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Words matter
Words matter

Jul 01 2022

Words matter

Mann shares how to use the right language to establish connection and empathy with clients.

By Jennifer P. Mann, MBA, CFP

Topics covered

Subtle differences in how you talk to your clients can signal that you are on their team.

When I first started in the business, I made the mistake of asking a client during an introduction meeting, “How old are your parents?” The client became irritated and barked, “My parents are dead!” Obviously, a hot button. Since then, I’ve learned to ask, “Are your parents still living?”

We want to show sensitivity. Asking questions in a sensitive manner allowed me to uncover pain points, show compassion and connect with people. Something as seemingly benign as asking, “Do you have children?” can be an uncomfortable trigger for someone who’s been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant or recently miscarried. That question also can annoy people who’ve chosen not to have children and are tired of people asking them why. It doesn’t mean we don’t ask; it just means we must watch our tone and language and react with compassion, not judgment.

Also, be aware of biased language. Rather than asking, “What’s the name of your husband or your wife?” ask “What’s the name of your spouse?” I have a lot of clients in same-sex relationships, and they appreciate that I don’t automatically assume they’re married to someone of a different gender.

I use the words “most people” a lot when I’m talking to clients. Everyone wants to know what their peers are doing. This phrase is a great way to narrow down choices because sometimes an individual’s decision making is paralyzed by having too many choices. So, I’ll say something like, “Most people do X, Y or Z, but we can customize it however you like.”

What are they thinking about you?

Listen to feedback from your clients. You probably will learn more about your strengths than your weaknesses because most people don’t want to point out your weaknesses to your face. I’m always tweaking what I do to try to improve, and I started to notice I was getting the same four comments from clients about my presentation.

Make them feel unique — One remark was that I was passionate about what I did. I may have the same conversation during enrollment 15 times in one day, but I want everyone to feel like they’re my first and only client. I feel it’s my responsibility to add personality and humor into an insurance discussion to keep their attention.

Don’t be a know-it-all — Another comment was that “I know my stuff.” There’s a lot I don’t know, and I am always trying to learn, but I love when clients ask me a question, and I don’t know the answer. That means I’m going to learn something new. I never try to pretend I know the answer. Instead, I’ll say something like, “That’s a great question. I’ve never been asked that before. I think the answer is X, but I want to get you the most up-to-date answer specific to your situation. So let me find out and get back to you.” Instead of being disappointed that I don’t know the answer, they appreciate that I’m doing extra legwork on their behalf.

I don’t presume to know what you know or don’t know.

Learn their stories — They see that I care about them, and that’s a third thing I hear from clients. You can’t fake this one. I have colleagues who research prospects before their first meeting. That can work, but it also can create a bias toward the client before the advisor meets them. I’ve seen that approach lead to conversations that were forced and sometimes downright creepy. Just ask genuine questions. People like to talk about themselves, and you should share about yourself too. Just make sure you’re talking about them most of the time and not about you.

Present clear and thorough explanations — The fourth observation clients tell me is that I explain things in a way they can understand. During my early meetings with clients, I always tell them, “I don’t presume to know what you know or don’t know. So, I’m going to err on the side of being very basic, and if you know something already just tell me you want to move along.” This statement takes the pressure off because they don’t have to pretend to know what I’m talking about. They can just sit back and learn.

Also, be ready to explain the subject in multiple ways. I find most people learn best when I use stories to illustrate concepts. However, not everyone learns the same way, so have other approaches available to explain things. Doing so will be the No. 1 habit that is going to make someone want to work with you in other areas of their financial world.

Jennifer Mann is an 18-year MDRT member from Chicago, Illinois, USA. Contact her at jmann@lenoxadvisors.com.

View Mann’s presentation from the 2021 MDRT EDGE at mdrt.org.