Many professionals operating in an advisory capacity may from the time-to-time face the prospect of a difficult conversation with a patient, client or their extended family.
For financial advisers, challenging conversations are a fact of life, particularly for many couples when the conversation turns to ’what happens if someone dies or is disabled?’
What we are essentially asking is ‘who is going to look after the kids, how are we going to fund this lifestyle, what is going to happen to the debt, where are you guys going to live?’
A lot of people have never even considered these possibilities.
There are several scenarios in which a financial adviser could face a difficult conversation. Whether it’s talking through the impact of death or disablement, challenging a financially undisciplined client, or relating poor investment performance: such conversations can be unnerving for advisers. However, there are some steps you can take to help make the process a bit easier.
Eight steps to handling a difficult conversation
1. Prepare: Do all your homework, so you have the best information and recommendation for your client.
2. Active listening: Give the other person all of your attention, rather than planning what you are going to say while they are talking. Don’t think about what you will say until the other person has stopped thinking. Don’t interrupt or talk over them.
3. Ask open-ended questions: To make sure you fully understand the issues, use the “when”, “what”, “where” and “how” questions. It’s best to avoid the “why” questions – such as “why did you…” as this can make people defensive.
4. Learn: If you shift to a learning frame of mind, trying to discover what is really going on with the other person, what may be behind the conflict and what you have done to contribute to it – you can avoid being drawn into unproductive emotion.
5. Reframe: Take what you are hearing from the other person and repeat it back to them in your own words, focusing on the problem, not the person.
6. Find areas of common agreement: It will reduce the magnification of disputed areas if you can find some common ground.
7. Move forward: Try to get an agreement from the other person about how you can move forward from there, even if you have not been able to come up with a solution. ‘Enroll’ them in the outcome by asking if you can go away to do more research and come back to them the next day.
8. Support yourself: Sometimes, challenging conversations are unexpected, but you can keep a piece of paper nearby to remind you to ask open questions and adopt a learning frame of mind.
It is vital that you build a great relationship with people so that when you have to have a challenging conversation, they will accept it. If you can gain your client’s trust, that is a foundation of the relationship.
Nevertheless, in many cases, the sheer challenge of a conversation remains. You can also try breathing techniques to help prepare for something difficult, or try moving the conversation from one situation into another.
It is important to realize that at the end of the day, you are acting in your client’s best interests and while a conversation around worst case scenarios may be uncomfortable at times, it is an important part of the financial advisory process.
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