Advisors are a unique breed! In addition to their core competencies, they also often need to be economists, communicators, educators, therapists and magicians in order to meet their clients’ diverse needs and demands. At times they might even need to be all of these at once. Fortunately, advisors are typically high-achieving courageous personalities who embrace challenge, seize opportunity and overcome obstacles even if it means being the professional equivalent of a toy transformer robot. Nevertheless, who would turn down an opportunity to learn new skills and techniques that would make us even better at what we do?
In this month’s column, I will outline some techniques to help navigate troubled waters in some common difficult client situations. You will learn how to neutralize the antagonist, defeat the defeatist and intercept the rambler. This is important because your competency as a professional is not only measured by how well you manage your straight-forward easy-going clients, but also by how well you are able to work with the more difficult clients too.
Neutralizing the Antagonist
The antagonist is the client who will often blame, attack or criticize another for any failure or shortcoming and will seldom take responsibility. This might manifest itself, for example, where one spouse may blame or attack the other for a bad investment decision or for allowing the advisor to talk them into a particular investment strategy that performed poorly. Amy, the wife, might say: “Well if John were not so indecisive we would be further ahead!” or John, the husband, might assert: “If Amy had not insisted that we listen to your [the advisor’s] recommendation and gone with my strategy of buying all dividend-paying stocks, we would have done far better!” When not managed appropriately, the offended party will become defensive and respond with counterattack and blame. In less time than it takes to say the word “antagonist,” the interaction will have deteriorated into an ugly battle of words, spoiling all good intentions for a productive and efficient discussion and leaving you as the advisor at a loss for how to regain control of the meeting.
To effectively neutralize the antagonist, you should redirect her attention away from the offended party back to herself by reframing their attack from complaint to concern. To accomplish this, you could say to the wife in the example above: “Amy, I am hearing your frustration and concern about an effective and efficient decision-making process with regards to your investment portfolio.” You should then immediately follow up by deflecting past-focused blame to future-focused discussion. You do this by asking: “What do you think you can do to improve on that?” Or you may respond to the husband by saying: “John, it sounds to me that you would like more of a say in the investment strategy. How would you like to deal with situations where you and I differ about strategy in the future?”
They may continue to point a finger, but you must persist in bringing the attention back to themselves again (and again if necessary) by insisting: “What is there that you might do that could improve the current condition?”
By applying this technique, you will successfully avoid a potential confrontation and guide the antagonist towards constructive problem solving. You will also have sent a subtle message to the antagonist that his behavior will not be tolerated.
Defeating the Defeatist