A wealthy client's fiduciary needs are front and center, but underneath the financial conversation is a human being with depth and emotion. Wealth intensifies that emotion, and also intensifies the potential for mistrust in relationships. If a client does not feel heard, they retreat within. The advisor/client relationship shrinks to the level of transaction. Eventually, the energy dissipates and the relationship becomes hollow and empty-or worse, it becomes hostile.

I recently listened to a senior executive who was dealing with a liquidity event. When I asked if she was using an advisor, she replied, "No, no. It's too draining. I'm not always clear whether an advisor is in sales or in service. Sales I don't want. Service is what I need."

How would you listen to this client if she came to you for financial services?    What kind of internal reaction would you have to her comment about sales?

The sales comment is actually a nugget of opportunity. Move beyond your internal reaction and move toward deep listening. Try an inviting question. During the actual conversation, I waited a few moments after she made the comment, and then asked, "Have you ever felt served by an advisor?"

"Oh yes," she quickly replied. I encouraged her to tell me about her former advisor. She spoke at length of this person as a friend and was deeply saddened by his death.

This kind of response creates a golden opportunity for the listener. And responding with empathy builds a bridge of trust. The inner strain relaxes as the wealthy client feels fully heard. With sincere curiosity and patient questioning, an advisor can gather a rich description of what really works for a client. This can save an advisor years of hit and miss.

As a wealth advisor, your future depends on building trust with your clients. The two keys to building trust are your willingness to discipline your internal reactions and your commitment to practice quality listening.

It is not necessary to be a psychologist in order to practice self-awareness and empathy. Nor should the wealth advisor attempt to analyze or diagnose the emotional lives of their clients. The goal of awareness and listening is to build trust. The result of this trust will be a decrease in conflict and an increase in financial success.

If the advisor listens with empathy and a client opens the door to reveal not only strain but also deep emotional turmoil, the advisor should act as a trusted friend, referring the client to a psychological professional, then following up to demonstrate consistency and sincerity.

In fact, the advisor should be careful not to move too far into the emotional struggles of the client. When the advisor remains focused on the fiduciary aspects of the relationship, the client learns that the advisor has clear boundaries and will remain, first and foremost, on the financial tasks.