“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” These are the thoughts of American psychiatrist, Morgan Scott Peck.
We’re so busy that we very rarely drop everything to be fully present and listen. Yet, it’s the greatest gift that you can give your clients- or anyone for that matter.
A slightly less profound view on “active listening” comes from Chris Ostreicher in American Pie. On discovering such an apparently simple strategy to distinguish himself to the opposite sex at school, he says the following:
“All you have to do is ask them questions and listen to what they have to say and *$%!”
To which his friend Steve Stiffler replies, “I don’t know man. That seems like a lot of work!”
Apologies for such a base frame of reference. But if you’re genuinely able to apply the same strategy to your clients, then just like Chris Ostreicher, you will distinguish yourself.
Granted, Chris perhaps applied the advice in a wholly self-interested way. Of course, this level of disingenuousness most likely scuppered his chances of building trust as people pick up on this. Do take a look at our article on the The Trust Equation for more on this. You have to mean it. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
In actual fact, Steve Stiffler is right. Listening- really listening- is not all that easy, especially in today’s world. It’s extremely difficult to put aside the clutter in your head to be fully present and devote all of your attention to the person that’s speaking.
Pause for a moment. How often are you genuinely present in life- let alone with clients- acknowledging and responding to the environment around you in the moment?
How present are you reading this article even? Have you managed to switch off the buzzing thoughts in your head?
The reality is that we spend so much time in our heads, thinking about what’s just gone, or mentally preparing for what’s to come- thinking about how that presentation went this morning; what you should have said during that client meeting; the email that you must send immediately after this meeting; how the journey home’s going to be a nightmare because of problems on the line.
So, if you’re honest, how often are you truly present with your clients?
How often are you truly present with your friends?
If you could do better, this doesn’t mean that you’re horrible, selfish and couldn’t care less. Life puts us under a lot of pressure and certainly throws up a fair few distractions- both of which pull focus from the present. This can often be the person opposite, talking to us.
Bespoke is a term that’s used so frequently when you hear people talk about the service that they offer to clients. We’ve worked extensively in the financial advice profession, where it’s particularly prevalent. The language on websites always centres around putting the client first and providing tailored solutions for them. Now, I don’t for one minute think that these are lies, or that there isn’t a genuine desire to offer a service that is all of these things.
I do, however, refute the ability to provide this service without a serious commitment to active listening.
Listening to understand your clients, and not listening in order to reply. Listening empathetically to fully grasp their unique perspective rather than reading your own autobiography into what they’re saying, imposing your own perspective. Listening without already trying to work out the potential solution for that client.
If you’re so keen to think of the right answer or to provide the right solution, especially if it’s only from your perspective, you can’t be listening. For example, if the adviser is too busy formulating the financial plan and “getting the job done” then they may miss out on the, sometimes nuanced, information that would allow them to really make that plan bespoke- not only getting the job done, but getting it done brilliantly.
After all, if you’re committed to putting the clients first, it’s not about you completing a task. It’s about you delivering happiness to clients as best as you possibly can. That’s right. The less that you view your relationship as transactional the better.
Don’t be in such a rush to deliver answers that you skip the all-important work of asking the right questions and truly listening to understand them better.
Here are 3 very simple tips to apply before, during and after your next client meeting to stay present and actively listen:
- Before: Breathe.
Take some time out just before your next meeting to clear your head, stop thinking, be present. Focusing on your breathing can really help here.
I recommend the “Headspace” app. It’s free to download and comes with 10 free starter sessions. I’ve found it hugely helpful in training the mind along these lines- discovering a sense of calm, space and presence within the frenzy of day-to-day life. Your clients will really benefit from this ability to shelve the clutter in your head. I hope you will too.
2.During: Listen to understand, not to speak.
The listening and understanding parts are just as active as the advice, planning and solving parts. You can’t do the second parts very well without having done the first parts. The meeting itself is all about this. Make sure that you keep the channels of communication completely open before jumping to conclusions.
3. After: Find Solutions.
Focus on what you can do to deliver maximum happiness for that client based on all of the information that you’ve gleaned. You may start this process during the meeting with your client, but it’s often best to keep your ears open before retreating into your head to grasp for answers.
Disclaimer: Do not skip to Step 3.
All of the EQ is in Step 2. This is where all of the empathy, understanding and intimacy lies. Step 2 is extremely human. It’s limbic to limbic communication and very effective for building trust and strengthening the relationship.
This can be a difficult transition to make from the business of day to day life. We’re always busy doing things or thinking of things to do. Step 2 requires you to stop this, be utterly present and listen. Step 1 is how you prepare to make this transition and be in the best possible state for Step 2.
Clients often trust you with such sensitive and important tasks. Their needs may seem pretty straightforward and run of the mill to you, but for them, this is a big deal. The least that you can do is give them your undivided attention.
To be understood is one of the most basic human psychological needs.
Make every effort to understand your clients.
Stop what you’re doing, and listen to them.
By Chris Wickenden, 7th May, 2019