Cats are curious creatures. Winston, our four year old Tonkinese, reverts to kitten status when we roll a ball across the floor or toss a toy mouse up in the air. He is innately curious; we activate that curiosity with a ball or toy.
We of the human species are, like our feline friends, insatiably curious. We want to know more than is knowable. We ask questions the “Why am I here?” and “From whence did I come?”, questions that tease and haunt at the same time.
Clients are no less curious than anyone else. Like Dorothy and her friends arriving at Oz, they want to peek behind the curtain from time to time, curious as to how Wall Street works or how a company they own makes money. They are curious, but often fail to ask questions because they do not want to feel either unsophisticated or ignorant. This “cat and mouse” game between advisor and client may be unvoiced but stepping around important questions does not serve us or our clients well.
How do we create and optimize client curiosity? Are there steps we can take to encourage open dialogue, creating safe places and spaces for their questions? Put another way, how do we create a “climate of curiosity” with our clients that will deepen our relationship and build new bridges of communication?
First, you must tap into your own curiosity “gene” before you can create curiosity in anyone else. What do you want to know or know better? Are there concepts where your head may nod while inside your mind is unsure? Find at least one facet of our work that interests you and then learn that one thing well. It may be mastering the nuances of balance sheets or becoming more competent and comfortable with portfolio construction. Where is curiosity knocking on your mind’s door?
Second, find ways to share what you have learned in client conversation. Have an approved visual you can show and/or give them. In the course of a review, say, “The other day, my curiosity about currency futures got the best of me. Here’s what I learned.” Your clients are hearing more about currency fluctuations. They may nod their heads and yet not know anything about the subject. Show your knowledge by first admitting you didn’t know much about a topic. Then share what you have learned in a way that shows the learning journey you took.
Third, weave curiosity into most if not all of your client contacts. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know about _______, but will find out and get back to you.” We teach best when we lead people down the road that begins with our own curiosity. In doing so, we affirm the value curiosity brings to life and relationships while becoming learners with our clients. There is no better way to stimulate conversation, grow intellectually, and validate learning as a part of our advisory practice. Optimize curiosity and learn with your clients, you will with them go to new places brimming with new opportunities to serve them better.