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Working with Clients who Repeatedly Reject Your Advice

When your job involves giving financial counsel, there will be days when you wish it didn’t. There will be times when you long for the job satisfaction that could have been yours if only you’d stuck with astrophysics, or baking cupcakes, or castrating pigs — anything that would have spared you from having the umpteenth conversation with the same clients about (fill in the blank):

A. Why you won’t buy the latest “hot stock” for their retirement account
B. Their need to get a grip on overspending
C. The folly of pulling out of the market in an effort at market timing
D. The wisdom of getting back into the market after ignoring (C)
E. The fact that you don’t, in fact, control rates of return

When having such interactions with challenging clients, most advisers just take a deep breath and carry on in the fervent hope for a more fruitful conversation next time around. But there comes a time when you recognize that this strategy is, at best, wishful thinking and, at worst, fiddling while Rome is burning.

Instead of simply hoping for better days to come, you may need to take a more active or assertive approach to the problem. Client behaviours that signal the need for direct action include:

  • unreasonable demands for your time and attention
  • repeated rejection of financially prudent fundamentals
  • constant changes and stalls on their desired course of action

Then there are the indicators that come from your own physical or emotional reactions to the client:

  • persistent dread of an upcoming meeting
  • feelings of contempt or disdain
  • sleeplessness
  • anxiety
  • fantasies about targeted meteor strikes

These internal indicators are not just inconveniences; rather, they are clarion calls to address the fact that some aspect of this client relationship is taking a toll on your well-being. At such times, you have a number of options.

Firing the client. In some cases, saying goodbye to a trying client is the only sensible and ethical thing for an advisor to do. Persistent adherence challenges are among the tip-offs that the time has come to do just that. On those occasions when you do need to remove someone from your book of business, do your best to keep the terminations respectful and cordial. Avoid adding a
layer of shame or sense of failure to either the client or yourself. In addition to making you a ‘class act’, respectful conduct helps keeps you on the right side of professional standards.

Ensure that you are adhering to all regulatory and ethical guidelines with respect to this course
of action, as well as with your firm’s own internal policies. (Wait – your firm doesn’t HAVE an
internal policy about how to fire a client? BadBadNotGood! Fix that problem first.)

Between the two poles of tolerating and firing lie the following:

Stating the obvious. This is particularly effective when you’re at an implementation standstill. By highlighting the fact that you seem to have reached an impasse, that nothing seems to be changing or moving forward in the direction that you thought you’d agreed on, you increase the odds that you can co-create a better path forward. (If you’d like some sample scripts for starting up such conversations, you can find them in Chapter 9 of my book, Advice that Sticks.)

Accepting 100% responsibility for your part of the problem. It is entirely possible that you have contributed to the problem in some way. Maybe you launched prematurely into advice-giving before truly understanding the client? Ignored your own inner voice that this person was not a good fit for your practice? Tolerated snide or deprecating remarks for many meetings in a row? Be prepared to apologize for your missteps, and to ask what they need from you if you decide to move forward together. Humility and curiosity will serve you well in any difficult conversation.

Informing them of the non-negotiables. This may become necessary not only with rude or aggressive clients, but also with those who make demands that are patently at odds with your firm’s own investment philosophy or way of doing things. A firm set of guidelines helps ambivalent clients make up their own mind about your suitability for them, and keeps them in line if they do decide to remain with you.

Figuring out what you CAN agree on. What is the client currently motivated to do that will move them towards a better life? How can you participate in that? The Plan B or Plan C that clients ARE ready to act on is far superior to the Plan A that they’re NOT up for.

Making an internal transfer. There will be times when you really do not want to lose the business of a difficult client, or when you simply do not have the authority to fire him or her (e.g. you are an employee of a bank rather than the owner of a private firm). In these cases, you should try to divvy up the contact with other team members, or transfer that client to a willing

Above all, remember this: You don’t need to keep going at it alone. Advanced training, coaching and case consultation can all be tremendously helpful here. The personal side of advising is every bit as complex as the technical aspects of advising, AND every bit as learnable. Admittedly, it takes time and effort to do that learning, but the benefits accruing to your team’s
well-being and your own job satisfaction will be well worth it in the end.

Need some ideas for further skill development? Here are some steps for you to consider

  1. Sign up for my newsletter.
  2. Explore the various offerings at the Financial Transitionist® Institute. You cannot beat the training or the learning community to be found there.
  3. Join one of my case consultation Mastermind groups. These monthly meetings include real-life advising challenges shared by group members, and related teachings from me. Contact me for more information regarding openings for new members.

The Universe’s Way of Slenderizing My Thighs? One Woman’s Search for Meaning

Some weeks back, I wrote an article about the high levels of personal depletion that I was observing all around me. The post was titled “Shot, but too stubborn to fall down”, and it received a lot of attention. It seemed that people were hungry for the psychologically sophisticated advice that was the take-home message of the article: “Fall down, dammit. Fall down, and stay there for a while. Do it voluntarily, pre-emptively, proactively, before your mind and/or your body remove all choice from you…”

So guess what I did on the weekend? I fell down, dammit. I fell down and broke my arm while enjoying a lovely morning skate at my cottage on Lake Manitoba. I got up, drove myself to the little country hospital near my cottage, bit down on a stick while they casted me, and drove back to the cabin while contemplating all the ways in which a fractured arm did not figure into my plans. Then I took the pain medication the nice doctor had given me, and all contemplation ceased for a while!

But now there’s plenty of time for pondering – time that would normally have been taken up with baking shortbread or wrapping Christmas gifts or shovelling out from the blizzard that is currently raging outside my door. Pondering is one of the few things left for me to do with my diminished wee life for the next five weeks, and I intend to do it well.

Several people have asked me already what I’m supposed to be learning from this event, what purpose it is meant to serve in my life. My inner smartass has a ready response — Clearly, keeping me from baking shortbread is the universe’s way of slenderizing my thighs – but I keep this response to myself. One doesn’t wish to appear unspiritual.

Years of being a psychologist– of bearing witness to people’s struggles to understand events ranging from the merely unexpected to the truly astonishing or shocking—have given me a different perspective on the matter of meaning. Meaning is not so much discovered, I believe, as it is created or assigned by the person who is committed to having a meaningful life. Depending on the day, that awareness is either comforting or discomfiting to me. The good news is that I can stop trying to read the unfathomable mind of the Almighty, and trust that any necessary guidance or direction will be provided to me in good time. The hard news is that, in the meantime, it’s my job to settle down and pay closer attention to my own heart and mind, to notice and to tell the truth about what’s working (or not) now that life has been altered.

So that’s what my bum arm and I will be up to over the next few weeks. I’ll be heading back to the cabin with my well-worn copy of Greg McKeown’s brilliant book, Essentialism. For the fifth or sixth year in a row, I’ll spend time reading the book and looking at what’s been emerging in both my personal and professional life. Then I will deselect and eliminate the stuff that needs to go, and commit to what is meaningful and life-giving for the year ahead.

My skates, alas, will stay in the city. But any and all offers of shortbread for the journey will be gratefully received…as will any recommendations for additional books to take along with me. What reading materials or resources do YOU take along on your purposeful planning retreats?

Shot, But Too Stubborn to Fall Down

My mom had an endless supply of pithy one-liners to describe people’s behaviours and quirks. “She’s been shot, but she’s too stubborn to fall down” is one of those lines that I’ve been reminded of multiple times lately. It refers to someone who keeps on working when they should be restoring themselves, to someone whose doggedness is no longer leading to productivity or effectiveness. Remind you of anyone you know?

Several events this week made me think of that line from my mom:

  1. Coaching sessions with several C-suite executives / business owners who began crying within seconds of the start of our calls. (Who knew that, “How are you?” could be such an evocative question?!)
  2. Therapy sessions with injured health care workers, all of whom suffered avoidable injuries by ignoring low-level pain signals in order to finish up a shift
  3. Catching sight of my own bedraggled self in the mirror, with my shirt on backwards and inside-out, just minutes after telling a colleague that I was hale and hearty

Seven months ago, a pandemic arrived, and we all hit the ground, running. We rallied everything we had to stock up, safeguard our families and employees and customers, keep our income streams going or replace work that was lost. That was all fine and good, at least for a time. Most human beings have the capacity to deal with shocking and severe stressors, and to emerge, intact and even stronger, on the other side.

But the stressors that can put the lie to that general truth are the ones that are chronic and unremitting, with no natural breaks or periods of reprieveChronic stress without recovery is what leads to emotions that won’t stay contained, to bodies that break down, to mental processes that grow sluggish and inflexible.

So here’s my best advice to you: Fall down, dammit. Fall down, and stay there for a while. Do it voluntarily, pre-emptively, proactively, before your mind and/or your body remove all choice from you. Step away from the desk; put down the tools; turn off the phone and computer.

While you’re down, think about what you need to truly restore yourself. Depending on how long it’s been since you were shot but too stubborn to attend to yourself, it might take a while to figure that out. But it will come to you, eventually. The vacuous drooling stage of recovery WILL end, and some answers will emerge. The trick is to make yourself stay down until you can tune in to those things that are calling to you from the strongest, healthiest part of yourself – that impulse to move your body, that yearning to pull out some long-neglected hobby, that calling to lean into beauty and connection. It’s all there, my friend; it’s been there all along. You just didn’t know how vital it was to attend to it. But now you do.

Article originally published on LinkedIn Oct. 16, 2020.

Are you a leader with ADHD? I’ll be quick.

Did you know that people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are more likely to be demigods than those of us without? It’s true – you can read all about it in one of the best series of books ever written for young people: Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Know what else is true? The business environment is one that often attracts and rewards those people who, as kids, spent more time in the principal’s office than in the classroom. The very qualities that earned the exasperated ire of teachers – the high energy levels, the tendency to hyper-focus, the zanily divergent thought processes — are the same qualities that can contribute to great entrepreneurial success.

Being a business owner or leader with ADHD still has its challenges, though. Among those challenges?

  • Keeping stuff organized.
  • Figuring out how much time to allot to tasks.
  • Alternating attention.
  • Being patient with co-workers who are more linear (okay: plodding, even) in their approach to things.
  • Staying the course.
  • Noticing the subtle interpersonal cues that come your way, and discerning which ones to act on.
  • Putting up with repeated digs involving the word “Squirrel!”

Neuropsychologists call these skills ‘Executive Functions’. These abilities don’t reside in the KNOWING HOW TO sections of the brain — the parts responsible for knowing how to walk, or talk, or do math, for example. Instead, these skills lie more within the realm of the KNOWING WHEN TO, and are largely housed in the prefrontal lobes of the cerebrum.

In terms of its origin and its impact, therefore, ADHD is a poorly named disorder. It’s not so much a problem of attention as it is a problem of executive functions. (Readers with ADHD, this is where you can demonstrate your superior faculties for divergent thinking: Figure out a better acronym. Try to work in the letters for such things as Time Management, Organizational Skills, and Demigod Powers. Then come back and finish up this article.)

To maximize your effectiveness as a leader with ADHD, you’d be well-advised to commit to a few things.

  1. HIRING second- and third- and fourth-in-command types who are exceptional with respect to those executive functions you lack,
  2. DELEGATING to them whenever possible,
  3. ACTING ON the feedback of colleagues and family members when they tell you what they need you to start or stop doing, and
  4. SUBMITTING (yes, submitting) to a certain amount of disciplined routine, as chafing as that might feel.

I know that these habits are not exciting in the least, not sexy at all – unless, that is, you are enthralled by the notion of having your brilliant ideas actually come to fruition in the marketplace. Or unless you long to have people think of you with less exasperation and more admiration or appreciation. If so, then you should be embracing those habits with all the fervour of a tomcat on date night.

If you need more ideas for succeeding as a leader with ADHD, or help in persisting with new habits, consider hiring an executive coach with expertise in this area. Together, you will co-create an action plan that includes putting in place all the guardrails you need to stay in your lane. Then all that remains will be for you to … Release the Kraken!

Amazing things can happen when you clean off your desk.

XY Podcast featuring Dr. Moira Somers

Here is an engaging and timely interview with Clayton Daniel of XY Adviser on how advisers can better help clients with mental health problems. We also proposed some ideas for how to create more cross-pollination of ideas between our mutual professions.

Families, Money and the Tincture of Tenderness

What can all of us stand to have a little more of right now? A little more tenderness, please.

A few months ago, I put out an article on my Top 10 list of Financial Skills needed for modern living. Among them was #7: Have respectful and productive conversations about money. Today I’d like to amend that recommendation, just slightly, in light of the financial stress being faced by hundreds of thousands of families: Have respectful and productive and TENDER conversations about money.

My original recommendation was meant to encompass everything from talks about co-mingling of finances to what constitutes “reasonable” spending to how much support to offer adult children. Important skill, indeed. Without that skill, assumptions run rampant, and the ability of the family to prosper relationally AND financially is compromised.

Now, more than ever, money conversations do need to be happening within our families. Change demands accommodation. Formerly wise decisions may well need to be discarded and remade in light of new realities. But we all need to dial back on the … shall we say… earnestness of those money talks right about now.

What spurs me to write this article are the dozens of requests for media interviews filling up my email inbox every week. It’s clear that, around the globe, families are reeling from the effects of direct and indirect financial stress. Even if current earnings are unaffected in a given household, indirect financial stress enters via the empathy and worry people have for laid-off loved ones and co-workers and complete strangers; it comes from the constant wondering about whether or when it might be that household’s own turn to experience financial hardship.

And in families where earnings are reduced and/or debts are mounting, the effects of financial stress are often more immediate and observable: disorientation and grief stemming from economically-mandated changes in routine; fretfulness over dwindling cash reserves, foodstuffs, and the other commodities necessary to keep a family afloat; sleeplessness; an inability to settle oneself, both physically and emotionally.

The end result of this financial stress is often an increase in conflict. With everyone feeling a little more ragged and tense than usual, it is all too easy to let loose with harsh pronouncements and critical commentaries. Researchers have been telling us for some time that marital conflicts about money have the potential to be especially damaging. Financial disagreements are associated with nastier fighting techniques and poorer relational outcomes. That’s why the tincture of tenderness is essential today.

How can we set ourselves up to have respectful and productive and tender money conversations? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Set aside a specific time to deal with a given financial issue. I’m usually a big fan of spontaneity, but not for money conversations between depleted, stressed-out people.
  2. Mutually decide ahead of time what should be on the agenda. Keep that agenda short and sweet — shorter than you think it should be, and sweeter than you might be feeling. Better to have several short and successful meetings than one mondo discussion that risks leaving everyone raw and alienated.
  3. Make a point of truly settling yourself, emotionally and physically, before starting the discussion. Don’t just distract or numb out; instead, really give yourself what you need to get into a calm space. Listen to or make music. Exercise. Read or listen to something that reminds you of what matters in family life, and tap into the spirit of love and compassion (or lightheartedness and hilarity!) that such material revives in you.

Across cultures and classes, humans tend to reserve their best levels of self-control and politeness for people outside their home. The people closest to us get the leftovers. These days, that might not be so pretty! But with a little bit of foresight and intentionality, and a commitment to staying respectful, productive, and tender, we can help ensure that financial stress does not undo our most important ties.

There are lots of great resources to help individuals and families solve money dilemmas. Here are two of my current favourites:

The Ellevest newsletter – Sallie Krawchuk and her team keep it real and keep it relevant.

Kelley Keehn’s Talk Money to Me. A soup-to-nuts treatment of personal finance.

Sending you all a big bottle of the tincture of tenderness.

Advising Anxious, Angry or AWOL Clients

Now, more than ever, the personal side of advising matters.
Are you ready to up your game?

Live Webinar with Financial Psychologist Dr. Moira Somers on
Advising Anxious, Angry or AWOL Clients

Here’s what my work has taught me: Nothing draws the emotion out of people faster than money. This is true even at the best of times. And now is not the best of times.

It is, however, a superb time for financial advisors to demonstrate exceptional value to their clients, to those people who have entrusted them with so much.

In this Webinar with the author of Advice that Sticks: How to Give Financial Advice that People Will Follow, you will learn practical, evidence-based strategies for:

  • Talking to upset clients so that they will settle faster and more completely
  • Figuring out your client’s primary coping style
  • Helping to prevent regrettable decisions
  • Contributing to client well-being
  • Working with your own heightened emotions
Thursday, April 2nd at 2-3pm CT
Click here to join us on April 2nd

Top 10 Financial Skills Needed for 21st Century Well-being

What families (including yours) need to know                                                             

There have been a lot of  transitions in my household over the past year, with more yet to come. Some of these Big Life Events have been long anticipated and much celebrated; others have simply arrived out of the blue, and have ushered in as much joy as a bunion.

One thing these events have had in common? They’ve all had financial implications – not just for money management (that’s been the relatively easy part, actually), but for expectation management between and across the generations.

While navigating these expectations, I pulled out a  list I created some time ago for the advisers and families I consult to. The list was my take on the most important financial skills needed for modern families. It was a helpful reminder to stay on top of what my own family needs to know and do. It was also an occasion to update it, in light of such things as growing rates of mental health problems and dementia, the endless ingenuity of fraudsters and scam artists, and the travails of our planet.  Here is my Top 10 list of 21stCentury Financial Skills:

    1. Develop marketable skills

    2. Earn sufficiently

    3. Save regularly

    4. Spend wisely

    5. Handle credit

    6. Invest, earn, give and purchase sustainably

    7. Have respectful and productive money conversations

    8. Safeguard your dependents and your assets

    9. Use money to help people and causes

    10. Arrange for wealth transfer

Give the list even the quickest of once-overs, and you’ll see that these items are not simply fact-based ones. If you’re a financial adviser or a financial literacy teacher, you can’t just stick these items in a newsletter or exam and then rest assured that the readers will be equipped to make good decisions forevermore. If you’re a parent, you can’t just give Lecture #438 and assume the kids have learned what they need. That’s because every single one of these life skills needs to be paired with emotional intelligence in order to come to life. For example:

Earning adequately requires self-respect and good reality testing;

Spending wisely requires impulse control and emotional self-awareness;

Having good money conversations requires empathy and courage of conviction; and

Using money to help others requires social consciousness and healthy boundaries.

Fortunately, family life is one of the most natural places to bring together emotional intelligence and money management skills. Any time we open up about the financial gaffs we’ve made, or the values we hold deeply, or what helps or hinders our progress towards our goals, we’re cultivating a skillset that is crucial for modern life.

Whether you’re working with other people’s families or are neck-deep in the delights of your own, it’s helpful to keep in mind the developmental nature of these skills. The items on my list are the task of a lifetime. They are not even remotely done with by the time a child leaves home; indeed, they take us to the end of our days.

So take heart: Everyone can get better at this stuff! Things like empathy, communication, and self-regulation can improve with effort and (often, but not always) with age. And there are always skilled professionals – therapists; accountants; clergy; lawyers; financial planners– who can help us when we slip up, get stuck, or lose the path. The more such people we have in our network, the better equipped we are to help others and ourselves.

One of the aphorisms of the Financial Transitionist® Institute is, When life changes, money changes; and when money changes, life changes. My household’s recent transition events have given me a renewed appreciation of this proverb. As we enter a new decade, I wish you, your family, and the families you serve the same thing I wish for my own: May you navigate life’s changes with skill and grace and tenderness…and a whole lot of laughter.

Interested in learning more about the various stages of money maturity? I’ve found no better book than Joline Godfrey’s Raising Financially Fit Kids.