By: Daniel C. Finley

The Empathetic Advisor

It never ceases to amaze me that after twenty plus years in the financial services industry, both as an advisor and as a coach, there is still so much that I learn as I work with individuals on better ways to increase their overall communication skills. A recent example of this would be when one of my advisor clients, who had recently played the role of a prospect during our ten minute role play session, said afterwards, “I felt the most connected when I knew the advisor was listening”.

This brief statement was followed by a lengthy dialogue with others in the group about the value of listening.  Another advisor suggested that we take a page out of Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he describes the four developmental stages of empathetic listening.

The following is an interpretive summary of each of those stages and an example of how it could be utilized when prospects state, “I’ve had it with advisors. They all promise great returns but never deliver.” These stages are not consecutive but independent possibilities when having a conversation and should be scattered throughout your dialogue.

Stage #1: Mimic Content

In this stage you as the listener are merely repeating what you have heard. It is the most basic of all listening skills although be careful as this method can seem a little insulting if used too often during the same discussion. However, it does force you to listen so that you can repeat what has been said.   Example: “So, you’ve had it with advisors, they promise great returns but never deliver?”

Stage #2: Rephrasing Content

In this stage you as the listener merely put the content you have heard from the prospect into your own words. Example: “With your experiences, you don’t believe what advisors have to say anymore?”

Stage #3: Reflecting Feelings

In this stage you as the listener interpret what he/she believes the other person is feeling. It is much more effective because you are focusing on both what is being said as well as the way you believe the speaker feels about what they are saying. Example: “That sounds extremely frustrating.”

Stage #4: Reflecting Feelings and Rephrasing Content

In this stage you as the listener combine stage #2 and #3 to make an authentic connection so that the speaker is feeling understood.  Example: “It sounds like you are really wary of all advisors because many of them have over-promised and under-performed?”

After spending five group coaching sessions with one of my teams, I created the 4 Levels of Empathetic Listening Exercise, an exercise where we role play using a combination of the stages previously discussed.  I have found that each advisor is making a much better connection with their prospects because they have increased not only their listening skills but also their ability to gain trust leading them towards becoming (in the eyes of their prospects) a much more empathetic advisor.

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