Advisor Notes: 'Ask'
Notes and learnings from Dan Solin's 'Ask'
Advisor Notes is a new series highlighting books with messages or learnings to help you grow as a financial advisor and business owner.
These aren't reviews, nor are they summaries in any complete sense. Instead, I am cherry-picking my favorite parts that will impact your business the most.
If you want to learn more, go to the source and buy the book!
I decided to begin Advisor Notes with a book I read last fall. Dan Solin's “Ask: How to Relate to Anyone” was recommended by a friend inspired by Solin's teachings. In fact, after reading the book, I accused him of Solin-ing me the next time we spoke!
When conversing, my friend consistently reflects back my questions with his own questions to elicit more information and keep me talking, which is precisely a skill that Solin suggests we develop. Once I realized what was happening, I started returning his questions with questions. And like that, we had torn apart the matrix.
But seriously, asking questions is powerful stuff, and what advisor couldn't benefit from learning how to ask more, listen better, and talk less?
Let's dig in.
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Two Billiard Balls Bouncing Off Each Other
Financial advisors love financial planning and investing. That's the best explanation for why we talk so much in meetings. Less complimentary is the thought that we love the sound of our own voice. However, at worst, and probably most common, is the idea that we aren't confident enough in our skills as financial advisors to stop talking, take focusing breaths, and listen to our clients.
Maybe they'll become clients if I impress John and Shirley with all my data and know-how. Or, maybe Tina and Jack won't ask me why recent investment performance was so bad or why I use XYZ fund.
As Solin writes in the Preface:
It's not about us. It's not about trying to be witty, charming or entertaining. It's not about conveying information or demonstrating expertise. It's about listening to others and asking them questions.
I used to believe what I was saying was more important than what I was hearing. Instead of really listening, I was just waiting for the other person to stop talking. I had an agenda and was eager to convey it.
As a consequence, my interactions with others were like two billiard balls bouncing off each other. Making contact sometimes just drove the other person further away.
Do you ever have a similar feeling?
Then I did some research. What I found was stunning. → Page 2
Two billiard balls bouncing off each other. What a great metaphor. Do you ever feel like that in meetings with prospects or clients?
I sure have. Sometimes it has felt like the more I say, the more I push the client away.
No, no, no! Hold on, Mrs. Smith! I'm trying to inform and educate you. Why can't you see that?
By the way, I should note that I firmly believe clients do not want to be educated. Our advisory work can be educational, but educating our clients sounds paternalistic. If they sit in a room with you, they want your collaboration and consultation to help them build a better future than they otherwise could.
They want an outcome.
They certainly didn’t hire you to deepen their understanding of standard deviation as a risk measurement.
How do you find out how your client or prospective client would like you to help?
You ask, of course.
What is engagement?
In Chapter 3, titled "Ever Try to Engage a Goldfish?" Solin offers a 'new twist on engagement.'
Let's first agree on what’s meant by "engagement.” When I ask audiences for a definition, I usually get an answer that centers on the idea that the other person is totally interested in what I'm saying.
There's a fundamental flaw in this view. The problem is that it's you who's engaged, and not your listener. You are commanding the floor, and you are directing the flow of the conversation. No wonder you're engaged. But your listener? Rather than nodding in assent, they might just be nodding off.
If your goal is to achieve a higher level of engagement in your relationships, flip this idea on its head. If you want to engage with someone, you'll need to step back, stop talking, and listen. → Pages 40-41
How do you rate your meetings with clients? Are they successful if the client is ‘engaged’ with what you are saying? How do you measure that?
When you feel you have led a successful meeting, what may be happening is that you were engaged, never mind your client.
It turns out our brains are more engaged when talking than listening. Here’s some fun research from the book:
While the average person speaks between 100 to 125 words a minute, the brain of a listener can process at the rate of 400 words a minute. Think about that a moment. A speaker might be wholly engaged while talking at 100 words a minute, but 75 percent of the processing capacity of the listener is free to wander - which is precisely what happens. → Page 42
Add ever-present distractions like phones and screens, especially in a world where many of us meet with our clients over Zoom, and advisors constantly throw water on the fragile kindling of attention.
I am reminded of a quote about 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his rival William Gladstone.
“Legend has it that British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his political rival William Gladstone had a date with the same woman on different nights. When asked her impression of the two men, she said, "When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.” —From Forbes
Here’s the point:
Most advisors think they are the most interesting person in every conversation, so they talk, talk, and talk. Fade this. Let your clients walk away thinking they are the ‘cleverest’ person in your town. You do this by listening.
Why You Are Addicted to Talking
Solin cites several studies that highlight brain chemistry for listeners versus talkers. Essentially, talking about yourself is a massive dopamine hit.
While few of us would self-identify as conversational narcissists, in his book, The Pursuit of Attention, Derber found almost everyone in a conversation sought to redirect attention to themselves and their experiences. This is not surprising once you understand brain chemistry: it feels really good to talk about ourselves.→pg 92
Solin notes that the brains of talkers are essentially “on fire.” Listeners are different, with their brains disconnecting every 12-18 seconds to help them process the exchange.
It gets more interesting, especially for advisors who must learn to listen and elicit information as a core skill: if a listener feels like you aren’t giving them space to talk, a prerequisite in any healthy conversation, not only do they not receive their hit of dopamine but they start receiving the stress hormone cortisol!
Now the limbic brain—known as the emotional brain—takes over. The listener will feel anxious and stressed and may react the way we do when confronted with dangerous situations. →pg 93
Stop and think about this for a moment.
Talking equals pleasure. Listening equals pain.
Which one do you want for your clients?
It’s doubtful you intend your conversation to cause pain, anxiety and stress, yet that’s precisely what occurs if you are doing the majority of the talking. →pg 93
If you have ever wondered why advisors, coaches, and therapists get paid, in part, to listen, it is this point: Listening is painful, and no one else in our clients’ lives will offer this service to them.
So you must.
One of the reasons I don’t practice a tight surge process for client meetings is that I like having space for clients to take our conversation where they’d like to go. I think of the client experience as excellent proactive financial planning, meaningful conversation, and (always) time for a cup of coffee.
I don’t want my clients to feel rushed out the door after 45 minutes because my next meeting is coming in. I want space for them, and they are partly paying me to offer this space.
Because people want someone to listen to them —their hopes, dreams, and worries. And in a deafening world, it’s your job to do it.
But How Do We Advise?
After years of education, practice, and training, you finally become a lead financial advisor.
There’s just one problem.
How the heck do you advise people?
Most of us start by leaning on our newfound expertise and offering ‘advice’ to anyone who will listen, even better if they’ll pay us!
However, as any advisor who has practiced for a year or two can attest, offering advice is straightforward, but advising is rife with challenges. More, getting clients to implement your advice is the holy grail. And here’s the landmine beneath every step, people tend not to enjoy receiving advice, especially if it’s unsolicited (I sure as heck don’t).
In my experience, clients want information, insight, and personalized guidance. So it’s less, ‘here’s what I advise you to do,’ and more, ‘here are some options and the inherent tradeoffs. What are your thoughts?’
Solin argues that you don’t become a great financial advisor by giving advice. Instead, you become a great financial advisor by learning how to ask questions. So, Solin says, stop making declarative sentences at all. Instead, ask questions.
Don’t end any sentence with a period. Instead, try and make every statement a question. → page 97
But then, after a couple of questions, surely I can offer my advice, right?
The best advice is no advice at all. If you really want to help someone and build a better relationship, work with them as a partner towards a joint solution. → Page 110
This is precisely the issue many new advisors confront. They thought they were in the business of financial knowledge. But financial chops are just a prerequisite. We are in the business of insight, connection, and high-EQ interpersonal change management. We are synthesizers of vast tracts of knowledge, experience, and human understanding. And we use the nebulous substance distilled from our questioning to lovingly guide our clients toward their goals.
“Only by offering emotional support and then actively gathering information about the situation will any advice you offer be heard.” →Page 110
Then, let the person make their own decision because they are allowed. They have agency, just like you. Just like me.
We are more consultants than advice-givers.
We are more elicitors than persuaders.
We are more questioners than answerers.
This is the work. Just ask.
There is a ton more here, and I highly suggest you buy the book. It’s a quick and enlightening read with practical suggestions for implementing the book’s research-based insights in your day-to-day life.
Solin also has several great resources on his website here: https://danielsolin.com/