negative feelings, I think sometimes maybe it’s useful to take a step back in terms of, “Okay, but could we see how this could turn out well perhaps?” That hope might also sustain us because often hope is what allows us to think about how we’re going to move forward. I would say that that would be one.

I think also is that in a competitive industry like real estate, I think you have to take some risks. That’s just part of the job. I think in order to take risks, though, we really need to look for an environment that provides us with psychological safety. How can you surround yourself with people, perhaps in your agency or otherwise, who really gives you this sense of psychological safety, who will still support you when the risks you take, perhaps don’t pay off, and that really gives you the courage to take these risks in uncertain environments?

Erin: Then that way what’s perceived or what you may perceive as a failure, doesn’t hit as hard. Going back to the Dalai Lama saying, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” There are many perceived failures in competitive places like real estate. Lost or fewer clients, rejected offers, lower than expected sold prices. Are there ways to rebound from “failure” to move ahead and to take that hope or experience and move on with that? Tell us what the research says. Will you please?

Winny: Yes, of course. One interesting thing is that in the face of difficulties or failures, we often feel negative emotions, but what seems to separate people who bounce back more quickly from the people who have more difficulty bouncing back or are less resilient, is that the people who are more resilient also experienced positive emotions in addition to those negative emotions. That suggests to me that, A, it’s really important for us to try to look for that silver lining. “Is there something that could be learned? I’m not happy perhaps that this didn’t go well, but maybe it was better that it happened now rather than later, and that there are some lessons I can take from this.”

I would also say that it’s important in the aftermath of perceived failures or events that don’t grow well, to engage in maybe a debrief. I think it’s important even in the face of failure to acknowledge perhaps what did go well. Some things didn’t go well, but perhaps you did do some things right and that you should carry those things forward. To think about what did you learn from this? Perhaps create a plan in terms of what you want to try next time if faced with the same circumstances.

I think once you’ve engaged in that cognitive reflection process, it’s important to not ruminate about it. You’ve thought about it, you’ve tried to gain the lesson from it, but then sometimes we can’t let it go. We rehash it and we relive it. I think that that rumination can be really problematic. I think we also need to move on from those failures when we can and part of doing that also, I might suggest, is that we should try to be self-compassionate.

I think that sometimes a lot of times I would argue we can be our own worst critic. What self-compassion really refers to is not that you’re letting yourself get away with it, but more that you’re not kicking yourself while you’re already down so that you’re as kind to yourself as you might be to someone else who’s going through a difficult time, that you experience a sense of common humanity. Failure is part of being human and recognizing that that is a very human experience. Also, to acknowledge but maybe not judge your negative emotions and that together that allows us to get through difficult times a bit more quickly or easily.

A technique I often use myself is to think about what I would say if my best friend told me about this failure. I think a lot of times when we take that other perspective, we’re actually very supportive. We understand that this failure while difficult maybe not completely under their control or maybe not as bad as we’ve made it out to be. When we put ourselves in that situation, sometimes we’re really harsh. I think if you would be kind to your best friend, then I think that you should extend that same kindness to yourself. Someone who you should love just as much as your best friend. 

Erin: To me, the piece of advice that sticks most often is that from doctor, speaker, author, Bernie Brown who says if you were driving along in a car and the person in the passenger seat was saying to you what you say to yourself, you would pull off and say, “Okay, the ride ends here. Get out.” Maybe that’s what we have to think of. That best friend that you’re talking about, Winny, as well. Don’t let her talk to you like that. Just pull over and let them out and drive. Just go. Right?

Winny: Exactly.

Erin: We’ll return with Dr. Shen in just a moment. One of my favourite sayings is you always have time for the things you put first. Putting others before ourselves is what REALTORS Care® is all about — a national guiding principle celebrating the great charitable work done by the Canadian Realtor Community. Help raise awareness for the charities and causes closest to your heart by sharing your story using #realtorscare on your favourite social media platforms. 

Dr. Winny Shen is our special guest for this Episode 16 of REAL TIME. We’re talking now about a sign of these times. — how to watch for it, and how to take care of it in yourself.

COVID 19 of course we’ve heard the word burnout a lot. That’s not a new word to us. The New York Times did a piece a few weeks ago where they called what we’re going through languishing, but of course, with REALTORS®, they’ve reported feeling burnt out before the pandemic. What is this languishing, this burnout? How can it affect us professionally and personally, Winny?

Winny: When we’re talking about burnout, what we’re referring to is usually the state of exhaustion. That exhaustion is mental, physical, emotional, and it’s typically caused by excessive and prolonged stress. 

There’s three symptoms that tend to go together to create this burnout experience. First is emotional exhaustion. You’re just completely tired, fatigued, you’re wiped out.

The next is the sense of depersonalization or cynicism where you’re really starting to feel detached from your job and the people in it. You feel the sense of rejection and alienation, and perhaps this is your way of disentangling or distancing yourself from a very stressful job. 

Then, this third piece is a reduced sense of personal accomplishment or just the sense of ineffectiveness. “I’m just no good at this.”

I think when we think about burnout or languishing, it really refers to the fact that our tank is on empty. We’re running on empty. It really can affect us both professionally, it makes it difficult for us to do our jobs, to enjoy doing our jobs. It also really affects us personally particularly in terms of our health and well-being. This prolonged sense of being on empty is really associated with some negative health outcomes.

Erin: Are there some techniques to help mitigate or avoid workplace burnout either for yourself personally or among your employees and co-workers? If you can see it happening what are the steps that you take?

Winny: I would say that the best probably tip is prevention. Preventing this from happening altogether. If we think about burnout as being on empty, then we have to think about the importance of refilling our tank periodically so it doesn’t get to that point. We’ve already talked about earlier the importance of recovery but this is an important piece of that too. Taking breaks, taking time off of work, taking vacations. Those are all potentially activities that can help refill your tank.

Now, let’s say that you, unfortunately, have reached a state of burnout, there are some things that seem to help. In terms of yourself, as we referred to earlier, this is another time where being self-compassionate seems to really help, and in particular, it helps with exhaustion. Giving yourself that grace, that kindness, when you’re exhausted to say like, “Yes, you are at this low point,” and not to beat yourself up or perhaps push yourself when you have nothing left to give is an important pause that might allow you to reset.

Not only the self-compassion help though but actually there is some evidence that giving compassion to other helps. As we talked about earlier, part of this experience of burnout is this feeling of alienation or separation from the people who are doing this job with you. You can think about it when someone offers you compassion or empathy about what you’re going through, that really helps to reform that social connection to the people on the job and helps you feel like you belong there again.

I think if you see people in your work environment who are very burned out, I would suggest that you offer them compassion. That empathy can really help them gain that important resource in terms of feeling like they belong, which is actually a very fundamental human need. We all need to feel like we belong.

Erin: Sometimes I find that it takes us out of ourselves, out of our grief of what the past year should have been or whatever it is that we are going through to turn our attention to others. You’re talking about others in the office but it reminds me too of all the good charitable work that REALTORS® do across the country which is highlighted by REALTORS Care® through CREA. Just helping the community and doing what you can to help others because somebody’s always got it worse than you. That’s a perspective too that can open your eyes to just shift that feeling that you might have. It also speaks to the cynicism or the detachment like, “Ugh, what’s it all for?” You remember, you’re reminded what’s it all for through things like REALTORS Care®.

Winny: Exactly. I think it’s part of rebuilding that connection and that meeting to stop that process where I think part of that is you’re trying to protect yourself by detaching from this very stressful workplace or work experience, but I think when we’re reminded about the other people who are in it with us or the other people that benefit from what we do that can give us a renewed sense of energy that can help us overcome the sense of burnout.

Erin: Next up, has work-life balance become more of a reality for you, or the rainbow unicorn we’re all just dreaming of? Dr. Shen answers that in a moment. 

The keyword of 2021 so far, haven’t you found, has been connection? Your opportunity to do that, connect with potential homebuyers and sellers plus a chance to take advantage of a deep chest of tools and resources, is as close as your keyboard at REALTOR.ca, Canada’s trusted real estate resource. We’re glad you’re here today as we continue our conversation with Dr. Winny Shen on REAL TIME.

Dr. Shen, Winny, you and I are both talking to each other from our homes today, and many of the people who are listening to us, thank you so much for listening to REAL TIME, are also listening and working from home. Really, is work-life balance achievable? Is this a thing or have the past 14-15 months, whatever it’s been now, have they blurred the lines so completely that it’ll never be seen again, and maybe that’s not a bad thing? What do you say about work-life balance?

Winny: Yes, work-life balance is I think this very interesting idea or concept. I think one thing that’s really important to keep in mind when it comes to talking about work-life balance, is that this is really a subjective judgment. It’s whether or not you think that you’ve achieved this. When we ask people about what they think about when it comes to work-life balance, they’re often talking about three things.

First is are they happy and satisfied in these multiple aspects of their lives like work-family, for example, but maybe other domains that are important to them as well? Do they feel like they are giving enough attention to all of these life priorities? I think that’s really important. It’s not equal attention. I think that that’s probably not always possible, but enough. I’m not neglecting anything that’s really important to me. Also, am I performing well, handling the responsibilities of these different important life domains adequately?

I think that if you feel like, “Yes, I’m keeping all these balls up in the air well enough,” then I actually think that you have a work-life balance. I think that what’s difficult is that sometimes we have these ideas or externally imposed standards about what work-life balance looks like. I actually think that it looks different for every person because what’s important to every person is different. If you are living your life in accordance with your priorities, such that you’re giving time, and you feel like you’re doing fairly well, in all the areas of life that’s important to you, then actually, I think that you are very lucky and you have actually achieved work-life balance.

Erin: You break us into groups. There’s the segmenters and the integrators. One example of this that I think can illustrated very clearly is, “Okay, who is sending and taking emails at 9:00 PM when they should be watching Dateline?” Tell me how the two different groups function and is there an either side that has a more competitive edge or is more mentally stable or balanced in their job or does it not really matter? It’s one size doesn’t fit all and whatever fits you.

Winny: Yes, I think that’s a great question, Erin. I would say that an integrator is someone who likes to combine multiple aspects of their lives, for example. It’s someone who maybe wouldn’t mind writing an email as they’re watching Dateline at night. They don’t find that to be intrusive at all. Whereas someone who’s a segmenter definitely prefers that there be strong boundaries around the different aspects of their life. They might like to really only do work during certain hours, and only to be purely, let’s say, with their family during certain hours.

I think that it’s really interesting, because, for example, integrators seem to be bothered less by things like really late emails, or pressure to respond quickly. Whereas people who are segmenters are a little bit more sensitive to that. I would say that if you are a segmenter, you could think about setting some boundaries, and we can talk about boundaries in terms of time. You could have certain off-hours. I know for realtors, that’s difficult.

I think you can think about, “Okay, well, I’m just not going to check email every five minutes, even if I’m just going to check email every hour,” that’s still a boundary. I think that there’s that. There’s also some evidence, just that not being present can be not a great thing, right? That our phones can maybe take us away from what’s happening around us. Even if you’re someone who’s very comfortable, you’re an integrator, you’re comfortable hopping back and forth, there might be some times where the people around you really appreciate your undivided attention.

It’s really interesting. There’s actually some research that shows that, let’s say we’re having a conversation, just having the phone on the table, even if I don’t look at it makes that conversation less enjoyable. I think that even if you’re a busy realtor, it might make sense for you to say, “Okay, I’m just going to give you my undivided attention, I’m going to put the phone away in another room,” even if it’s just for 15-20 minutes, undivided attention, that really makes the most of your time with the people you’re with. I think it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, if that’s not your preference, but I do think some time where you’re completely off of work is probably appreciated by the people around you.

Erin: I know that our time with you is most definitely appreciated and we have a few more things that we’d like to cover with you, Winny. This is so enlightening, encouraging, it’s just everything today. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. Many realtors work within a team, right from the jump. How would you characterize a healthy working relationship?

Winny: I would say a healthy working relationship is one that’s based on trust and commitment. That one, that’s really where people are not doing things in a very tit for tat way. Like, “I’m only doing this with an expectation of something in return.” I think that we have to have these healthy work relationships where you know that other people are committed to being in this relationship, building this relationship with you and that you can be vulnerable with knowing that they won’t take advantage of you. I think that’s really at the heart of a healthier working relationship.

Erin: Or marriage for that matter.

Winny: Exactly.

Erin: Yes, the give and the take. It’s going to ebb and flow, and some days it’ll be different. What are the benefits of proactively and continuously fostering strong professional relationships with your colleagues?

Winny: I think there’s a lot of evidence, actually, that the people we surround ourselves with, or our networks, including at work, are really important for our professional development, our professional careers, not surprisingly, people with a lot of connections often are in a good way when it comes to the workplace, especially in a very interpersonal job like real estate. Also, we can think about how people who can connect different people, I think, are actually really valuable connectors in relationships. I think it’s really important to think about the people we surround ourselves with.

Also, there’s a lot of evidence that what often makes workplaces go around and work, is people’s willingness to go above and beyond what’s exactly in their job description. How we’ve all benefited from someone who was willing to teach them something, even if that wasn’t part of their job description, or someone who was willing to stay late to help us do something, or someone who was just willing to help. A lot of that, our work lives are just made better by having these people we can count on to go above and beyond for us, but also for our organization. I think those are all great reasons to ensure that we try to build strong relationships with others.

Erin: What about the mindset of self-reliance? In self-driven professions like real estate, success is often linked to how hard and how often you work, how visible you are, you’re out there all the time, but this mindset of self-reliance can make accepting help difficult, or even perceived by some as a weakness. What are the drawbacks of this line of thinking, Winny?

Winny: I think that it’s a little bit of a trap to think that way. First, I think that it’s probably to some extent, not entirely true. It also makes it very difficult for you to delegate work, everything stays on your own plate. That really contributes to, I would say, a pretty problematic long work hours culture where we valorize working a lot or being busy. Sometimes even when we take a step back, we realize that that’s misaligned with our life priorities or goals.

My friends and I sometimes talk about this funny phrase when we feel like someone is working too hard or has this, “I got to do it all” mentality. We’ll tell each other, “Your job doesn’t love you back.” I think that’s sometimes important to keep in mind that– especially also given that we know that one of the things that make human life so fulfilling is these connections. That going it off alone you might be curtailing some of those opportunities for you to build those relationships that a lot of people actually find to be the most meaningful part of their work.

Erin: One of the ways I think that you’ve suggested is to turn it around and think about how you felt when people asked you for help. For those who are giving, it often feels really good fulfilling and just adds to the joy of the job.

Winny: Oh definitely. I think that oftentimes when we’re asking, we’re often afraid that maybe we’ll be a burden. I think when we take that mindset, when we think about all the times when people have asked us and all the times where it wasn’t a big deal or we were very happy to help, I think maybe we’re overestimating sometimes that people would be unhappy to help when I think the fact is that most people are actually very happy to help.

Erin: As are we here on REAL TIME, which is why when you go to crea.ca/podcast, you’ll have at your fingertips a wealth of wit and wisdom like we’re hearing today from designers to panels to marketing wizards, tech, and tips for great reviews. It’s all right here. Just subscribe on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher, and don’t miss an episode of REAL TIME. 

Back to our conversation with Dr. Winny Shen as we continue with our in-depth and the illuminating look at how in high-pressure careers, we can get in the right headspace to overcome challenges and thrive as professionals and peers.

I have to have a difficult conversation with you right now, Winny. It’s about difficult conversations. How do you go about having those, even if you get along great with your colleagues? How do you do that, and anticipate a positive outcome?

Winny: I think it’s really important to have open lines of communication. I think that sometimes we have a little bit of an ostrich mentality. When something doesn’t go right, we’re like, “Maybe it won’t happen again. We can just let it go and we won’t have to have this difficult conversation.” I think the data suggests that what will happen often instead is that we end up having to have that conversation later on when things are actually more serious.

If you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it probably is much more difficult not to be defensive when someone confronts you with what feels like a long laundry list of transgressions. Like, “Here’s all the evidence of all the things that you’ve done wrong or I’ve disliked.” Whereas I think if you were just approaching someone with one small thing, they wouldn’t necessarily feel that way.

I think another important element and this is more general psychology, perhaps a clinical psychologist would say something like this, is I would be really careful about the language you use when you’re having these difficult conversations with people. I think it feels very different for a receiver to hear something like you were being inconsiderate versus, I felt hurt when you said X. How you say it I think really can affect how other people react to it.

I would spend some time thinking about what is it that you actually want to convey. You could also even think about, if you’re less comfortable, maybe writing a letter to someone, where you can feel like you have the time and the space to really put things down in a way that really accurately reflects how you feel. That might be a strategy too if you’re a little bit afraid of saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment.

Erin: Yes, and you can edit it endlessly so that it ebbs and flows, and accentuates the positive and all of that. Those are some wonderful tips. Now, I’m going to ask you for a resource. Your favourite website or book or a place that people can go to really explore some of the things that we’ve talked about today. The entrepreneurship, the teamwork, and leadership. The turning things around and seeing hope where there was burnout or languishing or however you want to call it. What are some of your go-to sites? If you weren’t already an expert in it, Dr. Shen?

Winny: I would say that I have a couple of recommendations. Dr. Kristin Neff who’s done a lot, an expert in self-compassion, does a lot of great work. Her website, which is selfcompassion.org, has a lot of great resources. Some exercises you can walk yourself through, actually evidence-based, in terms of how you can improve your self-compassion. If you’re looking for maybe some tidbits in terms of evidence-based things to think about as you’re approaching your work, For the Love of Work is a wonderful podcast hosted by Dr. Sonia Kang.

If you’re looking for even smaller tidbit, my personal friends, Keaton Fletcher and Maryana Arvan also host a podcast called Healthy Work where they summarize very briefly some new emerging research that people are learning about work, a lot of it also focused on stress. You can hear a little bit about what experts are learning and finding about how to manage work stress. Those are some of my own personal go-tos.

In terms of perhaps thinking about relationships, Adam Grant has a really great book on just Give and Take. Those are some things that I think would be good food for thought as you move forward.

Erin: All right, selfcompassion.org for a website, podcasts For the Love of Work and Healthy Work, two separate podcasts, and Adam Grant’s book. What did you say it’s called again, please?

Winny: Give and Take.

Erin: Give and Take. Wonderful. Before we give our thanks and take our leave, let me ask you if you don’t mind, how are you hoping to describe 2021 when all is said and done?

Winny: Well, given how the pandemic has really upended work, I really hope that we all take the time to reimagine what the future could be. I’m a big believer that work can be a big plus in people’s lives. That it can give us a lot of meaning. It can give us financial security. I also think that how work is now is perhaps not how work is optimally. I think the pandemic has really forced us all to re-examine our life priorities and I really hope that we can imagine work in a way that ironically perhaps works for more people and really allows people to live more their values. Also, that we can build the workplace back in ways that are more equitable.

I’m personally thinking very much about some of the research about how the pandemic has really eroded some of the progress we’ve made in terms of women’s workforce participation. I really hope that at the end of 2021, we can say, “This was a very difficult year, but it’s actually caused us all to grow and be more resilient, and actually face work with a more positive mindset.” It can be a positive stressor as opposed to I think a hindrance stressor for a lot of people using the language earlier on.

Erin: Thank you so much for ending on such a positive note. We so appreciate your time and your wisdom today.

Winny: Thank you so much for having me, Erin.

Erin: What a great talk, and we’re so grateful to Dr. Shen for being here with us. We invite you to join us next time for Episode 17 of REAL TIME. We’re going to have a fascinating panel discussion on the generational influence on Canadian real estate as one generation moves into retirement, the one coming up, takes its place as primary market contributor. How Realtors and homebuyers are navigating this landscape. Don’t miss it. For more, visit crea.ca. 

REAL TIME podcast is a presentation of CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association, produced by Rob Whitehead for Real Family Productions and by Alphabet Creative. I’m Erin Davis, and we’ll talk to you here next time.

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