When we talk about communications and marketing strategy, the focus is most often on the message.
What are you going to say?
How are you going to say it?
Who are you going to say it to?
Communication from a business perspective is typically about how to get more people to hear what you have to say. When you’re marketing, that’s absolutely a focus.
But in a client relationship, the focus of communication has to shift. If you want to build stronger relationships, you have to talk less and listen more.
This isn’t a profound new idea. As far back as 1957 (and I’m sure earlier) you can find an article in the Harvard Business Review that talks about how critical good listening skills are to business success.
That article recommended that “the effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.”
Here are a few thoughts about strengthening relationships in your advisory firm by becoming a better listener.
Good Listening Begins with Empathy
Today, when there’s so much uncertainty around the world, good listening is more important than ever. When people are hurting, like many of your clients may be, they need more support—and that support begins first with listening.
Due to quarantine and economic uncertainty, anxiety and depression are on the rise. One federal emergency hotline for people experiencing emotional distress has had a 1,000% increase in contacts compared to last year at the same time.
Research has shown a link between mental health and financial health—when one goes down, the other tends to follow. That’s not surprising.
It does, however, emphasize the need for financial planners to monitor the well-being of their clients. It’s hard to provide solid and comprehensive financial guidance without knowing the confidence and mental state of the person who needs the advice.
Good listening is at the heart of good financial planning—and good listening begins with empathy.
It’s easy to hear about a problem and want to provide a solution right away. But first, you have to understand what someone is feeling and then pause before launching into recommendations.
One financial planner from Virginia said that her process to help calm anxious clients is to talk less and breathe more.
Yep, that’s right—take time to simply breathe with your clients. Allow them to feel the full weight of what they’re sharing with you in a heavy moment, and then move to solutions together.
Creating a safe environment for your clients means hearing their concerns, and making sure they feel supported in what they’re facing.
In practice, the process looks like this:
The first two steps in that process are the most important. They all build on each other. You can’t skip one if you really want to connect.
The One Question to Ask to Build Stronger Relationships
If you want to build stronger relationships, both inside and outside the office, you can start by asking a simple question.
“How are you doing?”
Asking the question is easy—the hard part is shutting up and listening.
It’s natural to feel an impulse to jump in and talk or share your own similar experiences, but the best way to activate deeper relationships is to actively listen and turn off that urge to offer solutions right away.
We often ask each other that question—How are you doing?—but we often fail to actively listen. On the other side, we also often fail to share how we’re really doing.
The other person may not take the opportunity to be fully truthful with you—they might say “Doing fine” and then move on. That’s their decision.
Your role is to ask the question and let it sit, so that if the person you’re talking with does need to share beyond simple pleasantries, they have a space where they can do it and feel supported.
As a financial professional, you have a tremendously important role in people’s lives. According to a Northwestern Mutual survey, 92% of adults in the US said they’re happiest when their financial house is in good order.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does influence a sense of security and confidence about everything else going on in a person’s life.
If you want to become a better communicator, build stronger relationships, and play a small part in helping clients improve the link between their mental and financial health, then focus on how you can become a better listener.
Start by asking that one simple question, and then stop talking. See what happens.