Are You Listening? Successful Financial Advisors Do!

by | Oct 23, 2020

Years ago, I thought that listening carefully meant being quiet while the other person talked, making sure that I could repeat back exactly what they said. Then a colleague asked me a simple question that completely shifted how I approach conversations, especially as a financial advisor.

Following an argument at work, I had marched down the hall to my colleague’s office to vent. As I started sharing my outrage at being wronged, she raised her palm for me to stop, and asked “What is my role in this conversation? Am I just listening? Should I agree with you? Or, do you want my honest opinion?”

I have never forgotten the power of that simple question: What is my role in this conversation? It is very direct. And how helpful to know just what the other person really wants from you. Being quiet is just one role. The other two roles she offered were Listening to Agree and Listening to Advise.

german shepherd pup listening

The Difference Between Listening and Hearing

Successful financial advisors soon learn to distinguish between the two!

If the speaker simply wants to vent, then a quiet listener will do. Silence can also look like a lack of interest, so nodding once in a while is all you need to do here.

For someone seeking agreement, periodically throwing in an emphatic “You are right!” or “Yes, they are jerks!” might be just what they are looking for. It shows you are on their side.


However, if someone comes to you for advice, then that requires something more.

They are counting on you to comprehend their situation and then provide input. They need an engaged partner to help them sort out some issue they are facing. This role requires more than simply hearing words; it requires actively listening to understand.

Successful Financial Advisors Listen Well

The best advisors to families of wealth have mastered listening to understand. Clients look to their legal, accounting, and financial advisors’ years of experience to provide wise counsel on complex matters of wealth and estate planning. Clients expect that advisors will engage in a dialogue that draws out critical elements before delivering advice. Top advisors do this very well by asking questions that peel away each layer beneath the surface problem until they hear the client’s underlying motivations. They zero in on why it really matters. This is where they truly serve their clients.

Great listening is an uncommon and highly valued skill. My guess is that most of us believe we are good listeners, but are we really? A Zenger Folkman study found that the best listeners are characterized by a few common factors:

  • They ask questions to promote discovery and insight.
  • They make it a positive experience for the speaker.
  • They are listening to help, rather than listening to identify errors in reasoning or to prepare their own comments.

These might sound easy, but it takes practice to quell the impulse to share our viewpoint or where we disagree.

Really great listening requires staying curious to go deeper and get clear on the speaker’s perspective; and to make sure the speaker experiences the joy of being understood.

Not all conversations require this level of active listening. But, I have yet to meet a client that doesn’t want to receive guidance that is specific to their circumstances and also helps to alleviate their unique concerns. So, dial up your best listening skills to honor the trust they’ve placed in you. They will love you for it!


Mimi Ramsey

Mimi helps individuals and families to navigate the unexpected challenges that new wealth can bring. Whether making decisions about your own estate, a recent inheritance, or an upcoming business transaction, you have realized the transition isn’t as simple as expected.

Being awarded certification by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) means Mimi spent hundreds of hours studying, honing her skills, and demonstrating exceptional proficiency as a coaching professional. She is a proud member of the SeattleCoach Certified community.

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