The Importance of Speaking Up

In a membership organization, it is vital that your voice is heard, even if it is in the minority. But no one will hear you if you remain silent.

The myriad of committees, policy recommendations, and meetings required to make a massive organization such as the National Association of REALTORS® run is daunting. As a member of NAR’s Board of Directors, I’ve seen this firsthand over the years. But at the 2017 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago this past November, I saw something else—something that opened my eyes to the power of one small voice in a sea of hundreds.

The setting was the MLS Issues & Policies Committee, possibly the wonkiest of all the various groupings that help NAR continue to function, but a very important one at that. A policy change was up for debate to allow for agents to opt out of MLSs under certain circumstances (read more about the policy here). It may sound trivial; I immediately recognized that it could impact the whole industry. I didn’t oppose the change, but as president of the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® MLS, the proposed March 1 implementation seemed like it would be a hardship on the small- and medium-sized boards. After talking to other associations about the change, I became convinced that requiring this policy to be implemented in less than two months—with Thanksgiving and holidays in the mix—was irresponsible. Furthermore, MLS boards had already put together their budgets for the next year at that point, and such a change would surely cost thousands of dollars to implement (not to mention the staff time needed to create waivers, educate members, and ensure bad actors aren’t taking advantage of the new system). So, I worked with our Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® CEO, Jim Abele, to offer a more reasonable alternative.

It was not well received. When Jim proposed our amendment to extend the effective date of the new policy to July 1, 2018, to the committee, there was vigorous opposition. Many brokers felt they had been waiting long enough for this type of change, and they didn’t want to delay the new policy one minute. Others questioned the rationale for the delay, and still others raised the specter that brokers and agents would find ways to work around MLSs if we failed to innovate fast enough. The amendment was ultimately defeated by a voice vote that sounded like it represented at least two-thirds disapproval.

I’ll admit, it was disheartening. As I said earlier, I agree that this change is a good one. But I was worried about the timeline, and the fact that no real resources are being given to MLSs—particularly association-owned ones—to accomplish this task.

We did some work in the background after the committee meeting to help make the case, but the vocal opposition I heard at the committee level made me hesitant to reintroduce the failed amendment at the Board of Directors meeting the following Monday. Even as a director myself, it’s an intimidating place and I was expecting a massive floor fight. But there was not a single rebuttal or discussion against the motion and the motion passed easily. We were shocked! It may have been daunting, but that much-needed change simply wouldn’t have happened if we gave up after that first try.

While I’m happy we’ll have more time to implement the new rule, this experience meant more to me. It affirmed the importance of bringing one’s perspective to the Board of Directors, even if you are sure that perspective isn’t shared by the majority.

This whole experience taught me a valuable lesson: Follow your heart. If a recommendation made to the board needs to be amended in the best interest of the membership, speak up—even if you have to do it two or three times. Do your homework and give a cogent rationale for your proposal. It may feel hopeless or daunting, but it’s your duty to offer the directors an opportunity to hear your concern. And it is likely that your concerns are shared by many others who are choosing to remain silent.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen? After you present your rationale and your idea is discussed, the proposal or amendment may be voted down. But the important thing is that you gave voice to an idea that others may have also been thinking, but did not have the courage or will to stand up and express.

The committee process is not perfect; sometimes what results from it needs to evaluated, vetted, discussed, and changed in the best interest of the membership. This same lesson should be applied at the local level. If your board is considering action that will impact your business, it’s your duty to be informed and speak up if you want to see changes. It takes a whole village of engaged members to make an organization work.

Never forget that you are part of a membership-driven organization. As members, we need to give voice to ideas on the local, state, and national levels. Even if that voice is in the minority—or so you may think.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in commentary articles do not necessarily reflect the position of the National Association of REALTORS® or REALTOR® Magazine. Submit commentary ideas to managing editor Wendy Cole at