These are the thoughts of American psychiatrist, Morgan Scott Peck.
We’re so busy that we very rarely drop everything to be fully present and listen. Yet, it’s the greatest gift that you can give your clients- or anyone for that matter.
A slightly less profound view on “active listening” comes from Chris Ostreicher in American Pie. On discovering such an apparently simple strategy to distinguish himself to the opposite sex at school, he says the following:
“All you have to do is ask them questions and listen to what they have to say and *$%!”
To which his friend Steve Stiffler replies, “I don’t know man. That seems like a lot of work!”
Apologies for such a base frame of reference. But if you’re genuinely able to apply the same strategy to your clients, then just like Chris Ostreicher, you will distinguish yourself.
Granted, Chris perhaps applied the advice in a wholly self-interested way. Of course, this level of disingenuousness most likely scuppered his chances of building trust as people pick up on this. Do take a look at our article on the The Trust Equation for more on this. You have to mean it. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
In actual fact, Steve Stiffler is right. Listening- really listening- is not all that easy, especially in today’s world. It’s extremely difficult to put aside the clutter in your head to be fully present and devote all of your attention to the person that’s speaking.
Pause for a moment. How often are you genuinely present in life- let alone with clients- acknowledging and responding to the environment around you in the moment?
How present are you reading this article even? Have you managed to switch off the buzzing thoughts in your head?
The reality is that we spend so much time in our heads, thinking about what’s just gone, or mentally preparing for what’s to come- thinking about how that presentation went this morning; what you should have said during that client meeting; the email that you must send immediately after this meeting; how the journey home’s going to be a nightmare because of problems on the line.
So, if you’re honest, how often are you truly present with your clients?
How often are you truly present with your friends?
If you could do better, this doesn’t mean that you’re horrible, selfish and couldn’t care less. Life puts us under a lot of pressure and certainly throws up a fair few distractions- both of which pull focus from the present. This can often be the person opposite, talking to us.
Bespoke is a term that’s used so frequently when you hear people talk about the service that they offer to clients. We’ve worked extensively in the financial advice profession, where it’s particularly prevalent. The language on websites always centres around putting the client first and providing tailored solutions for them. Now, I don’t for one minute think that these are lies, or that there isn’t a genuine desire to offer a service that is all of these things.
I do, however, refute the ability to provide this service without a serious commitment to active listening.
Listening to understand your clients, and not listening in order to reply. Listening empathetically to fully grasp their unique perspective rather than reading your own autobiography into what they’re saying, imposing your own perspective. Listening without already trying to work out the potential solution for that client.
If you’re so keen to think of the right answer or to provide the right solution, especially if it’s only from your perspective, you can’t be listening. For example, if the adviser is too busy formulating the financial plan and “getting the job done” then they may miss out on the, sometimes nuanced, information that would allow them to really make that plan bespoke- not only getting the job done, but getting it done brilliantly.
After all, if you’re committed to putting the clients first, it’s not about you completing a task. It’s about you delivering happiness to clients as best as you possibly can. That’s right. The less that you view your relationship as transactional the better.
Don’t be in such a rush to deliver answers that you skip the all-important work of asking the right questions and truly listening to understand them better.
Here are 3 very simple tips to apply before, during and after your next client meeting to stay present and actively listen:
1. Before: Breathe.
Take some time out just before your next meeting to clear your head, stop thinking, be present. Focusing on your breathing can really help here.
I recommend the “Headspace” app. It’s free to download and comes with 10 free starter sessions. I’ve found it hugely helpful in training the mind along these lines- discovering a sense of calm, space and presence within the frenzy of day-to-day life. Your clients will really benefit from this ability to shelve the clutter in your head. I hope you will too.
2.During: Listen to understand, not to speak.
The listening and understanding parts are just as active as the advice, planning and solving parts. You can’t do the second parts very well without having done the first parts. The meeting itself is all about this. Make sure that you keep the channels of communication completely open before jumping to conclusions.
3. After: Find Solutions.
Focus on what you can do to deliver maximum happiness for that client based on all of the information that you’ve gleaned. You may start this process during the meeting with your client, but it’s often best to keep your ears open before retreating into your head to grasp for answers.
Disclaimer: Do not skip to Step 3.
All of the EQ is in Step 2. This is where all of the empathy, understanding and intimacy lies. Step 2 is extremely human. It’s limbic to limbic communication and very effective for building trust and strengthening the relationship.
This can be a difficult transition to make from the business of day to day life. We’re always busy doing things or thinking of things to do. Step 2 requires you to stop this, be utterly present and listen. Step 1 is how you prepare to make this transition and be in the best possible state for Step 2.
Clients often trust you with such sensitive and important tasks. Their needs may seem pretty straightforward and run of the mill to you, but for them, this is a big deal. The least that you can do is give them your undivided attention.
To be understood is one of the most basic human psychological needs.
Make every effort to understand your clients.
Stop what you’re doing, and listen to them.
Apply your listening techniques when you’re managing your staff – read about quiet quitting.
Related change management insights
How Do I Establish a Culture of High Performance?
April 9th, 2023
How to Gain Confidence and Share Your Ideas in the Workplace
April 9th, 2023
How to Lead by Example
April 9th, 2023
Learning Behaviour Change: How to Change Behaviour in the Workplace
April 9th, 2023
Strategies for Reducing Burnout and Improving Employee Well-Being
April 8th, 2023
The Importance of Purpose: Connecting Employees to Your Company’s Mission
April 8th, 2023
Creating Positive Disruption: Challenging Established Ways of Working
April 8th, 2023
Unlocking the Limitless Potential of Your Team
April 8th, 2023
The Speakers’ Gym is like the iPhone. You don’t realise you need it until you have it, and then you can’t live without it.
Magda Gonzalez, Group CFO, Monex Europe
It was completely practical and the open-forum feedback was so valuable. You created a safe environment for everyone to learn. Thank you!
Nicola Koronka, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Missive
I was recommended by a friend who works in the same sector to contact The Speakers’ Gym to help me with my presentation delivery skills and I have not been disappointed with the results. Chris and Jonny work with you to provide bespoke training for your goals and needs. They are highly professional and make you feel at ease from the first minute the first session begins. I would highly recommend them to those who have a role which involves public speaking!
Julia Peake,Technical Development Manager, Sanlam
It has challenged both my thinking and approach and I will be sure to keep The Speakers’ Gym ‘fireworks’ readily available on my desk to refer to when not only presenting but also when needed through everyday management.
Liz Paradine – Chief Operations Manager - 7iM
Transact first engaged with The Speaker Gym late in 2018 where Chris & Jonny made a concerted effort to get under the skin of our business and understand how they could best help us hone our presentational and empathetic skills. The resulting sessions were hugely helpful giving my team plenty of opportunity to practice and also benefit from a great deal of feedback, not just from Chris & Jonny but by including the rest of the Transact team in the feedback and group learning too. I would highly recommend The Speakers Gym
Glen Sweet, Head of Sales, Transact
Working with The Speakers’ Gym has been fantastic. We knew what we wanted to say and who we wanted to speak to, so all we needed was technique. Or so we thought. Chris and Jonny helped us to understand the key elements of communication, through a structured process. We now think about communication in a completely different way. There’s a line they gave us that now resonates in my head, every time I write or talk to someone about what we do. We feel we’ve met two great guys and they’ve become an important part of us, our story and how we tell it to others.
Thomas Skinner, Founder, Barnaby Cecil Financial Planning
The impact of The Speakers’ Gym™ at Mako can only be described as transformational. Over a three month period, they helped transition a group of individuals into a highly collaborative and consultative leadership team. Chris and Jonny have a unique ability to connect individuals with their true purpose, driving them towards self-reflection and ultimately growth. Overall the entire experience of working with them has been a pleasure and I am deeply grateful for their impact. They more than surpassed my expectations and I look forward to working with them again in the future!
Trystan Morgan-Schauer, CEO, Mako
We engaged The Speakers’ Gym to provide us with clarity and direction in the look, feel and messaging of the Worldmaker brand in preparation for our official launch. From start to finish, the process has been truly collaborative. They worked with the expertise and experience in our team to create branding that truly represents who we are and what we represent, whilst moving us into a more modern, expressive space – which was our desire. We know that we’re in great hands with The Speakers’ Gym. We’ll certainly be continuing to work with them
Mollie Marti, CEO, Worldmaker International
They first took the time to understand our brief and delivered the programme incorporating our culture and brand throughout. They were thought provoking and their unique techniques very well received.
Mairi Cameron, Learning Manager, Nucleus Financial
The Speakers’ Gym gave me the skills and confidence to be my normal self whilst speaking and facilitating. They took the anxiety out of public speaking and gave me practical tools to prepare for and manage public engagements. They also helped me to engage more meaningfully with my clients, for which I am thankful. Highly recommend them.
Matthew Marais, Director, Vertus Capital
I found the sessions to be a revelation, and I wish I had known some of the techniques sooner. It has completely changed my mindset and focused me in on the needs of the audience. With that, the ability to achieve those aspirations has come more naturally. There is always room for improvement, and I will definitely be revisiting The Speakers’ Gym for a refresher from time to time.
Kelly Devlin, Wealth Management Consultant - St. James’s Place Wealth Management