I love my company. Not all its aspects and not every day. But generally, I love my colleagues and our clients. As I consider our future, one of the things I keep thinking about is what I must pass on to those following me. Is there something I do pretty well that others can learn? Most people in our organization will say I connect well with clients, but I have struggled with the idea that it’s something one can teach.

I tried to come up with some diagnostics that might explain why I relate well to people. In doing so, I came up with a concept called “PLACE,” which stands for “preparation, listening, acceptance, compassion and evolution.”

Preparation is the first step I use in relating to people like clients, business contacts or employees. When I serve on a board, field a phone call from someone interested in becoming a client, or go meet with someone, I prepare by learning everything I can about them. I must be curious about who they are, where they come from, and what things interest them. I’m a little compromised since I’m not on Facebook or Instagram. But through LinkedIn and Google I can often find out what the people I’m meeting with do, where they went to school, what things they support, where they live. We have something in common with everyone if we just look. This preparation can make it easier to talk with someone, which is something I don’t otherwise find easy to do (it’s probably why I am not very good at social gatherings where I don’t know who I will see).

But you’re also more prepared to meet someone if you’re interested in things besides financial planning. The books and magazines we read, the movies we watch and the podcasts we listen to also provide us with a depth and breadth that help us relate to others. So meeting preparation means trying to create the highest possible level of awareness.

The next thing to do is listen. To really do it, you need to be completely absorbed in what other people are saying. You can’t always be trying to figure out what you are going to say to them during a conversation or how you can impress them. You simply have to be with them. I’ve said before that I don’t like the word “prospect.” It makes an object out of a person. When I meet with someone interested in our firm, I spend almost the entire time asking questions and trying to understand what’s most important to them. I often play back what I hear them say, not because it’s a good technique, but because I want to make sure I understand them. I always ask them if it’s OK to take notes, but when doing so I try to engage again quickly after I write something down so that I’m more than a scribe. You’ve probably had the experience of meeting with doctors and having them update electronic medical records as they consult with you, and maybe you felt it put a wall between the two of you. Writing notes gets in the way of looking someone in the eye and hearing them. I pull out materials about our firm only in meetings where the person I’m talking to is already reticent.

When you listen, you feel included in the other person’s life—they’re offering you a privilege, but one that comes with responsibility, one of which is to experience sympathetic joy for the good things that happen to them.

With that in mind, one of the things you might do when you read about someone you know in the paper is to clip it and send it to them with a personal note. When someone does something you appreciate—again, write them a personal note. Sympathetic joy is the belief that we are not diminished by the success or happiness of others.

The next step in relating is to show someone acceptance. We don’t need to agree with everything that a client says, but we need to accept it. We need to like the clients with whom we work, otherwise it isn’t fair to be working with them. Not everyone is a good fit. If someone continually says things I find offensive, I need to reconsider the relationship. Our firm is large enough that we are usually able to find the right employees to match the values of our diverse clients. But some people are so disrespectful that the relationship is not worth it to the firm.

But acceptance helps us remember that our service is to others, not ourselves. At times in the client relationship things can go wrong, and my first reaction in a disagreement may be to defend myself. But if I’m doing that, I’m not accepting what the client is experiencing or feeling. Until I fully accept and integrate it, I can’t do anything to make things better. It doesn’t matter if it seems unfair to me.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said it best: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

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