Notions

We humans live by story.  Our family of origin and extended family, the community where we were reared, faith and education environments, social constructs, music heard and overheard, and scores of other creeks and streams trickle into the river of our lives.  And yes, from time to time, some authoritarian voice says something we accept without question, piercing every logical or critical filter we have, taking up permanent residence in our minds.  These ideas – western writer Louis L’amour called them “notions” – live and breathe in our consciousness and seldom die.

Both advisors and clients bring their notions – all of them – into the conjoined stream of our work.  Some of these notions live in our collective consciousness.  A few of the more common client notions are “The markets are rigged,” “stocks lose money,” “cash in the bank is safe,” and “I don’t believe in insurance.” I’ve heard them all and when I do my mental reaction is, “Said what?” followed by an attempt to deconstruct the notion with the client doing the heavy lifting.

How do we address inaccurate, but passionately held client notions?  It’s a process that begins by asking, “Can you tell me where and when you first heard that?”  The idea here is to focus on the notion rather than the client.  You may want to blurt out, “That’s the lamest idea I’ve ever heard!” but that would only put the client on the defensive.  Go beyond the client to the source.  “Tell me where and when you first heard that.” And then listen to the story, picking up all those extra bits of information the client shares, revealing insights into how they understand money, investing, and the markets.  You will learn much about your client asking that one simple question.

Second, respond to your client’s story by saying something like either, “I grew up hearing that same idea,” or, “More than a few of our clients have shared with me a similar story.”  When we learn that others share our feelings – whether they are based on fact or fiction—we draw some measure of comfort knowing others see the world our way.  Finding that common ground is where deconstructing notions begins.

Now ask, “May I share something I have learned about that commonly believed idea?”  Everyone enjoys learning something new.  Gaining client permission moves you to what we call “the teachable moment” when facts may – and I emphasize the word “may” – lead the client to a place of greater awareness and knowledge.  In doing so, the client does the heavy lifting, owns with you the process, and enjoys a level of discovery that will help them now and in the future.

Storytellers that we are, our lives fill up with notions of all kinds.  Many of them help us understand our world for the better.  Some of them cripple our ability to make decisions that are in our best interest.  Learn to recognize notions both in yourself and in others.  And when a notion does not pass the factual test, invite the client to share a story.  Lean into and listen to that story finding the teachable moment that creates another place for you to live into the advisor role and serve your clients.

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