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Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion: The Pillars of Better Client Relationships

Put succinctly, emotions and finances go hand in hand.

Many emotions are associated with financial decisions—so many that clients and prospects may have a hard time talking about it with anyone in their circles, and often even with an expert like a financial adviser.

So what can advisers do to enable their clients to circumvent emotional barriers and make them feel more at ease in talking about their dreams, need and fears?

There is an abundance of literature offering instructions, tips and guidelines on this topic. Frequently it is stated that exercising sympathy, empathy and compassion toward clients can help advisers attain a more in-depth understanding of their clients’ needs and emotions and develop more solid relationships. However, the often-inappropriate use of these three terms seems to lead to confusion. Below, I provide more accurate definitions of the terms and how they relate to client relationships.

Sympathy
Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow or pity for the hardships that another person encounters. We feel sympathy toward a client experiencing an unusual chain of negative family events. However, sympathy is characterized by a degree of emotional distance because we are not experiencing the pain ourselves. Ultimately, sympathy is the ability to express culturally acceptable condolences to someone else’s plight. Sympathy, however, fosters disconnection. This is because it sparks in us the desire to identify a silver lining in the situation—lamentably and in some cases a banal cliché—which does not really help relieve an individual’s suffering.

Empathy
Empathy goes beyond sympathy. While the latter focuses on finding a response that does not necessarily help make things better, empathy aims at establishing an emotional connection with someone. Empathy makes us vulnerable, because to create a real emotional connection with the one who is suffering we must first connect with that part of ourselves that knows that feeling.

Subsequently, empathy forces us to experience some of the pains that the other person is experiencing. Research conducted by neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolati, proves that about 20 percent of our neurons possess mirroring functions. Accordingly, when we witness another human being’s emotion through their body language, voice intonation or spoken word, those neurons dispatch signals that enable us to feel and know what that emotion is. For this reason, we do not have to work hard at developing empathy, as we have an inherent disposition to it. Real empathy requires being mindfully present with our clients and prospects, listening wholeheartedly to what they say, recognizing their emotions and reflecting them back.

Compassion
Compassion is empathy in action. The word compassion is composed of com (together with) and passion (to suffer). Despite the word’s etymology, exercising compassion does not mean that we have to suffer to help someone. A financial adviser just like a doctor can relieve suffering without having to experience a client/patient’s exact pain.

Compassionate listening may be hard to master, particularly when it requires listening to the suffering of others. The fact that we all experience pain and grief makes it very difficult for us to listen to others. To be able to truly listen to someone’s suffering, we need to first listen and transform the suffering that dwells within ourselves. The foundation of compassionate listening is self-awareness. This may sound paradoxical, but lacking clarity in our relationship with ourselves severely impairs our ability to improve relationships with others.

Compassion is the ability to listen in a receptive, generous, supportive and non-judgmental way. Ultimately, it is the practice of abandoning our self-oriented, reactive and opinionated thinking and expanding our awareness to make room for the suffering of another human being. A client or prospect brings more than words to a meeting. There is a plethora of unexpressed feelings, anxieties, fears and thoughts that only compassion enables you to recognize, understand and speak about.

I exhort you to master the art of compassion. In addition to being pleasant and caring, compassion makes you trustworthy. Eventually, it will contribute to elevate your professional image, build enduring relationships and make a difference in your life and those of your clients.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.


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5 Strategies to Connect During the First Appointment

Have you ever gone into an initial first appointment with high hopes of connecting with the prospect only to later realize that you did not make a connection at all? Maybe you have had several appointments like this over the course of your career. If so, you may have been missing one, a few or all of the five strategies for the first appointment process.

Let’s take a look at what those are:

  1. Get the prospect’s story: One of the most important things you can do to establish a connection is to genuinely be interested in learning about the prospect. People love to talk about themselves and the best way to encourage this is to strategically map out questions that will help them tell you their life story. If you can do this, they will end up explaining the reason for why they are looking for a new financial adviser and what is important to them about finding just the right one.
  1. Show them how much you care: It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I believe that is true. Oftentimes, advisers try to win over a prospect by dazzling them with their stock market and/or product knowledge. Unfortunately, this tends to create more of a disconnect with a potential client. Don’t start the relationship off by telling them what you know but instead tell them how much you care about their situation. Chances are you have had other prospects and clients experience similar things. If so, then you should share their story with them. Do this and you will set a prospect at ease. They will feel comfortable that you are familiar with their situation.
  1. Understand the prospect’s pain points: As you listen to the prospect’s story and let them how much you care, you will probably realize that they have real concerns about their finances–these are what I call the prospect’s pain points. Typically, these are the reasons why they came to see you in the first place. If you truly understand their concerns as well and what is most important to them, and they know you understand both, it is much easier to build a connection with them.
  1. (Strategically) sum up the appointment: At some point, you need to strategically shift the conversation into summarizing what you have learned about them from your conversation. Try a phrase such as, “We’ve talked about a lot of things today and what I’d like to do is summarize what I have heard.” Then, proceed to state their situation, issues/problems and the long-term implications of not fixing those issues/problems. If you do this well, they will be much more inclined to hear what else you have to say because they know you have listened, and more importantly, have heard them.
  1. Sell your solutions to set a second appointment: Once a prospect gives you the signs or tells you they are ready, it’s time to sell your solutions to set a second appointment. Ironically, the strategy that I am about to explain isn’t so much about selling as it is about helping them want to buy. Simply, use questions such as, “How would it help you most if I put together a full financial plan so that you can understand how much money you will need when you retire, how much income you may have to live off of once you are retired and whether or not you are currently on course to accomplish those goals?” Nine times out of ten they will instantly start telling you they would value that by saying, “That sounds like something I have needed for a long time!” All you need to do is agree with them and then simply ask for the second appointment. “Exactly, then that is what we will do! Are you available this time next week to review the plan?”

Take a moment to think about what you have just learned. Are you using these strategies in your first appointment process? If not, you now know how.

If you are ready to strategically run your prospecting process, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Dan Finley at Advisor Solutions by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at Melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan Finley

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

 

Daniel Finley presents an FPA webinar titled “Beyond the Production Plateau: The Solution to Your Business Evolution” from 2 to 3 p.m., EDT, June 8. Register for the webinar here