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To Improve Client Relationships, Turn the Light Inward

Because of the crucial role financial advisers play in the lives of their clients, they must be able to effectively manage both their clients’ emotional and financial demands. This is easier said than done, especially during times of financial turmoil, when it becomes particularly challenging to remain calm, focused and available to help clients face their fears. Inability to do so is often perceived as lack of leadership on the adviser’s part.

It may sound surprising, but leadership qualities can be developed and reinforced through mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of slowing down and devoting undivided attention to what is taking place in the present moment, ignoring the outer noise and noticing instead our thoughts and emotions arising. This practice fosters increased calmness, clarity and deeper concentration.

Mindfulness allows us to transform personal experiences, narratives and emotion from distractions into valuable tools. During a client meeting, mindfulness will give you the clarity and openness you need to understand the emotional and physical sensations both you and your client experience while working on a financial decision. Ultimately, mindfulness arms you with a compass to identify the best course of action that truly reflects your client’s goals and aspirations.

Below you will find some mindfulness concepts that can be beneficial to the client-adviser relationship:

1. Turning the Light Inward
Dogen Zenji, a thirteenth century Zen philosopher, referred to mindfulness as the process of “turning the light inward”—returning our attention to the source of consciousness. Turning the light inward enables us to pay less attention to the myriad distractions, preoccupations and delusions we experience, and observe instead our mechanical reactions, mostly driven by our anxiety. An unanticipated difficult question from a client can pose a threat to our expertise and undermine our security. Consequently, we rush to deploy an automatic reaction to annihilate our anxiety. It is only by taking a step back and shining the light inward that we can see how emotions and fears are driving our responses.

2. Mindful Presence and Listening
The highly competitive and fast-paced environment in which you operate, success and oftentimes survival appears to be a direct function of your ability to multitask. Regrettably, this is pretty far from the truth. A study by Stanford University concluded that multitasking lowers efficiency and performance, as our brain can only focus on one task at a time. In addition, an article in McKinsey Quarterly titled, “Recovering from Information Overload,” debunks the myth of multitasking in favor of mindfulness. Mindful presence and listening opens the doors to a new way of being fully present and hearing in a way that fosters a natural propensity to remain objective and gather good intelligence about what clients worry and care about. Ultimately, it enables advisers to better facilitate their clients’ pursuits of financial freedom and even dispel some of their fears. During a client meeting pose a question, such as “What are the most important challenges our firm has helped you successfully address?” and then, commit yourself to mindfully listen to every word your client will say. Her answer may yield valuable information you may have missed in past conversations.

3. Achieve Higher Effectiveness
The Internet is rife with information about the benefits of mindfulness. A Harvard Business Review article titled “Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity states that mindfulness practice helps “to reduce stress, unlock creativity and boost performance.” The majority of the public is not aware that while carrying out a task “on average, our minds are wandering involuntarily from what we are doing 46.9 percent of the time,” (from A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind by Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingworth). Some of the leading corporations in the world are making significant investments in mindfulness for their employees to enable them achieve higher effectiveness, improved focus, heightened self-insight and increased cognitive flexibility.

4. Beginner’s Mind
The busyness of our Western culture forces us to consistently approach people and situations with an expert’s mind rather than a beginner’s mind. Though an expert mind unquestionably serves it purpose it far too often triggers in us the very familiar “been there, done that” response. Shunryu Suzuki in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, stated “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” So, with a beginner’s mind we actively listen to a client or prospect to gain more knowledge and learn about their fears, needs and goals—wholeheartedly and refraining from quickly passing judgments or rushing to offer solutions until we have absorbed all there is to absorb.

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


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Mindfulness—Not Multitasking—for Improved Performance and Productivity  

You have only three minutes to read this blog post…that is before the sound of incoming email, the ringtone of your mobile phone, a LinkedIn alert or an associate wanting to talk to you will distract you. Your attention will almost inevitably be absorbed by one of these distractions and you will find yourself engaged in a new task before you finish reading this article.

The three minutes mentioned above is not an arbitrary figure, rather the result of a study by Professor Gloria Mark at the Department of Informatics of the University of California, Irvine. Her research paper concludes, “People in the interrupted conditions experience a higher workload, increased stress, greater frustration and more time pressure.”

Interruptions in the workplace are growing exponentially, as a result of two key factors: information overload due to ubiquitous technology, and open offices. According to organizational psychologist Matthew Davis, while open offices may foster a symbolic sense of organizational mission and make employees feel more laid back, they promote uncontrolled interactions, higher stress levels and lower concentration and motivation.

In order to maintain an adequate level of productivity in the midst of so much distraction human beings have developed a coping mechanism known as multitasking. The advent of the first handheld digital devices fostered the notion that technology can help us to accomplish several tasks at once. Consequently, multitasking became a must-have skill and the hallmark of efficiency and productivity.

Recently, science has definitively debunked the multitasking myth. A 2009 study by Stanford University concluded that multitasking makes individuals less productive and prone to errors and stress. One by the University of London Research demonstrated that individuals who engage in multitasking experience a slowdown of activity and a drop of their IQ. A Harvard University paper by Dr. Teresa Amabile and her research team found that multitasking “May engender cognitive strategies that allow no time to think creatively. Rather than jolting people into producing creative insight, it may instead make that insight all the more elusive.”

Multitasking lowers efficiency and performance, as contrary to our belief, our brain can only focus on one task at a time. When we attempt to do two things at once, our brain inherently lacks the faculty to execute both tasks successfully. A 2011 McKinsey Quarterly article titled “Recovering from Information Overload” concluded, “Multitasking is a terrible coping mechanism. A body of scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively that multitasking makes humans less productive, less creative and less able to make good decisions. If we want to be effective, we need to stop.”

Multitasking fittingly applies to financial advisers, who often embrace it to manage their busy practices. But, given its scientifically proven downsides, what is a viable alternative to maintain performance and productivity? The answer is: mindfulness.

Mindfulness teaches us the art of paying attention to our thinking, feelings and behavior in a non-judgmental manner. It empowers us to manage our thoughts and single out what is worth our immediate consideration among myriad of distractions. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness that prevents us from hyper-focusing on distractions. It helps us to pause and become more conscious of preconceived notions, motivations and preferences that hinder our ability to focus.

The practice of mindfulness can be highly rewarding for cultivating adviser-client relationships. By slowing down, being present and becoming mindful listeners advisers can attain an in-depth understanding of their clients’ true challenges and fears versus a perceived interpretation of the facts. Ultimately, this is an act of compassion that gives clients the tangible proof that they are being heard and that their problems are your first priority.

Mindfulness is much more than what I attempted to describe with a few words. However, I invite you to give mindfulness a try. Practice it to enhance your professional image, build enduring client relationships and grow your business, but most importantly to transform your relationship with yourself and make a difference in your life and those of your clients.

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