Our professional lives have all but moved online, causing a
fundamental change in how we interact with our colleagues and
clients. This shift represents a huge opportunity to rethink how we
engage, how we communicate and, ultimately, how we can best serve
our clients. Active listening skills can help you get a holistic
view of your clients’ needs, which is more important than ever in
the digital age. We apply active listening strategies every day at
NBI—here is why it works for us.
Active listening strategies are all about self-awareness; understanding how you absorb information and, more importantly, how you react to it, which can limit your ability to actively listen. What distracts you? What irks you? What draws your attention away from the matter at hand? These triggers—a word choice, a tone, the way a person speaks—can shut down your listening, and suddenly you’re having an internal dialog with yourself. If you’re talking to yourself, you’re not listening to what your client is telling you. By learning to identify your biases and your triggers, you can minimize your reactions to them, getting out of your head and into the moment.
Active listening is not about you, it’s about the person in front of you. It helps you understand your client, your colleagues and your loved ones. Ask open-ended questions to figure out what’s important to them. The goal is to get at the intent, the emotion and the important facts behind what they’re saying on the surface. Now you’ve got a wider perspective, because you understand not just your side but the other person’s as well. It makes you empathic. Developing my active listening skills has been liberating for me as a mom, a wife, a friend and a leader for my team.
Look at how we’ve been given advice: Let me tell you what you need to know. But who decides what’s necessary? We rarely stop to evaluate what the client might know already. Or we dive into the mechanics of the job: what we invested in, how we diversified the portfolio, quarterly performance. This is all great information, but is it the information that the client really needs? Is it what will help them make an informed decision that aligns with their priorities? Or do you have a script that never changes no matter what meeting you’re in or who the client is? Active listening helps you figure out what’s right for the client so you can adapt and reframe your expertise and knowledge to help clients achieve their goals, whether that means minimizing risk or maximizing returns.
Now that we’re having mostly virtual meetings, we’ve lost that in-person dynamic. And if we turn off our videos, we lose the ability to read our clients’ expressions. That means we have to work harder to get a complete picture of what’s going on. We can’t just take their responses at face value. I asked a colleague the other day how she was doing. She replied “okay”, but I could tell something was off, so I asked her a few more questions. And by pushing past the superficial meaning of her initial response, we were able to have a deeper connection. The pandemic has actually made us have more in-depth conversations.
So when a client asks you a question like “Am I going to be okay?,” your job is to figure out what “okay” means to them. Is it performance? Costs? Volatility? Active listening is about figuring out their intent is and what matters to them emotionally.
In the digital era, people can do a lot of things themselves, including making use of robo-advisors. But there’s just so much information! An advisor’s job is to not only know all this stuff and store it like a library, but to be able to communicate it to clients in a way that makes sense to them. And let’s not forget the emotional side of investing—a robo-advisor can’t read a client’s tone and doesn’t know when they’ve had a stressful quarter. Expert advisors like you know how to dig down deep into a client’s situation and offer financial advice that’s emotionally on point for them. What are their priorities? What’s their understanding of risk? Once you know that, you can adapt and reframe your language and your expertise so that it’s personalized, it’s relevant and it resonates with the client.
Clients want to feel like they’re being listened to, and that’s what active listening is all about. And when you’re doing it right, the client will sense that you care. And aren’t we in the business of caring for people? We take care of their financial health. With these skills, you’ll have a much richer conversation and a much deeper relationship. For advisors, that equals client loyalty, which means that active listening can be an incredibly valuable tool over time.
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