All of our lives—our families, our colleagues and our clients—have been upended by the current crisis. If there is any silver lining to be found, it is our ability to adapt to extraordinary circumstances and to bring into focus the points of humanity that bring us together even at a time when we are forced to stay apart.

If it’s true, as the old adage says, that “adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it,” then we as a society and as individuals are demonstrating our fortitude daily in ways that we’d never imagined.

The same holds true for those of us working in the financial advisory space. What will our current crisis reveal to your clients about your character?

Most of our clients are likely anxious, and they are looking for a steady hand and an empathetic ear—a port in the storm. You don’t have to have all the answers to be that safe harbor, but you do need to have their trust.

I believe that a genuine, deep-seated trust is the key underpinning of a successful advisor-client advisor relationship.

You can quickly build trust in these uncertain times by not focusing on selling. I believe that a sales-focused mindset has trapped many advisors into thinking that sales should be their goal, and that concepts like values and doing good—things that demonstrate character—are to be pursued in their off-hours.

In reality, leading with character has never been more necessary, and people of good character build trust readily. Trusting someone is a natural reaction to being heard, and you can do good by doing better for your clients simply by listening—really listening— to them. When you have a relationship built on trust, you don’t just have a client, you have a friend and eventually, a member of your extended family.

Here are a few principles and observations about leading with character and developing trust. You might want to keep these ideas in mind as you approach managing your advisory practice in these difficult times:

1. All that matters are the things that are important to your client. Asking questions about what is important to them allows you to make an emotional connection.  

I learned a very effective opening question from writer and teacher Bill Bachrach. It is: “What’s important about money to you?” The answers to this open-ended question almost always leads to a client opening up and sharing their most personal and real hopes, fears and goals. And right away, because I’m listening and not talking, we are establishing, or reestablishing, a relationship built on trust.

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