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Speak softly and carry a big stick: achieving firm and respectful outcomes in property management

1st October 2012
Theodore Roosevelt’s ideology of “speak softly and carry a big” stick achieves respectful outcomes in property management.

Theodore Roosevelt’s ideology of “speak softly and carry a big” stick achieves respectful outcomes in property management.

Theodore Roosevelt underwent a prolonged political battle while he was Governor of New York, but eventually came out to be the winner. He attributed his success to a West African proverb that teaches, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Roosevelt continued to implement this approach while he was President of the US.

What’s meant by ‘speaking softly and carrying a big stick’?

Let’s look at a property management example of ‘speaking softly and carrying a big stick’. In the Landlord-Tenant context, ‘speaking softly’ means communicating the landlord’s expectations of the tenant in a way that respects the tenant’s dignity.

As for the ‘big stick’, that represents the landlord’s commitment to results.

Both of these components are required: without the ‘speech’ tenants may not fully understand your requirements for the tenancy and may not have direction. And without the ‘big stick’, tenants will not understand the desired result.

What would happen if one of these factors were missing?

If the soft speech was missing, and just a big stick was in use, it doesn’t motivate the tenant in the right way. They’ll feel disrespected, and you won’t get to form a good working relationship with them. And this good working relationship is your insurance against future tenancy problems.

On the other hand, if the big stick’s missing and you use only soft speech, the tenant may think you’re a ‘soft’ landlord and will not have a clear idea of what’s expected from them as a tenant.

When do you use this approach to tenancy management?

You should speak softly and carry a big stick right from the outset, when a prospective tenant is applying for a tenancy. That immediately sets the tone and nature of your working relationship, and makes it easier for you to keep communicating in this manner later on.

It’s important to keep using the soft voice and big stick if things do start deteriorating with your tenant, as that way you’re most likely to find a beneficial outcome. That’s the best method to resolve issues of late rent payment or property damage.

How is it possible to speak softly (and carry a big stick) when dealing with a late rent payment?

Here’s an example of how you could deal with a late rent payment by using a soft voice and a big stick. When you’re communicating with the tenant about this late payment, you should:

  • Use a soft voice: this is where you politely request payments. You need to be specific about when payments should be made, and the payment method the tenant is to use.
  • Carry a big stick: this is where you explain the repercussions of not making the payments in the manner specified. And what are these repercussions? First of all, you’d outline all the payment methods available (e.g. credit card or cash) and the option of Manual Rent Collection being implemented. Secondly you’d need to explain how the tenant should give notice if they wish to vacate the property (i.e. that they would need to give 21 days’ notice in writing if they wish to vacate whilst on a periodic tenancy).

If you or your property manager aren’t willing to carry a big stick, then you are leaving large holes in your tenancy management. The results are likely to be unresolved tenant disputes; increases in damage costs (that would be paid by the property owner, not the tenant); rent defaults and unacceptable amounts of time spent at the Tenancy Tribunal.

By not ‘speaking softly and carrying a big stick’ you are simply not managing your property, or your tenant. If this approach worked for someone as successful as Theodore Roosevelt, it can work for you, too.



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