Five easy steps to disarm a worked-up client

Prescription: Inquire, describe, empathize, add prospective and provide solutions

Apr 24, 2013 @ 11:57 am

By Liz Skinner

Many advisers cringe when clients call or come into their office full of fear, anger and other strong emotions. But they instead should see these visits as chances to strengthen that relationship by leading the client from his or her distressed state toward opportunity, according to MarketPsyche LLC managing director Richard Peterson.

Advisers dealing with an emotional client should begin by asking about the person's problem or concerns and then listening in a way that shows they genuinely care. This first step will help begin to ease the client, Dr. Peterson told advisers at the Raymond James Financial Services Inc. national adviser conference in Dallas.

“When clients feel cared about, it begins to eliminate distress," said Dr. Peterson, a medical doctor and financial adviser.

Next, advisers should describe back to the client what they see as the problem the client is struggling with, such as saying, "It sounds like you feel like you won't be able to keep up with tuition increases and pay for your son's college."

Dr. Peterson recommends saying, "Let's pause for a second," and then recapping the client's concerns.

The next step is empathizing with clients to validate their feelings, essentially showing them that they are understood. Consider a phrase such as, "I don't blame you one bit for being angry," he said.

This third step helps the person feel seen and heard, and works to further eliminate the anguish, leading him or her back to a place of reason, Dr. Peterson said.

After connecting with clients through the first three steps, the adviser can add their own perspective, which takes the client from the emotional side of the brain to re-engage reason, he said.

For example, the adviser could say something like, "Uncertainty has pushed a lot of investors into bonds, but low rates mean there's little return. Why don't we look at alternative income investments for this low-rate environment?"

Finally, the adviser provides solutions that bring the client from reason to seeing opportunity, Dr. Peterson said.

The worst things advisers can do in reaction to emotionally charged clients are to say, "Don't worry," argue with them or ignore the problem and try to distract them.

"All emotions linger until they are actively discharged," Dr. Peterson said. "Distrust builds, and what builds that adviser relationship is you helping them get it out."

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