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Context Over Content

It’s human nature for clients to have negative feelings about their finances. But if you, as an advisor, get too focused on what you’re doing wrong—instead of seeing what you’re doing right—your own negativity can destroy what you are trying to build.

On this episode of Elementality, Reese and Matt look at why having positive energy plays an integral role in making client relationships successful. Clients read your energy as much, if not more, than they hear your words. They are looking for you to encourage them as they take positive steps. They want you to celebrate with them even the minor successes they achieve on their financial journey. If you want to help clients feel great about their money, it begins when you start feeling great about yourself.

 


Podcast Transcript

Reese Harper:
Clients are paying attention to the way that you’re showing up, more than they’re listening to the words that are coming out of your mouth, ’cause most of the things coming out of your mouth are not… Or you could be say… You could say whatever you want. And they’re not processing it. Really, it’s jargon to them. It’s finances, it’s a topic they don’t care about that much, but they know it’s important, and they’re kind of there, doing… They’re eating their vegetables with you, they’re eating their financial vegetables. But how you show up, the energy you bring, the way you feel, the way you feel when you’re asking the questions, when you’re at the meeting, it is the most important thing.

Jordan Haines:
Welcome to Elementality. I’m Jordan Haines, Financial Planning Specialist at Elements. Each episode, Reese and Matt will discuss major challenges faced by financial advisors and the things they can do to navigate the complexities of delivering quality financial advice to clients. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Reese Harper:
Welcome to another episode of Elementality, everybody. I’m your host, Reese Harper, here on a gorgeous day with my co-host, Matt Glazer. Matt I’m gonna share a little vision here, of what I got going on outside this window. Can you see that?

Matt Glazer:
Oh beautiful, beautiful. I love it.

Reese Harper:
What are you seeing?

Matt Glazer:
I see about 10 inches of fresh white, I see a nice shoveled sidewalk, you probably got out there at what, 07:30 this morning, maybe a little snowblower, those lines look very clean.

Reese Harper:
It was at crack of freaking dawn when my more… I’m a young farmer from… I grew up on a farm, but my neighbor is even an earlier riser than I, and it was like, I swear, it had to have been like 05:00 AM this morning, his four-wheeler started rolling, and it was loud. So I didn’t sleep past five, today. [chuckle] Where you at and what’s Philly like today?

Matt Glazer:
Let me check. It’s gray or no leaves left. It’s maybe 47 degrees.

Reese Harper:
Death, dying okay.

Matt Glazer:
Uninspiring.

Reese Harper:
Good, I like this, and this is a part of our topic today, that I think you’ll appreciate is I was… I wanted to share an experience that I had recently interacting with a performance coach that I pay for. It’s an uncomfortable bill to pay someone to talk to you about your issues all the time, and… But I must be in great need of that ’cause I have done it for the better part of five years now with different people, but it’s been about a year working with this one particular coach. Her name is Lauren, she lives in Colorado, and it’s just been remote, we never met in person yet, but we just do Zoom calls once a week. And one of the projects that she asked me to do recently, she just said Reese, and I bet… And I just thought… Me and a lot of other financial advisors would probably relate to this, but she wanted me… I’m kind of a high achiever, and I have high expectations for myself, and that results in me usually seeing the worst of me every day, that I’m not…

Reese Harper:
My clients are probably not happy enough, I’m probably not doing a good enough job, and the list of negative thoughts is kind of a long one, my list of positive thoughts is very short, usually, and she was asking me to do an exercise where I consciously wrote down, things that I was thinking about that were positive and that were… Things I liked about myself, things I thought I was doing well, things I thought I was doing that were successful, and that was my assignment a few weeks ago, and I got about an hour into it, after… Into the first day and I found myself very quickly being able to write down the negative thoughts, but the positive ones were hard to create. It was really hard to write down things I liked about myself and that I was doing well, that I found were successful.

Reese Harper:
So about 30 minutes in, into the exercise, I switched to the other way, and I just wrote every negative thought that I’ve had, and I started writing that list down, and it flowed like… It flowed beautifully, it was like a waterfall of negativity just flowing, and I had… I’ll bring up my list here, so we can kinda share some of the things, so one of them was, you’ll never be able to pull this off, relating to building a software company. That thought has come up all the time, like you’re not gonna be able to do this. And every week the evidence is pretty good that we are pulling it off, and the data is pretty strong and the fundraising is evidence that someone else besides you, that’s smarter than you continues to believe, but that one keeps surfacing.

Matt Glazer:
Yeah, in the face of evidence, it’s still on your list.

Reese Harper:
Yeah, yeah, it’s… You’re never gonna be able to do this. Another thing that I saw is, “Why are you gaining so much weight and you can’t seem to stop?” That one keeps coming up a lot, you know, I’m like, I’m not heavier than I’ve ever been. I’m actually in a decent spot right now, but it seems like no matter how much I’m working out and how much I’m trying to eat healthy, I just keep gaining weight, and that is a thought that keeps coming up in my life a lot. I’m gonna give you one more example for vulnerabilities vulnerability sake today. Your kids don’t feel like they have a dad right now. That one keeps coming up, and I don’t actually think it’s true, but all three of these things that are coming up, I had a list of 50, and then I finally just quit. It literally only took me like three hours. It was every 10 or 15 minutes, you just throw something down on the list that you think that’s generally negative about something. I’ll give you some kind of heavier examples there, but the lighter, easier ones are seeing other people make a mistake and being bothered by it, or…

Reese Harper:
My point in bringing this up was, I started doing some more research into how much more common it is for us to be able to see the things we’re doing wrong in our day than it is to see the things we’re doing right. How much easier it is for us to be critical of ourselves than it is to say kind things to ourselves. So I just went on this research project for the last few weeks, and I found a bunch of really… It’s kind of scary to think about how much time each of us probably spends in this negative message territory versus positive message territory, and that has a big effect on us. Before I tell you some of the client, and advisor, and the financial planning consequences of this, Matt, I wanna just get you to react to that.

Matt Glazer:
I think that’s a real thing, the negativity bias. I think we’re more suited to focus on the negative than the positive, and then really sit with those negative feelings for a long time. It almost feels like a sister or brother to loss aversion in a kind of way. But I don’t think… That doesn’t feel as unique to you. That feels common to people, to me. And therefore probably very common to our clients in a lot of ways, in the context of their finances, which is, I assume, where you’re going with this.

Reese Harper:
Yeah. Yeah, and I think when people have this tendency to not be very… I’m gonna call it for the sake of today, compassionate, we’re not very compassionate with ourselves that it does have a big impact on one other thing that is really more important than anything and how we interact with clients, and it’s what’s called… I would call the context of how we show up to interactions. One of the other things I’ve been learning about in this leadership coaching has been the difference between content and context, and your content are the things you say, and your context is the way that you deliver, the way you show up, the energy that you bring, the tone that accompanies your words, the facial expressions you have. It’s the place that you’re coming from when you say something.

Reese Harper:
So for example, if I were to tell my son when I get home from work, I can say the same words in two different ways, and they’re coming from very different contexts. One, let’s give an example sentence. It would be, Hey, what did you do today? Or option two, Hey, what did you do today? Now, same words. In one, I’m really kind of like, I’m noticing some lack of productivity or the house is a wreck, or maybe I’m worried that homework isn’t done still, and I’m kind of being critical of how he’s used his time. Right? The other one is, I’m actually curious about what’s going on, like I’m curious about what’s happening, I’m curious about how my son is doing and how he’s… What is his day been like?

Matt Glazer:
So there’s probably some obvious applications here, really on the nose obvious ones, to where you’re going with this, from a client relationship management perspective.

Reese Harper:
I’d like you to jump in and guess at this, but I’ve got two primary takeaways. But, yeah.

Matt Glazer:
I want you to put those obvious with the sides ’cause they kind of go without saying, how it all applies there. But, tell me what you think the maybe not so obvious application of this is, that an advisor walking away from this episode would be like, “Man, I never really thought about this concept in that kind of way, or applying it in this kind of manner.” Help me come up with a not so obvious conclusion here.

Reese Harper:
Well, we’ll hit the obvious ones here in a minute. And to me, the not so obvious conclusion is clients read your energy more than they read your words. Clients are paying attention to the way that you’re showing up more than they’re listening to the words that are coming out of your mouth, because most of the things coming out of your mouth are not… Or you could be say… You could say whatever you want and they’re not processing it really. It’s jargon to them, it’s finances, it’s a topic they don’t care about that much, but they know it’s important, and they’re kind of they’re doing… They’re eating their vegetables with you, they’re eating their financial vegetables. But how you show up, the energy you bring, the way you feel, the way you feel when you’re asking the questions when you’re at the meeting, it is the most important thing, and that’s what most advisors I think are getting wrong. They think that it’s the content of what they’re sharing and what they’re showing, that’s the important part of the interaction, and really the client is just feeling something when they interact with you, and it’s important to prepare yourself and be in a space where you’re bringing in the context that leaves them inspired. Go ahead.

Matt Glazer:
This takes a level of self-awareness to understand on what end of the continuum you are here, like how well you’re showing up, or how poorly you’re showing up. It takes a level of self-awareness to kind of understand that. How might you… Think back to your practice with clients. How have you evaluated this in yourself in a way that you could step outside yourself, be aware of how you showed up, and its impact, and what that might mean for corrective action in your practice, going forward?

Reese Harper:
What I wanted to share, a couple of these… I wanted to share this to circle back to this question of self-criticism and compassion real quick, as it relates to your question, Matt, because I think that one of the things we have to practice… And I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason I’m so self-critical is because I’m a really good financial advisor. I’m identifying all of the flaws, all of the problems in someone’s balance sheet, in their cash flow, I’m looking at the hundreds of little checklist items that I know apply to every person, and I’m kind of like, Did you get that one done? Did we get this one down one? Did we get this one done? Did we get that one done? There may be something about our careers that actually make us particularly exposed to lack of compassion for ourselves or self-criticism. Money is the number one stressor by far in the American Psychology Association’s rankings, which I share with you pretty regularly, but if we’re doing that to ourselves quite often, it makes me wonder how we’re doing that with clients. Do we see clients attempts as things that they are doing that are all positive moves in a broad financial planning growth plan?

Reese Harper:
Or do we see everything we’re doing as just falling short of some ideal that we’re not good, we’re just still not quite good enough with our money? And I feel like that’s something that I’ve been particularly aware of in the last few months, is how my pattern of self-criticism may actually be causing me to perceive clients’ finances or clients’ financial lives in a way that may be affecting the context of how I show up, the tone, the energy, the optimism, the balanced approach of seeing the positives. The example I gave earlier, I could look at myself and say, Dude, nice work. Amidst all of the work that I’m doing, you’re still exercising almost every day, and you’re making healthy food choices, and it’s maintaining a relatively healthy lifestyle. Most people would have struggled, and you’ve done a great job at maintaining some balance here from a health perspective. Or Hey, you went to your kid’s piano performance yesterday and you didn’t actually have to do that and you canceled a work appointment to make that a priority, and good for you for prioritizing your kids. And you went skiing with them on Saturday, and I’m sure they loved it. And, you made dinner for them on Tuesday night. Do you remember?

Reese Harper:
I could tell myself all these things that really were positive, but I don’t. I’m telling myself the things that I’m falling short or where I’m holding back, and same thing about the business example I gave at the beginning, are we falling… Is Elements gonna make it? Are we… Is this a good… I think the negative thought was you can’t really pull this off, or are you gonna be able to pull this off? I could sit there and just look at all of the positive things, from press articles to fundraising, to employees that are joining us, to sales we’re getting from amazing advisors, and let that have a big impact, but it’s challenging, you’re definitely affected by all that. So I do think that we show up to clients often in a way that we might not be realizing, and if we’re wanting to influence people and help our clients feel great about their money, it starts with feeling great about ourselves, it starts with actually telling ourselves that we are doing a good job and trying to have some compassion for how hard this career is and how difficult it is to be an advisor. And until we can learn to be compassionate for ourselves and actually give ourselves a little bit of credit, it’s really hard for us to show up in that way for clients, ’cause they sense where you’re coming from more than just the words that are coming out your mouth. So that’s kinda what I wanted to share today. I’ll let you follow up with any last thoughts you’ve got there.

Matt Glazer:
Yeah, do you think a good mindfulness exercise, heading into a client meeting, I’m thinking, you take good practices really like clearing your head for 10-15 minutes before you do anything, be at a client meeting or presentation, whatever it might be. In the context of this discussion, do you think a good practice might be spending five minutes to make that list of positives about whether it’s your day, your week, your month, whatever, or even your year.

Reese Harper:
Yeah. Or the client you’re going in to meet with. Are we… I love trying to take a five-minute break in between every appointment and breathe and reset a little bit. Find your ritual, light a candle, whatever you wanna do. Find that break in your space between the last interaction and the one you’re going into. But I like writing. I think one practical thing going into a client meeting is make sure you have three or four things you really admire about that person on the top of your mind. What are three or four things you just really admire about what they’ve done and the progress they’ve made, because the context we’re bringing to their life through these positive interactions is way more important than the financial adjustments we’re gonna tell them to make. They want to hear that, guys, we’re working on that at Elements big time. We’re trying to figure out, What are the celebrations and the milestones and the next actions that drive people’s feeling of positivity around their money, as much as we are, what adjustments can we make?

Reese Harper:
‘Cause if all we are is a bunch of content… If we always bring content and not context, if we’re always just the people with the adjustments and the bad news and the things we need to change, we’re not going to have people feeling good about their finances, and really, at the end of the day, we’re trying to do more than have people just get wealthier, we’re trying to actually have people be happier with their money, reduce their financial stress and anxiety. You can’t have that happen without a nice balance of both content and context that’s really moving people in a positive direction.

Matt Glazer:
Yeah, I think it’s a great point to wrap on, Reese. Thanks for sharing your experience there. It’s highly personal and I just love… I love your desire to put that out there.

Reese Harper:
Thanks, man. Appreciate it. Love working with you on this. Have a good one, everybody, and we’ll look forward to catching you next week.

Jordan Haines:
Next time on Elementality.

Marie Swift:
Yeah, so most advisors are impatient, and they’re cheap, you probably have heard that or felt that, maybe you’re not that. Let’s say you’re not, but having been working with advisors for this many years, they want results, they’re impatient, and sometimes they wanna just get right to the action without a strategy. So we encourage them to really dig in and think about their market and why they’re serving that market and then to hone that message before they jump into their marketing activities. So I call that the 3Ms, your market, your message, and your mediums, because if you think about that and do that every year, you can see where you’ve had some drift, like has our message or our market changed, and are we doing the right things to reach those markets and are we saying the right things at the right time?

Abby Morton:
You can learn more about the Elements Financial Planning system at getelements.com/meet, and schedule a time to speak with one of our friendly financial planning experts. Elementality’s executive creators are Reese Harper and Matt Glazer. Elementality is produced by Abby Morton and directed by Jordan Haynes. Have a good one.

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