Randy Carver is a financial advisor with a thriving practice outside Cleveland, Ohio.Carver is also a licensed private pilot with a twin-engine Cessna. Several years ago, a crash landing left him with shattered ribs, collapsed lungs and a cracked larynx. After leaving the hospital and returning to work, Carver was forced to speak with clients in a strained whisper through a voice amplifier. The impact: He learned to listen.
Carver paid attention to client’s tone of voice, nuanced words and emotional cues. He heard the words behind the words. He internalized their personal memories and stories — or money scripts — and empathized with their concerns and fears.
Randy Carver mastered a skill that a growing number of leading financial professionals call empathetic, active or meaningful listening. These industry leaders insist that the often underrated skill of truly listening is the critical first step to forming bonds of trust with prospects and clients.
‘Most Important Skill’
Michael Kitces, a trainer, coach and author of an educational newsletter for financial professionals, considers listening to be the most important communication skill for advisors.
“Consider taking classes to build your skills of active listening and empathy,” Kitces said. “Because the truth is that clients won’t really trust you until they feel that they’re being heard and understood.”
Kitces calls empathic listening the foundational first step toward strong verbal, written, motivational and public relations skills.
“If there is one skill that seems to have a bigger impact above all else for the success of a financial planner, it’s the ability to listen. To REALLY listen,” Kitces blogged to financial professionals seeking to up their game. “You’re not actually an expert at doing real financial planning, and providing solutions that help clients achieve their own goals, if you’re not skilled at really exploring what those goals are in the first place.”
Making a client feel “heard” can be difficult, Kitces adds, particularly given most advisors’ natural tendencies to sell themselves, their processes and their portfolios.
“They (advisors) have a strong tendency to talk about their expertise, knowledge, services, products and solutions first,” Kitces said. “Only secondarily do they get around to actually hearing what the client really wants and needs.”