I often talk about how difficult it can be for advisers to listen well to their clients. There are so many barriers to listening that stop us from listening attentively, a subject I have spoken about before.

But, to make matters worse; we should also be prepared for clients who try to get us out of listening mode despite our best intentions.

In this article I will focus on advisers and their clients, but I will do a similar article for managers soon on how team members can be just as off putting.

Here are some examples of how clients may ‘trick you’ into behaving contrary to good listening.

Your client may come up with questions and comments like this:

  1. “Tell me what you can do for me!”
  2. “What do you think?”
  3. “What would you do?”
  4. “I want you to do xyz for me”.
  5. “I know what I need.”
  6. “Why can’t you just give me your answer?”
  7. “Why do you need to know this about me?”
  8. “I’ve only got 15 minutes, let’s cut to the chase!”

Generally, it becomes a judgment call from your side whether you want to allow the client to dictate your approach. Confidence is also a factor in whether you feel able to push back e.g. are you willing to say to your client that you will not provide a solution unless you get a better understanding of their situation?

Below are some suggestions for how to deal with these:

“Tell me what you can do for me?”

This is an invitation from the client for you to talk about yourself, and many will welcome the opportunity. The problem is however that you may now either talk about your generic capabilities, some of which may not be relevant to the client, or you offer solutions which may actually be poor quality advice since you don’t fully understand the client and their needs.

Your best defence against being caught off-guard, is to be prepared for this scenario and have one or more stock replies that you are comfortable with e.g.:

  • “Before I share what I can do, can I ask you a couple of questions?”
  • “I’m happy to tell you about a bit about our general capabilities, but before I offer any advice or suggestions specifically for you, I would like to understand your situation better.”
  • You may have a 30 second ‘pitch’ after which you turn the conversation back onto the client e.g. “What is your experience?” or “What are you hoping to achieve” or “What is your key challenge in this area?”

“What do you think?” or “What would you do?”

It is a nice feeling when people ask for our opinion, but are you ready to offer a solution at this point? If you are, great then it is a nice transition from listening to giving advice. However, if you are not ready you may

  • Share your thoughts on the clients’ problem, but not yet the solution e.g. “I can appreciate that this is challenging”.
  • Delay your response: “Before I offer some thoughts, can I just clarify …?”

“I want you to do xyz for me” or “I know what I need.”

This is a regular occurrence for many advisers, where the client has already formed an opinion about the solution required. The client is looking to make your interaction into a simple transaction. You may choose to simply do as requested if it is ‘safe’ to do so. If it is a new client, it may offer you a straight forward opportunity to start working with them.

You may however want to understand the client and their situation better before you accept their request.

“I would be very happy to help. Before I go ahead, can I just get some additional information so I can offer an appropriate solution for you?”

 “Why do you need to know this about me?”

This is very much about you being clear about your advisory model and with conviction be able to explain to the client why this is important for you and beneficial for them. And yes, this may mean that some clients will decide that you are not the right adviser for them.

“For me to be able to offer you good quality advice, it is important that I understand how the current situation is affecting you and how the solution should not only solve the problem, but also put you in a better place going forward.”

 “Why can’t you just give me your answer?”

If you are not ready, be careful not to be rushed into guessing or offering potentially poor advice that you cannot uphold. There is a high risk that it will come back and ‘bite you’. The likelihood of your client accepting that your answer is the right solution is also compromised. They are more likely to find holes or have objections.

“At this point I don’t understand your situation well enough to offer you a quality answer. There are a number of factors which are important to clarify beforehand.”

“I’ve only got 15 minutes, let’s cut to the chase!”

Is this enough for you? If not, this becomes a question of your integrity as an advisor.

“I’m not sure that this is enough time for us to arrive at a good and safe solution. Would you like to reschedule our meeting to a day when you have sufficient time?”

Client respect

My own experience and stories I hear from advisors I’m working with, is that clients will respect you more and you will feel better yourself when you are firm in your conviction about how you deliver your advice and support. Show courtesy to your client by explaining why you are doing it this way, why it is important that you understand their situation well and why you are asking certain questions.

I hope you find this useful.

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