Grieving clients need more than tissues

Advisers need to find ways to show empathy for more than just widows and widowers, but divorcees and parents

Oct 7, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

By Liz Skinner

Knowing how to talk with grieving clients isn't just relevant for widows and widowers, but can important for dealing with clients who are divorcing or even experiencing an empty nest, a grief professional said.

“An adviser's success in being able to skillfully and successfully walk clients through the toughest times in their life will decide whether advisers meet boom or doom,” said Amy Florian, chief executive of Corgenius Inc. She counsels financial professionals on how to talk to grieving clients.

Financial advisers should ask suffering clients open-ended questions, such as, “What is it like?” or “What do you wish people knew about what you're going through?” and really listen to the answers, she said.

Advisers who can say something meaningful in these darkest moments and know enough not to say, “I'm sorry,” but instead offer a relevant memory or story about the person who was lost will build trust with that client, Ms. Florian said.

Also, she recommends never handing clients a box of tissues. That move signals a desire to have the client finish up with the tears so the meeting can move on. Instead, keep tissues on the desk for clients to use when they want them, but let them know it is OK for them to get upset.

“Grieving clients need to get the experience out on the table in order to heal,” Ms. Florian said.

Advisers often ask her how to acknowledge the death of a client's spouse or child after a year or two have passed.

One adviser didn't know whether he should say something to his clients on the two-year anniversary of the day when their daughter and two grandchildren were murdered. Ms. Florian recommended the adviser call the client and maybe send a card with a small gift, like a gift card for a massage or to a coffee bar, offering “something that could provide a little respite from the grief.”

“The more awful the circumstances are surrounding the death, the more isolated people often are because people don't want to say the wrong thing, so they tend to say nothing,” Ms. Florian said. “Let them know that you understand the grief isn't done in two years.”

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