Benefit 4: Your questions will reveal your clients’ priorities and important issues.
When you ask your clients questions, you can reveal their personal land mine and gold mine stories—and you can save yourself time by learning those important things early before mistakes are made.

For example, an advisor once told me about a time he spent 15 minutes giving an investment presentation to somebody, telling the gentleman about a secondary offering available in a biotech company. At the end of the presentation, the man said, “No way! … My brother-in-law lost his shirt in biotech when the FDA failed to approve a drug.”

This advisor lamented, “I wish I’d asked how he felt about biotech investments before I gave my brilliant presentation.”

Agreed. We always find ourselves further ahead as a result of asking than we will be by telling. And by asking well-thought-out questions, we help clients sift through their own priorities and force them to decide what is important enough to act on.

We can even get revealing answers by asking questions as benign as, “What is it that brings you here today?” which is something a good doctor might start with when examining a patient. Because advisors have been taught to focus on possibilities (goals), they might miss the opportunities they would find helping people manage financial pain and financial priorities.

Here are some questions to stimulate clients and help them sort out their priorities.

• What is the most important financial issue in your life at this moment?
• What is going on in your life right now that could have a major financial impact?
• What do you see as the biggest threat to your financial security?
• If you had all the money you would ever need, what issue would you first address?
• What do you want your money to do for you?

Questions like these help clients figure out what matters most—and helps you in the process of advising decide what matters most.

Benefit 5: Good questions raise personal awareness and often help save clients from themselves.
Most of us don’t have to look much further than the bathroom mirror to see someone who has done something really stupid with his or her money. Most of us have stories about how at some point we threw hard-earned money down a sinkhole. But some of us are more aware of our weaknesses than others, who know only subconsciously and continually fall into self-sabotaging money patterns: They might mismanage their debt. They might fall for too-good-to-be-true investment “opportunities” touted by golfing buddies. They might fail to organize their records or bring logic to their financial plans. They might lack diverse investments. Or they might simply be in complete denial about their disjointed financial state.

If you ask your clients good questions, you can help bring some understanding of these destructive financial habits and patterns to the surface and show your clients how to pursue more constructive money behavior.

Consider the client who might never act on your advice because they were cheated once and now suspect everybody is cheating them. Once you talk about this hyper-suspicion about money, the client might start to take your advice and stop working against their own best interests.

I’ve found this simple question to be a good place to start: “What would you describe as your best and worst experiences with money so far?” That question raises clients’ self-awareness about the topic.

People come to you for direction and answers. But the wisest path isn’t necessarily found in the answers you’ve already formulated beforehand. Sometimes it’s found instead in the questions you bring to the dialogue. This lets you put the light on the client and their story. And you can see the difference it makes in your relationships with them.

Mitch Anthony is the creator of Life-Centered Planning, the author of 12 books for advisors, and the co-founder of and LifeCentered

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