by Mitch Anthony

If your most important client was asked to rate your listening skills, how well do you think you would score? As you start off the New Year by connecting with prospects and reconnecting with clients, you may need to take a hard look at your ability to listen to what they’re really saying.

At times we are all guilty of being poor listeners. Some of us, however, are more guilty than others. One of the ironies in our profession is that the field naturally attracts enterprising and motivated individuals, which can often mean impatience and short attention spans. But success hinges on our ability to tune in to others, and understand the differences between what they may want—or need.

While we are not all great listeners by nature, we can become great listeners and observers of others. If we approach listening as a discipline and habit, we eventually will conquer our impulses. We can develop a pattern that we will feel at home with when engaging in conversations with both prospects and clients. We simply need a clear agenda for the behaviors that constitute good listening skills. Let’s start by taking a look at the characteristics of poor listeners:

  • They think about their own response rather than tuning into what their clients are saying.
  • They treat client statements as a springboard to their own agendas (a chief temptation for advisors is jumping too early into presentation mode).
  • They grandstand with witty comments, stories, and opinions at the expense of their clients’ stories and opinions.
  • They focus on facts while dismissing feelings.
  • They obsess about details to the point that they miss what a client is trying to communicate.
  • They are not in control of nervous or uptight body language signals—they may even hint at disapproval and impatience with tone and body language.

Who doesn’t occasionally trespass across these boundaries of poor listening? Tight schedules, demanding goals, and challenging clients can combine to take us off our best listening game, unless we are vigilant regarding our listening behavior. Ultimately, our discipline in these matters helps to define our destiny.

If you do not possess a natural aptitude for listening, you will have to work that much harder to develop one. If you are honest when completing the short assessment below, you will be able to gauge your natural aptitude for empathy—the key to successful listening.

The Empathy Self-Assessment

1. I give my clients undivided attention when I am talking. A B C D F
2. I am tuned into me rather than thinking of my client’s responses. A B C D F
3. I answer in a way that reflects my major concerns. A B C D F
4. I keep the conversation polarized on my needs, issues, and concerns. A B C D F
5. I give a summary of what I have said. A B C D F

Don’t be dismayed if you do not have a high natural aptitude for empathy; many high-achieving advisors who are naturally high in resilience are also naturally lower in empathy. The key to reconnecting with your clients is to know where your weaknesses lie—and address them head on. Remember, hearing isn’t necessarily the same thing as listening.

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Adapted from Selling with Emotional Intelligence: 5 Skills for Building Stronger Client Relationships by Mitch Anthony (©2003 by Mitch Anthony. Published by Kaplan Publishing.)

© 2015 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony is the founder and president of Advisor Insights Inc. and the Financial Life Planning Institute, the leading provider of financial life planning tools and programs.

For almost two decades, Mitch and his team have provided training and development for both individual advisors and major organizations throughout the world. Mitch personally consults with many of the largest and most-recognizable names in the financial services industry on both financial life planning and relationship development.

Mitch has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work, and is interviewed by the media on a regular basis. The Institute is partnering with both Texas Tech University and the University of Georgia to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs. Mitch is a popular keynote speaker, columnist for Financial Advisor magazine and Journal of Financial Planning, and host of the daily radio feature, The Daily Dose, heard on over 100 radio stations nationwide.

Mitch is also the author of many groundbreaking books for advisors and consumers, including perennial bestseller StorySelling for Financial Advisors, cited by “Financial Advisor” magazine as the number one “must-read” book for financial professionals. Mitch’s other books include The New Retirementality (now in its 4th edition), From the Boiler Room to the Living Room, Your Clients for Life, Your Client’s Story, The Cash in the Hat, and The Bean is Not Green. For information on these books and more resources, click here. Contact Mitch at [email protected].