Recently I attended a leaders’ development event for approximately 250 financial services directors. This all-day event was devoted to allowing leaders time to disconnect from work and “sharpen their saw”.1 One of the general session speakers began her presentation by asking the question: “Are you speaking the same language as your clients?” The question was asked to encourage leaders in attendance to think about if they really understand what their client’s needs are, and in turn, are meeting their needs. This question not only applies to financial services leaders but also financial advisors. Speaking the same language as your clients is important because it helps build strong relationships and paves the way for an exceptional client experience. Another reason why speaking the same language as your clients is important is because it shows you value and care about them.
With the recent market volatility, it is more important than ever for advisors to speak the same language as their clients to understand their needs. So, what does speaking the same language mean and how does one make sure to do it? The good news is, it isn’t difficult to do and there are three easy habits to build into your practice to make sure it happens.
Habit #1: Listen, listen, listen
The first habit is listening. Goldsmith (2007) states: “80% of our success in learning from others is based upon how well we listen. In other words, success or failure is determined before we do anything.” 2
At any point in time, we employ one of three levels of listening: “me, focused, and global”.3 The first level is “me” listening where awareness is on ourselves and you are listening to respond.4 At times, me listening is useful, for example, listening for flight instructions in an airport. But when it comes to speaking the same language as your clients, me listening does not move the relationship beyond a casual or surface level. The second level is “focused” listening where the focus is on the other person and you become aware of the speaker’s voice tone, expressions and emotions attached to their words.5
The last and deepest level of listening is “global” listening where you listen as if you and the client are the only people in the world. Global listening allows you to bring in past knowledge, experiences and intuition (i.e. sixth sense).6 It is also listening with your whole being to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues, as well as emotions. It’s using all your senses to really listen to your client’s life goals: Is the client on track with his retirement? What is her vision for retirement?
Consider the following scenario: A recent widow and her daughter want to discuss her financial portfolio with the family’s financial advisor. The advisor met only with the husband on a biannual basis. During the meeting, the widow asks few questions because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. An example of global listening would be the advisor’s ability to pick up on the widow’s fears on whether her savings will last her throughout retirement. It’s being aware that her doubts and lack of confidence with financial matters may keep her from asking the right questions or asking any questions at all. The advisor is also aware that a lack of a relationship is the biggest obstacle to retaining assets passed to heirs7 and because of this knowledge, the advisor actively engages the daughter in the conversation. Speaking the same language depends on good listening skills.
Habit #2: Practice empathy
The second habit to build into your practice to speak the same language as your clients is empathy.8 Empathy as defined in Meriam-Webster’s dictionary (2018) is the act of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to the thoughts and experiences of another person.9 Empathy is putting yourself in another person’s shoes. If you can’t put yourself in another’s shoes, you can’t speak their language. Stallard et. al. (2015) states empathy is a key element that promotes a sense of shared connection and understanding, and helps people and organizations thrive.10 Showing empathy is also a key competency for exercising emotional intelligence.
Habit #3: Ask questions
The third habit to build into your practice to speak the same language as your clients is questions. Questions are the key to building relationships, unlocking insights about your clients, and speaking the same language. There is a causal relationship between asking questions and listening. Asking the right questions will increase your listening because they allow you to sit back, focus and reflect on the person’s response. A good example of a visionary question is: What are your goals for living in retirement?
Integrating listening, empathy and questions into your practice are three effortless ways to ensure you are speaking the same language as your clients. Which ones do you need to work on?