Financial advisors can make a difference if they learn how to support clients who are dealing with death, loss and illness, according to grief literacy coach Kathi Balasek.

Saying “I’m sorry” or “I’m so sorry for your loss” just doesn’t cut it.

“That doesn’t continue the conversation. That doesn’t invite the story and it doesn’t invite their feelings and emotions,” she said.

Balasek, who spoke recently at the Retirement Coaches Association conference, said we have been taught to communicate by using “I statements” such as “I feel this” or “I think that.” But when it comes to grief communication today, she said we want to honor the person who is grieving. Financial advisors are in a good position to do that because they know their clients and have built a relationship with them, she said.

The bottom line when dealing with grieving clients is to bring your “E-Game”—namely, empathy. Empathy, she explained, is not putting yourself in other people’s shoes because “other people’s shoes don’t fit you. So, we want to connect in the emotion.”

“I encourage you to meet clients where they are. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. That’s where trust grows,” she said.

To communicate better with a grieving client, she suggested saying something like, “Your husband, John, will be missed. It’s felt by all of us. I loved his sense of humor and his commitment to his children.”

“That sounds so much more supportive and authentic,” she said.

There’s nothing wrong with writing down what we want to say in such situations and practicing often, she added.

Advisors also need to take note of what they should not say to a grieving client, Balasek continued. That starts with sentences that begin with “At least” or “You should.” Typical responses that advisors should avoid include, “At least they didn’t have to suffer any longer,” or “At least your children didn’t have to see him sick for long,” or “They are in a better place.”

Other types of statements that should be avoided include, “You should really get back out there, you are young, you could meet somebody new,” or “You could do more, stay busy, move on, etc.”

She said an “At least” statement is akin to a consolation prize that doesn’t “land” and isn’t supportive. As for the “You should” statements, Balasek said they are manipulative and are inappropriate because most people don’t want to be told what to do.

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