From the January 2014 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

December 23, 2013

The Business Advantage of Working on Yourself

A consultant well known for producing large-scale advisor coaching programs for wirehouse firms once confided to me that his clients were generally all too willing to pay for “hard skills” training for their advisors.

But it was the “soft skills,” for which they were unwilling to pay, which he said often made the biggest difference in an advisor’s success.

I have often thought of this, and wondered why it is that relatively few consciously seek to marry hard skills to soft ones.

I believe the reason is that we live in a fast-paced business world, where performance is measured in quarterly—often shorter—intervals. Under these circumstances executives are not apt to make decisions that might have long-term benefits but whose immediate payoff is uncertain.

This seems especially true in the financial advisory universe, where brokerage firms focus heavily on sales ideas, product pitches and productivity enhancements. Few would pause to offer training in, say, how to relate to a client like a human being.

Yet this month’s cover story (“How to Become an Advisor of Influence”) essentially boils down to just that. For example, one of the principles that persuasion expert Robert Cialdini invokes in the article is that of authority—that mustering even your strongest arguments will fall flat if you have not first established your trustworthiness.

And yet we find that people involved in sales (sometimes including advisors) routinely come in guns blazing with their arguments and razzmatazz charts, foot in the door but credibility not in hand.

There are many ways to establish credibility. One effective way that I have personally observed was stating an opponent’s argument first—not as a straw man, but rather vigorously making the case so strongly that the listener is expected to agree with it. Then, slowly and carefully, one takes it apart while arguing one’s own side. By allowing another side to be heard, you are not only displaying decency, but also developing into a more broad-minded person and more effective advocate.

In other words, becoming a more refined human being also has a distinct business advantage.

I recall attending a training session for financial advisors in which negotiations expert Raphael Lapin, another source quoted in our cover story, had those in the room spellbound by advice on how to communicate with clients. Everybody left that session with practical and immediately implementable skills for improving their client (and personal) relationships—in contrast to so many continuing education offerings where people leave with key points which must swim—or drown—with all the other data in the advisor’s brain.

We live in an age of expedience. Paradoxically, those who work on themselves by cultivating their highest human traits—speaking being a key behavior dividing us from the animal world—truly step out of the gain-seeking hamster wheel that all too often envelops advisors and their clients.

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