How to get your client’s attention

Just about everyone has heard of Dale Carnegie — the author made famous for teaching people around the world How to Win Friends and Influence People (his 1937 bestselling book). In his book, and through subsequent independent observations and research, Carnegie points out that 85% of job success comes from a person’s personality and ability to lead people; only 15% of success can be attributed to technical knowledge.

Given this emphasis on leadership, James Duncan, a specialist in communication with a background in human resources and neuro-linguistic psychology, believes advisors need to learn how to listen, not just talk, to their clients.

Duncan says that to communicate a message effectively, an advisor needs to ascertain how each client hears a message and learn how to frame the essentials in a specific way for each.

“Your mind can only do one thing at a time,” says Duncan. “We may multitask, but this is really our mind’s ability to focus on one thing at a time very quickly.” This is important to know, he says, because if the mind has a conflict — such as an inability to grasp information being offered — it slows down comprehension and communication.

The inability to grasp information when the mind is in conflict is not caused primarily by what the person hears but by what he or she feels or experiences. In other words, “it’s not what you say but how you make them feel.”

Many advisors intuitively know this, particularly during a volatile market swing, when they spend more time reassuring clients. However, Duncan suggests this assurance, or any other salient information, can be lost if an advisor doesn’t factor in how clients hear what they say.

“There are three types of listeners: visual, auditory and kinesthetic,” says Duncan. “Each of these three types has their own distinct life association with each word and phrase. That means, regardless of what type of listener a person is, they will remember an experience far longer than the information provided.”

Duncan’s own experience exemplifies the need to pay attention to how your audience processes information. Roughly 10 years ago, Duncan was given the task of developing a new project within a multinational corporation with no money and little manpower. His team was able to accomplish many of the goals set out, but there was an impasse eventually, and the team absolutely required an injection of money.

Duncan recalls a series of meetings that occurred over the course of a month with his boss, the CEO of the company. Each time, Duncan would enter the meeting asking for $100,000, backing up his request with spreadsheets and descriptive reports. Each time he would be sent away, without a dime and with a request from the CEO to “show him the benefits.”

One day, it dawned on him, recalls Duncan. The next time he met with the CEO, he brought in one piece of paper: a pie chart, broken up into coloured pieces with corresponding percentages. After one glance, the CEO declared, “Now I see what you’ve been trying to tell me.”

Duncan estimates that advisors lose 50% of their audience when they ignore how clients process information.

To identify your client’s unique processing style, Duncan suggests asking open-ended questions, then listening to how clients respond.

Clients who are visual listeners may use words like “look,” “picture,” “clear,” “focus” and “I see what you mean.” Visual listeners are also more likely to speak quickly and look up when they are thinking.

Clients who are auditory listeners will use phrases like “sounds good to me” and “I hear what you are saying.” These listeners tend to be quieter, sometimes shy. They turn to listen with their dominant ear and will often repeat what is being said in an effort to process the information.

Kinesthetic listeners use words like “grasp” and phrases like “tackling the problem” or “get a feel.” According to Duncan, these listeners often, but not always, look down when thinking and often sit with their arms or legs crossed.

“Is it any wonder why we have difficulty communicating with one another?” he asks. “We all live in different worlds.”

Duncan suggests advisors modify the way they deliver their message, depending on the client.

For visual listeners, use graphs, charts, pictures and other visual methods. For audio listeners, remember to use key phrases and auditory references such as “sounds like” or “I hear that.”

For kinesthetic listeners, it is important to use tactile and visceral descriptions — help them understand how rocky the market is by describing it using a metaphor or analogy, and help them understand how your suggestions can work by describing, in detail, how safe and comforted they will feel with their decisions.

“Remember,” says Duncan, “it’s not what you say but how you make them feel that counts.” And when the bottom line requires a client decision, active listening, leading to more effective communication, is what counts.

Article highlights:

  • There are three types of listeners: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.
  • Advisors likely lose 50% of their audience by ignoring how clients uniquely process information.
  • Learn how to deliver your message more effectively to each group.

Originally published in Advisor’s Edge Report in February 2008