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What is communication?
Much has been written and studied about communication skills and how they affect our relationships. And it’s very much a work in progress. I am going to talk about the house sitter communication skills we use that we believe lead to our five-star house sitting ratings.
First, a word about styles of communication
Verbal communication is what we say and how we say it.
How do we show verbally that we are interested in someone?
Asking questions about them and things that are important to them, enthusiastic, positive and relevant responses are important. If you are speaking to someone and they don’t respond, what do you think? You might conclude that they didn’t hear you. Or that they have lost interest in the conversation.
What about when someone says something that is completely irrelevant and unrelated to your discussion? What if you are speaking with a raised voice or are critical of the host’s way of doing things? Your host is unlikely to feel you are the right person to care for their pets and home if this is you.
Asking questions is a sure-fire way to demonstrate interest.
Non verbal communication is what we do physically, such as smiling, frowning, shrugging or hand gestures.
Give the person your full attention. Have you ever been in a conversation in which the other person picks up their phone and starts flicking through screens? How did you feel? If you’re in a conversation and you must pick up your phone to check something that you’ve been talking about, tell your host what you’re doing. Ideally, leave it until the conversation is over.
What if you are on a video link with a prospective host and one of them walks off to watch TV or yawns as you are talking? Who do you think is most interested in the sit or you as a house sitter?
Feedback from our hosts is pretty clear – house sitter communication skills are incredibly important to them. They build confidence in house sitters’ ability and give the host security, a sense of confidence that their pets are being well cared for and safe and that their home is being well cared for.
We get the grammar and spelling right
I did not often meet people who were more picky than I about grammar and spelling — but then Lawrie came along! As a newspaper copy editor, he corrected and rewrote other journalists’ stories for a living. So it’s nice to work with someone who actually cares about these things as I do.
Now maybe you’re think this stuff isn’t important or that others should see the “real” you, and not worry about spelling and grammar.
If you are writing in your native (first) language but you don’t know how to spell or construct sentences, your potential host may conclude that you are inarticulate, illiterate or just lazy. Is this what you want your host to think? Worse case scenario is that you give them incorrect or incomplete information about critical issues such as your arrival and departure times.
Written communication is the best way to establish, confirm and make changes to your house sitting arrangements.
Written agreements are easy to check and verify. We book our house sitting jobs up to a year in advance. It can be a challenge to remember the exact details of the sit if we haven’t written them down. Even if you don’t book so far in advance, memory still can be notoriously unreliable so it’s always best to have it in writing.
Email and other communication channels
Early on in our relationships, we decide with hosts which written communication channel best suits us all. We prefer to use the house sitting site because most sites offer good security and it keeps all communication in one place. But we also use apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, FaceTime and email.
We also keep a calendar of all our sits and the relevant details for each. Again, this is for reference later when we are checking the details of the sit.
Emojis, internet slang and other here today, gone tomorrow language
ELI5, JSUK, WTF, DM me, BTW, 🙂 and good old LOL – we love this way of communicating. The internet has changed the way we communicate faster, and to a greater extent, than any other phenomenon. But don’t assume the terms you used in 2019 are still being used today or that you are using the same language as your host. A host who does not speak “internet” will be as perplexed by this as if you are speaking Latin. While most of us understand and like this little guy …
… how many of us are familiar with his good friend?
Your new host will not appreciate having to consult an emoji dictionary to decipher your message.
Write a great house sitting application letter
You might be thinking your days of writing job application letters are over. Alas, house sitting jobs also require an application letter to the host so that you can set up that all-important first meeting.
But have no fear, it’s not that hard. It is a bit of an art form but there are certain things we think are critical to a good letter. Check out my post on writing a house sitting job application letter.
Write a great house sitting profile
If you are using a website one of your first tasks will be writing your profile. It is your introduction to any host searching a site to find a sitter. It’s what they’ll look at first after receiving your application to sit. Take a look at our guide to writing your house sitting profile.
Your profile should include:
Five essential house sitter communication skills
Openness and honesty
We have given a lot of thought to what we have to offer hosts and their pets and what we want to get out of housesitting. And we share that with our hosts. Throughout our journey we’ve also gained a lot of insight into our own needs and wants and those of our hosts.
We’ve found the best hosts are genuinely interested in us and in what we’ve learned from house sitting. We share insights that we have acquired and seek the same from our hosts. We’ve learned a lot in our conversations with hosts about what they value in house sitters.
This starts when we apply for a house sit and continues until we complete the sit and move on. When we are asked to do a sit we respond quickly, regardless of whether we are able to do it. We know the host is trying to make plans and don’t want them to be waiting on our response. We also regard it as a privilege to be asked to sit an and quick response is respectful.
By the same token, we appreciate hosts who respond to us quickly. We tend not to take sits where the host has been slow to respond to our initial application. Sometimes we cancel our application if more than a week or two has passed, no matter how much we might like the look of the sit. We are looking for hosts who hold the same standards of communication as we do.
Of course, like most things, there are exceptions to this rule. We agreed to a wonderful sit where the host was quite slow to respond to the initial contact because he had missed the email. He was most apologetic and we were satisfied that this was not a indication of our future relationship.
When was the last time you really felt someone listened to you and understood how you felt? And how did you feel as a result? Chances are this person was a great listener and that you felt great!
So what is listening? Most of us spend our time in conversations thinking about what to say when the other person stops talking. Good listeners give the other person their full attention, show interest verbally and with their body language and confirm understanding.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It means to understand where the other person is coming from and how they might be feeling. So why is this an important skill for house sitters? Well … it’s important for relationships with the house sitter and their pets.
For many hosts taking the step to get a house sitter rather than take their pets to a kennel, cattery or someone else’s chicken coop is a scary decision. Or they may have had a house sitter in the past who hasn’t worked out.
Keep your host in mind
Our hosts are always foremost in our minds and we make sure that we think of, and communicate, information and help they might need at all stages of the house sitting job. It will vary for every house sit and every host but here are some examples of how we keep our hosts’ needs in mind.
Before your host goes away check how often they’d like to hear from you. We’ve found that some hosts haven’t thought about this too much and some have thought about it a great deal. We have two things in mind when we contact hosts – letting them know that their pets are happy and well and letting them know if there’s any unexpected or unusual issues with their home or garden.
And last - something about conflict
Wherever there are human relations there will be conflict, and house sitting is no different. In fact, the potential for conflict could be very high considering that people are handing over the their most valued possessions — their pets and their houses — to strangers.
There may be a time when your hosts and you have a disagreement. In fact, we think this is bound to happen at some point. It is the nature of human relationships. But it’s not inevitable that it should all end in tears.
Setting up the sit properly, by asking the right questions, will significantly reduce the possibility of conflict and we think there are some basic skills that serve us well when there are disagreements.
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I'd love to hear your thoughts ...
I hope you’ve found this post this post useful. What do you think are the most important house sitter communication skills? I’d love your comments below.