The agenda set for a client meeting is predictable: Anything changed since we last met?  Review of recent quarter or the past 6 or 12 months.  Re-visit the asset allocation.  Any recommended changes?  “Good to visit with you.  See you next week at the symphony gala”, etc. etc.

I deeply believe that no matter the client, the day of the week, or the numbers, people are hearing more voices outside a conversation than any one of us can possibly imagine.  The voice we hear seems obvious: “Review performance, ask questions about the client’s feelings in light of findings, offer an idea or two, and then say “Good-bye” as we move to the next item on our schedule.

The client, however, is hearing other voices –call it “noise” – that simply cannot be turned off because they are sitting with us.  In my book, Cadence of Care, I address this challenge in Chapter Three, “Focused Listening” using an orchestral conductor’s score.  These voices—the instruments playing in the client’s concerto—may be the sound of their college-age daughter who’s coming home after a less-than stellar semester.  It could be rumors where the client works of possible “restructurings” or the little bump the client felt on his neck as he shaved that morning.  We will rarely if ever hear these voices, but they all play simultaneously in the client’s mind.

And yes, we have our own concerto playing.  Market volatility, political debates, interest rate changes, global unrest, drone on in the background.  Because we are so focused on getting the work done, we may not give ourselves – or our clients – permission to acknowledge the welter and whine of noise that simply will not go away.

At every turn in our advisory journey, we must acknowledge the noise both in our lives and the lives of those we serve.  As you meet with clients, look for signs signaling distraction or emotional dis-ease.  Listen to words more critically, notice client gestures, and observe keenly client reactions to what you say and how you say it.

And then find the courage – really give yourself permission – to say to the client, “I sense you are a bit unsettled about something that may have nothing to do with our conversation.”  When you say that, notice the client relax, maybe even smile.  When that happens, you know you have found just how loud the noise is in their lives.  Listen to the client’s response.  Acknowledge and validate whatever the noise may be.  And then take one further step.

Say, “Perhaps we need to delay making any decisions today, put a comma in our visit, and get back together in a couple of weeks.”  When we acknowledge client pain, noise, uncertainty, even fear, we give a priceless, loving gift.  We live in a very noisy world – and getting noisier by the day!  Most of what needs to be done for a client can wait another few days or weeks.  What can’t wait is the client seeing in and hearing from us this awareness that their life and well-being is the most important item on our agenda today or any day.

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