The self-centered self-delusion.

Your clients live in their own world. You live in yours. Is it possible to tune into clients well enough in conversation to break out of the gravitational pull of your planet and make a permanent landing on theirs? Only if you have a good understanding of the nature of the gravitational pull of your own planet and have the empathetic willpower to launch through the atmosphere that keeps you hinged to your own concerns.

I’m talking about developing superior listening skills. The advisor who demonstrates the best skill sets of hearing and comprehending wins the client’s heart, soul and business.

I remember years ago reading about a study conducted on the communications skills of investment advisors. The findings, if nothing else, confirmed how easy it is to overestimate one’s own empathy. What the researchers found, in a nutshell, was this:

Seventy-one percent of respondents said they believed that their clients were content with their communication skills, yet 57% of the clients stated that their representative was falling short of their expectations in communication. Think of the disparity this way: Almost three of four advisors think they are just fine, and almost three out of five clients disagree.

If your relationship is to progress, your client must be much more impressed with your listening skills than they are with your presentation skills. It’s possible to be the greatest presenter in the room and yet still be the worst communicator. Don’t we all know someone who fits this description? Isn’t this person sometimes you or me?

A study on effective communication from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh found that there are four major factors (within ourselves) interfering with effective listening, especially in any sales and marketing setting. These are the gravitational forces and instincts that keep us trying to pull people toward our planet instead of making a successful landing on theirs. For the sake of recall, I have formed the following acronym (SEED) to identify the four factors that keep us from really tuning in. Think of them as “the seeds of client discontent.”

S – Self-Focus: We are simply so concerned with our own agenda and pushing that agenda that we can’t tune in to the speaker.

E – Egocentricity: We simply like to hear the sound of our own voice, and our favorite topics are what we have done, what we think and how successful we are. Egocentricity also places more emphasis on being witty, clever and smart than actually hearing the other party.

E – Experiential Superiority: When a client is talking, we start thinking “I’ve already heard this story before” (or something very close to it) and find it difficult to resist the impulse to jump in and reveal that we “already know where this is going” or to offer input on the assumed objective of what they are saying.

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