A recent Nationwide commercial struck a chord with many viewers who would rather clean the gutters, wash the cat or learn Snapchat than talk about their retirement plan. The ad is very funny and while we may laugh at the lengths the couple in the ad goes to avoid talking about their retirement plan, this is also a commentary on the retirement planning industry by the retirement industry! Many people will avoid discussing their retirement because they do not understand the information being presented, and therefore they are not engaged. As I wrote in a previous blog post, it is the responsibility of the advisor to engage and educate their clients and when an advisor does these effectively, the client connects and participates in the discussion and is motivated to act. One of the best ways to engage your clients is to be a good listener. Let’s look at eight ways for financial advisors to improve their listening skills.
Good Eye Contact
Imagine if you were trying to talk to someone who kept looking at their computer or phone or glancing around the room, you know they aren’t listening very well! Let your client know you are present and attentive with your posture and presence. Face your client and maintain natural eye contact with them.
Active listening means blocking out external distractions and pushing aside distracting thoughts. Focus on what your client is saying, listening to their words rather than thinking about what you will say next. Keep an open mind and don’t pre-judge what they are saying. Honestly, this is often one of the hardest of these skills to master, our minds wander or we spend time thinking about what we will say instead of listening. If you find your thoughts wandering, make an effort to mentally refocus.
Interrupting your client communicates to them that what you have to say is more important than them. It also breaks their train of thought and may turn the conversation toward what you want to talk about rather than what your client wants to talk about. Listen fully to what they say without interrupting. If you do interrupt, apologize to your client and ask them to continue, this will help get the conversation back on track.
Acknowledge and Affirm Your Client
Acknowledge what your client is saying with verbal and non-verbal cues such as nodding, using appropriate facial expressions and short comments such as “uh-huh”, “okay”, “I understand” or “tell me more.” Using appropriate verbal and non-verbal cues will show your client that you are listening and understanding what they are saying.
Allow for Some Silence
When your client stops talking, don’t rush to jump in with comments or questions. They might be gathering their thoughts to continue speaking and jumping in too soon may prevent them from finishing. Silence can be uncomfortable to many people but remember that using it appropriately can encourage and allow your client to finish their thought process.
Listen to How They Say It
How a person says something is often more important than what they say—their tone of voice, there hesitancy to agree, or how long it takes them to state that they are ready to move forward. If you get the sense of them being hesitant or not really understanding, slow down and ask them a couple times if they have questions.
Use Clarifying Questions or Statements
When there is a natural pause in the conversation, take the opportunity to use clarifying questions or statements. These should be questions that deepen your understanding of what they are saying such as “What do you mean by ___?” or “Tell me more about ___.”
When your client has finished speaking, summarize what they have said so that both you and your client know that you have heard and understood them. You can paraphrase what they have said and use phrases such as “It sounds like you are saying ___” or “What I heard you say is ___. Is that right?” This also allows your client the opportunity to clarify their thoughts further if you have not understood them.
They say that “old habits die hard” and it will be a challenge to begin implementing some of these suggestions but the reward for your effort will be clients who feel heard by their advisor. When your clients feel heard, trust and loyalty deepen and they will be ready to engage with you in the planning process. Instead of cleaning the oven, clients will be excited to share their retirement hopes and fears when they feel their advisor is really listening.
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