In the words of facebook coo Sheryl Sandberg, “The world’s gone social. And women are more social than men.” We have all read the statistics of males versus females when it comes to communication styles. The studies center around how many words they each speak in one day, the different way their brains function, and who is more likely to use social media. In my opinion, these gender studies are meaningless. What really matters—what sustains a thriving financial advisory business—are not the statistics, which seemingly contradict one another, but whether a positive or negative experience travels faster, how one might go about sharing that experience, and then, once shared, which ones people are more apt to remember.

Take, for example, new research by the University of Maryland that blames the increased level of the “language protein,” called FOXP2, in female brains as the reason “Chatty Cathys” exist. (Oh, great! Negative name recognition!) The assertion is that gender differences in early language acquisition and development in children are well documented and that, on average, girls tend to speak earlier and with greater complexity than boys of the same age.

Conversely, Mark Liberman, a distinguished professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, has a wide-ranging archive of examinations into whether women talk more than men. The findings suggest that the answer is “no.”

Louann Brizendine, a practicing physician at the University of California-San Francisco and author of The Female Brain, reports that women use an average of 20,000 words a day while men use only 7,000 words. This piece of data, which has been repeated by several journalists, sounds more sexist than reliable as a scientific statement.

I wonder sometimes if I should blame my cynicism about gender statistics on personal biases or if I can attribute it to a heightened sense of client needs and loyalty, regardless of one’s sex.
Calculating words may be a start, or an observation along the way, to understanding communication styles. But it’s recognizing when we tend to talk and what we are actually doing with the words that yields greater insights that are useful in our everyday practices. Take, for example, a work-at-home wife who crafts for a living and then her husband, who works in an office. The odds are very high that he speaks many more words in a day than she does, simply because he has to. 

Pondering whether the setting plays a role, an American linguist, Marjorie Swacker, who has performed many gender studies, made an observation at one academic conference. She saw that women presented 40% of the papers and were 42% of the audience, yet they asked only 27% of the questions. Swacker found that their questions were, on average, shorter in length by half than the men’s questions. Here, the environment plays a larger role than FOXP2 levels in the female brain.

You may have all heard some variation on the following rule of thumb: People who have had bad experiences or a problem are x times more likely to tell someone else than people who have had good experiences. The spreading of negativity is most often a result of helping others avoid danger of various degrees: the unscrupulous mechanic, a self-serving advisor or an unsanitary restaurant. In these instances, we receive and process negative information more quickly and remember and respond to that information more consistently than is the case for positive information, according to a study entitled Bad is Stronger than Good by Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer and Vohs in 2001.

Does that mean that if your client has a negative experience, he or she is hardwired to process and share that experience over a positive one?  If you believe this, the adverse impact on your advisory firm could be thought of in terms of:

1.Client disengagement versus retention;
2. Negative testimonies versus positive;
3. Lost opportunities with prospects versus new client acquisition.

The positive experiences, by contrast, are those that set a firm apart—the potential differentiators that go beyond the basic expectations and which can be used to reinforce loyalty or deliver great customer proficiencies. These affirmations are the drivers on which wowing the client yields a real and positive payoff.  

Proactive negative deflection takes less energy than producing a positive. If it’s true that negative impressions spread more rapidly than positive ones, your primary focus should be to “avoid the opportunity to screw up.” You should also go the extra mile to produce “feel good” moments.

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