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Riis Christensen: Talking Trash Makes Unpleasant Splash

Commercial real estate has gone from a gentlemanly golf match where one respects his opponents to a UFC cage fight where anything goes. Most tenants have existing relationships that are difficult to dislodge. So trash-talking has become more commonplace as a tactic for stripping business from competitors.
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Riis Christensen
Riis Christensen

“Here’s the deal. I’m the best there is, plain and simple. I mean, I wake up every morning and I piss excellence. And nobody can hang with my stuff. Uh, you know, I’m just a big, hairy, American winning machine.” —Ricky Bobby, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”

First off, I’d like to apologize to my mother for using the word “piss” in this blog. Sorry Mom! I know it’s one of your least favorite words. I’m not particularly fond of it, either. But waking up in the morning and going No. 1 with excellence, relieving yourself with excellence, tee-teeing with excellence, or going to the powder room with excellence just didn’t pack the same trash-talking punch that Will Ferrell was aiming for, so to speak. Love you, Mom! Talk soon!

Anyhoo … I was reminded of Ricky Bobby’s famous quote after watching the post-game interview with the Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman following the team’s victory over the 49ers in the NFC playoff game. Seconds after it ended, Sherman told cowering Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get!”

In case you were watching reruns of Dancing With the Stars during the game, don’t have a television, an internet connection, or a smart phone, or have been on the moon or in a coma, those comments generated a press and social media flood that hasn’t yet receded. Some of the trash Tweeting directed back at Sherman was even more disturbing than the rant.

NFL Network even had Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin do a live “Art of Trash Talking” segment. (Then Deion denied ever trash talking during a game!). Hmmm. Is this really what we want our children and young adults to learn—how to become more effective trash talkers?

The whole incident got me thinking about trash-talking in our society as a whole. I’ve seen kids and young adults celebrate Sherman’s antics with their own chest thumping, and I’ve even noticed a bunch of his jerseys being sported proudly around town. Those few quotes from Sherman were some of the most unsportsmanlike comments I’ve ever heard. It also made me reflect on our industry and some of the smack that’s being tossed out in sales calls.

When I started in the commercial real estate business, just after the widespread availability of indoor plumbing, it was rare to hear of a cohort or competitor bad-mouthing another broker or brokerage company. You just didn’t do it. Negative selling wasn’t acceptable. I even saw a guy in my first brokerage shop get fired because of it. We couldn’t call on companies and ask them to change horses over to our firm when exclusive representation letters were in place. Period.

But the playing field has changed now. It has gone from a gentlemanly golf match where one respects his opponents to a UFC cage fight where anything goes. Most tenants have existing relationships that are difficult to dislodge. So trash-talking has become more commonplace as a tactic for stripping business from competitors.

Contrast that with the game of golf—a refuge, where honor and honesty still prevail. It is a game where sportsmanship outweighs gamesmanship, and where “nice shot” from an opponent is still frequently heard. It’s a sport where competitors and the gallery are quiet when the other player addresses the ball, instead of wildly gyrating 500 “BRICK!” signs in front of him.

Thus, more than 88 years after Bobby Jones’s ball moved slightly at the 1925 U.S. Open, unbeknownst to anyone but he, his sportsmanship is still talked about. There were no refs to call a foul, no officials to hit him with a penalty, and neither his own caddy nor playing partner Walter Hagen saw the infraction. The prestigious tournament title hung in the balance, but when the round was completed, Jones assessed himself a one-stroke penalty.

The slight ball movement didn’t improve his ball position. But those are the rules, and Jones stuck by them. The penalty cost him an outright championship. Afterward, a sportswriter wanted to commend Jones for his sportsmanship, but the golfer urged him not to write about it. “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks,” Jones quipped.

The LPGA’s Meg Mallon, a four-time major championship winner, said golf, “started as a gentleman’s game, and it has kept going. You learn that it is a badge of honor to play by the rules and to call a penalty on yourself. It is a game of integrity.”

Many other players have called penalties on themselves when major titles were on the line, including Hale Irwin, Greg Norman, and Ian Woosnam. Bravo!

I like to think of the commercial real estate business in Dallas-Fort Worth as a gentlemen’s (and women’s) game of integrity. We have 2,400 or so commercial folks that are members of the North Texas Commercial Association of Realtors. We do lots of repeat business with the same brokers, owners, and developers year after year, and compete with largely the same crew. But as our ranks swell with new young bucks (and buckettes?) and business gets more competitive, the exaggerations about the benefits of switching firms, or going to a different building, or the deprecation of competitors would make even the bragadocious Ricky Bobby think he was on fire.

Can you really save that 20,000-square-foot tenant $800,000, with a year to go on their lease? Will operating expenses magically go down $2 per square foot with your new ownership or management bunch coming in? Can the electricity in your building actually be running $.70 per square foot? Can you really turnkey that finish for $10 per square foot? Is your competitor really a _____? You fill in the blank.

My favorite business manual says that, “We should train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” So first, we need to draw the circle around ourselves individually and look at the value statements and comments about competitors that we might casually throw out on sales calls and during pitches.
Second, it will take a village to raise up the newest crop of CRE pros.

Let’s not default to the likes of a Richard Sherman, a cameraman-kicking Dennis Rodman, an ear-biting Mike Tyson, or a fan-punching Meta World Peace to showcase proper behavior. Let’s step up and be role models to the youngsters and show them how to get the job done with grace and integrity. Let’s wake up in the morning and make excellence flow forth by flushing trash talking out of our industry—and let’s make it our “No. 1” priority.

Riis Christensen is senior vice president of the tenant advisory services group at Transwestern and is currently washing his laptop’s mouth out with soap. He is also a volunteer fireman, a semi-professional race car driver, and an amateur tattoo artist. (OK—self-imposed 4-stroke penalty on that bio.)