Acknowledging Noise

The agenda set for a client meeting is predictable: Anything changed since we last met? Is there anything that keeps you up at night? Review the account. Re-visit past and current recommendations? Is there anything else? “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 statement numbers, people are hearing more voices outside a conversation than any one of us can imagine. What we hear seems obvious: Review performance, ask questions about the client’s feelings, 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 – I call it “noise” – that cannot be turned off because they are sitting with us. That noise may be the disappointment of their college-age daughter who is coming home after a less-than-stellar semester. The noise could be rumors of possible “restructurings” where the client works 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 have a microphone in the client’s mind.

And yes, we have had our own noise since the first of the year. Market volatility, congressional investigations, special counsel curiosity, the Syrian conflict, North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and scores of other issues drone 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 our thoughts that simply will not go away.

More than any time in memory, we need to recognize the noise both in our lives and the lives of those we serve.

As you meet with clients, look for signs of 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.

Find the courage and give yourself permission to say to your 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 signaling 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 it one step further. Say, “Perhaps we need to delay making any decisions today, put a comma in our visit, and get together in a couple of weeks.”

When we acknowledge a client’s disposition, we give a priceless, loving gift. We live in a clamorous world – and it is getting louder by the day! Most of what needs doing for a client can wait another few days or weeks. What cannot wait is the client seeing in and hearing from us an awareness that their life and well-being is the most important item on our agenda today or any day. Learn more about noise, how to recognize it and address it in chapter 3 of Cadence of Care: Imagining a Transformed Advisor-Client Experience.  

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