Balancing Compassion and Action: Knowing the Right Mix

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Being a financial adviser is a lot like being a parent. Just as a parent wants to raise emotionally healthy children, you want to give advice, nurture and mentor your clients so that they can develop a healthy relationship with money and their investment choices. And, as every parent knows, finding the right mix of coddling versus tough love is essential. So too is ensuring that you and your clients have a healthy business relationship.

During a recent group coaching session, Karen, a veteran financial adviser with twelve years in the business, recently brought up a very common challenge regarding her own client’s anxiety: “I ended up spending an hour on the phone with this client who put herself on the sidelines (no more equity investing). I approached her to see if I could help her get “unstuck” or “more comfortable”. She appreciated the call but then went on to complain about stocks, the government, and everything else under the sun. I thought I was doing a great job in letting her vent but at the end of the call, I was in the same place as before (she’s still on the sidelines).”

As Karen explained her situation, I could tell that her concerns were well-founded. Many times financial advisers build very strong friendships with their clients and allow these types of conversations to hinder why they were calling the client in the first place.

She continues: “I think I wasted an hour of my time. It just seems to me that I let my compassion get in the way of reality. How would you handle a client like this? How do you stop a conversation that starts well but then gets off its’ intended track in a quick manner?”

Compassion, empathy, and acknowledgement of a client’s concerns are all great qualities to have but at the end of the day (or by the end of the conversation), does the client really want someone to coddle them or do they want some direction? If you picked the latter, you are right! Clients want and need direction as well as action.

Here is how to balance both compassion and action:

1.      Listen to their concerns.

2.      Use acknowledgement statements such as, “okay”, “a-ha”, and “I see” to reinforce to them that you are listening.

3.      Use empathy statements such as, “I completely understand. You must feel ____” to continue making a connection.

4.      Use the “Ledge Technique” such as, “That is exactly why we need to _____” to gain control of the conversation and give direction by agreeing with their concerns and setting the stage for proper action.

5.      Use action steps such as, “By moving these funds off the sideline and ______ we are ________ which will help you with, (insert concern).”

6.      Use a tie-down statement such as, “That will help you. Won’t it?” to close the conversations.

Having a strategy to take control of the discussion is what balancing compassion and action is all about. In Karen’s situation, she did not have a strategy. Her process was to let the client vent. This did little for the either of them.

After explaining this process, she used it as a template to make other client calls to those she knew would typically complain and not take action. As a result of implementing this process, Karen was happy to report that by using the preceding formula, she felt stronger in her ability to communicate, connect, and control. By balancing compassion and action and knowing the right amount of tough love to mix in, Karen can now help her clients stay focused and keep the conversations directed as she has intended.

If you can relate to this story, email me at to share how you managed a similar situation with a client. I would be happy to hear about your process!

Daniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions Inc.
St. Paul, Minn.

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