The top producers in our industry share a common strength, an extraordinary ability to listen. Listening seems simple because it is one of our main human senses, however, few of us truly use it to our full advantage. Learn the importance of listening, and how listening intently to your clients can change the course of your career for the better. Below are the steps you can take to build the four pillars that are the foundation of true listening.
Listen! by David Simkowitz
Unlike anything else, listening intently to your clients can change the course of your career.
If I told you that your ability to listen could triple your earning capacity, how would you react? If you knew that true listening could heighten your effectiveness as an estate planner and enable your clients to enjoy lasting financial harmony, what would you do? You would listen, of course. But would you really listen? If you take a close look at the industry’s top producers, you will find they all share one trait in common: An extraordinary listening ability.
Listening seems simple enough. After all, it is a core human sense. It’s a gift that most of us possess from birth, yet few of us use it to our full advantage. It’s a skill that is sharp in the beginning and tends to wear out over time. Sometimes our listening skills wear out due to aging, but more often it’s due to filtering. We are hit with so many messages that we stop listening. We pay less attention to noise because there is so much noise in our world.
When I meet with my clients, I don’t take notes, because I don’t want to miss anything.
The pillars of true listening
In today’s fast-paced, multi-screen environment, true listening is harder than ever before. In fact, there’s nothing easy about listening when you apply the skill purposefully in financial and estate planning settings. Here are a few steps you can take if you want to build the four pillars that are the foundation of true listening:
- Observe your clients’ whole being. Eliminate all potential distractions when listening to your clients. Forget about what you did an hour ago and what you’ll be doing later in the day. When you’re with your clients, give them your complete and total attention. When I meet with my clients, I don’t take notes, because I don’t want to miss anything. I have to see their eyes, their body language and their posture. I have to know how they interact with me and others in the room, and I want to observe which parts of the conversation make them fidget, sweat or change the topic. Some experts say that as much as 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. My goal is to capture the 93 percent that is left unsaid. Interestingly, that which is unsaid can be understood by anyone of any native language. To succeed as an estate planner, you have to master the “unsaid” language.
- Tap into your intuition. Working with a family’s finances can be like walking through a minefield. One wrong step can trigger an explosion. Sometimes, clients can’t express everything you need to know. But if you pay attention to your intuition, you’ll learn to sense the hot spots. Scientist Albert Einstein once said, “I believe in intuitions and inspirations...I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.” As an estate planner, I feel the same way. I often sense my clients’ areas of discomfort, and by gently probing further and asking to personally meet the players (children, business partners and others), I eventually uncover and neutralize the ticking time bombs.
- Resist the temptation to interrupt or judge. Sometimes we in the financial business want to demonstrate our expertise. We might listen for a little while and then offer opinion, advice or potential solutions. Or instead of fully listening, we think about what we’re going to say next. Don’t do that. While you’re getting to know your client, you have one purpose: listen. To do that, you have to concentrate, visualize and feel what your clients are saying. If you interrupt them or communicate any judgment, you could forever change the dynamic of the relationship and the outcome of your planning. You may never get to the nuggets of truth that will make or break the ultimate effectiveness of your strategy.
- Be empathetic. When you begin to really listen to your clients, you will also begin to walk in their shoes. This is the beginning of complete listening. Embrace the feeling and take it as far as you can. My goal is to actually become my client to the greatest degree possible, just as actors become their characters when preparing for major movie roles. PsychCentral recently published a study that noted that people with more empathy are safer drivers because they naturally display greater interest in the wellbeing of others. Likewise, the more we understand and become our clients, the more thorough and caring we will be when planning their estates. I leave you today with one word of advice: Listen. Unlike anything else, listening can change the course of your career and influence the course of your clients’ lives.
David Simkowitz is the founder and president of SimkowitzCo in Brooklyn, N.Y. Simkowitz has had the honor of helping hundreds of high net worth clients complete effective estate plans. He is a top-ranked leader and innovator in the industry. For more information, visit www.simkowitzco.com. Simkowitz & Co. does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice.
This article appeared in Advisor Today.