As a financial professional, you're no stranger to difficult conversations. Sometimes, it's around workplace goals and productivity with colleagues. Then there are those challenging discussions with your clients. At some point, your clients will face a moment of uncertainty or go through emotionally and financially demanding times in their lives, such as divorce or the death of a spouse.
As a financial professional, difficult conversations are something you'll need to prepare for as a key part of your business. While no one looks forward to these conversations, there are steps you can take to help ensure you're meeting the moment with empathy and care. That can help you, your colleagues, and your clients feel better when the time comes to speak.
Here are some ways to think about approaching difficult conversations.
Keep an eye out for potential red flags
It's rare for a disagreement or negative feelings to occur out of nowhere. Usually, there are some warning signs along the way. One skill to focus on developing is paying attention to potential issues, which means being proactive. Keep an eye out for subtle changes in behavior and listen for budding frustrations when you're having conversations.
Of course, that's easier said than done. An approach you can take is to establish a pattern of open communication with your colleagues and clients — especially in addressing potential issues head-on. In many cases, a quick chat right when a problem arises or begins to develop can defuse the situation and get you both back on the right track.
Spend time listening
All too often, frustration builds because people feel like their fears and concerns aren't heard. In fact, according to a recent survey of financial professionals, not listening to a client's needs and poor communication are two of the most common reasons for losing a client.
As a financial professional, listening skills are a crucial part of your job. When you sit down with a client, listen to their fears and concerns first. Then start suggesting options. That can help them feel like you're in this together and on the same page.
Reframe the conversation
It's human nature to feel uncomfortable about a potentially challenging conversation. The anxiety could cause you or your client to avoid speaking up altogether. Instead of thinking about it from a negative mindset, try to reframe the conversation in your mind.
For example, imagine you are preparing to speak to your clients about why they aren't meeting some of their financial goals. A positive way to look at this difficult conversation is that you're helping your clients find ways to overcome their financial fears and the stress it's causing them. Yes, it's hard, but outlining these fears and facing them together can help them start taking steps in the right direction.
A big part of building your emotional intelligence is working on relationship management — focusing on managing your own emotions and reactions and being aware of others. When you do that, it's often easier to tap into a well of empathy for others when they are going through a difficult time.
When you approach these conversations with empathy, you're building trust. You're showing them that you're considering their concerns and perspectives, even if they are different from your own. Extending empathy to others can make having these more complicated conversations a bit easier.
Tips for holding a difficult conversation
Once it's time to sit down and have a chat, you'll want to keep some of these tips in mind:
- Prepare: While you shouldn't write out a script, prepare a few key points ahead of time, so you don't lose your train of thought.
- Try to speak face to face: If you can, try to schedule your conversation in person or over video to maintain eye contact and read body language.
- Be honest: Share your concerns, you want to give the other person the truth, but don't sugar coat things, and keep empathy in mind.
- Follow up: After the conversation, follow up to see how you can continue to keep communication open and support them.
Understanding how to have difficult conversations is a learning process. As you have more of these conversations, you'll begin to develop an approach that can make it a little easier and leave your clients and colleagues feeling better afterwards, whatever the situation.
Learn more on how to help your clients deal with financial stress.