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Got Empathy?

Are you an empathetic advisor?
Empathy – or the ability to understand and to share in the feelings of your clients – is perhaps one of the single most important skills a financial advisor should possess.

Money can be a very emotional and stressful topic for people. So it is no secret that the discussion of money and feelings often go hand in hand. Being able to recognize how your clients are feeling and personally relating to them is crucial in the advisor-client relationship.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Many people confuse sympathy and empathy. They are fundamentally different though.

Sympathy is a shared feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, is much more profound. When you are sympathetic you understand your clients’ feelings, but when you are empathetic, you feel their pain and you actually put yourself in their shoes. You feel what they are feeling. The latter is exactly what clients and prospects want from you as their trusted advisor.

The good news is that empathy is innate for most people. Nevertheless, this superpower skill takes practice and an ability that needs to be truly genuine. There’s no smoke and mirrors when it comes to this skill or your clients will see right through it.

If you believe you may be lacking in this important skill set, research shows that it is possible to boost the capacity for empathetic understanding.

Use Active Listening

One of the best ways to increase your empathetic understanding is to always use active listening with your clients and prospects.

Simply put, stop talking and selling and start actively listening. While it is true that you are in the financial advice business, you must practice the skills of listening more and talking less.

When you are practicing active listening you should discipline yourself to hold your tongue and always focus on authentically listening to the client. Active listening is mindfully concentrating on what the speaker is saying instead of passively hearing the message of the speaker and focusing on formulating your next question to ask.

Strong active listening skills require the listener to repeat back what the speaker is saying in their own words in order to confirm that the message is understood. If it helps you, take notes while your clients are talking.

Pay Attention to the Unspoken Cues

It is well documented that 90% of human communication is unspoken body language.

This tells us that it is paramount that we pay close attention to the nonverbal cues of our clients, especially as it relates to empathetic understanding. Learning to recognize unspoken cues and responding in the appropriate manner to different kinds of emotions is critical.

Are your clients avoiding making eye contact with you? What do their facial expressions tell you? Are they smiling and nodding in agreement or do they have a look of skepticism? How does their voice sound? Are they speaking clearly with expression or does their voice seem shaky? Are they leaning into you, indicating they are in agreement with your recommendation or do they have their arms crossed conveying they are stand-offish?

Don’t ignore the signs. If you are picking up on nonverbal signals that you believe need to be addressed, talk to your clients about them.

For example, you may say something like, “I’m sensing that you may be feeling stressed about college planning for your children. If I am right, you can share with me more about how you are feeling?”

After asking a question of this nature, wait for their response and listen carefully.

When they are speaking, avoid interrupting them and saying things like “I know how you feel.” Worse yet, do not combat or challenge their emotions.

Instead, express to them a time that something similar happened to you. Explain how you felt when you were experiencing it. Show them that you’ve been in their shoes and share with them how you handled it. Make it personal.

Once they have shared their feelings, validate them. Remember, all of your clients have the right to feel their emotions, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

Affirm Moving Forward

After they have expressed their thoughts and feelings, before you move forward, ask for their affirmation. Don’t rush the process. Give them the time they need.

Affirmation to move forward is not just about being respectful. It also confirms that you and your clients are on the same page. While you may think you have discussed their emotions enough, perhaps the client wants to talk more about how they are feeling and what’s holding them back.

Once you gain agreement from your client to move forward, you can begin discussing your solutions and recommendations. Making recommendations prior to gaining affirmation from the client will only stall their decision-making process.

The Bottom Line

There is true power in empathetic understanding. Mastering empathy will lead to deeper relationships and build trust with your clients and prospects in an indescribable way.

Becoming an empathetic advisor takes practice, but it will quickly become second nature and you and your clients will reap the rewards.