Simply explained, empathy is a two-step process.
Step 1: Understanding and knowing the person in front of you
At the core of empathy is listening, but listening to more than just the spoken words. Words actually communicate only 7% of meaning in conversation; yes, only 7%.
I call this the 93% rule. 93% of meaning is communicated non-verbally, that is through the following:
- facial expression — overall, eye contact and mouth position
- voice quality — tone, intensity and pace
- body language — position and gestures
So, when listening, we need to actively notice non-verbal communications, in addition to words, or we are missing the boat and not fully hearing what the other person is feeling, meaning and communicating.
Step 2: Reflecting back, mirroring, feelings
Once you listen and understand more about what your client is feeling, now the connecting step of empathy occurs. At this crucial step, you tell your client how you understand what he is feeling, to check in on understanding and correct where necessary, and importantly, so he feels that you understand and know him.
This is where deeper connection takes place. The beauty of reflecting is you don't have to be right, because checking and correcting your understanding is empathic and helps you get to know the person better. Phrases like "I think you're feeling worried about your retirement, can you tell me more?" or "I'm hearing you feel scared to move ahead with this plan. What are your thoughts on that?" are reflections. I suggest more phrases at the end of this article.
I know these phrases may feel and sound foreign or stilted, but even so, most people still appreciate your efforts to understand them and end up feeling more connected. And I promise, the more you practice, the easier and more fluid it gets.
Why do financial planners/advisors need to be empathic?
When we say we need to understand and be empathic, how exactly does this work with your clients?
Fast-forward to a client meeting. Your clients are not only what they present to you outwardly. Your clients come to you with lots of different feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and all of these feelings influence and shape their experiences and reactions with you. These underlying feelings also influence what they do both now and later.
These inner feelings are not necessarily outwardly expressed and known to you or to your client at the start. For many reasons, we present ourselves in different ways and share different feelings in varied situations. Think of how you act, feel and what you share with your family versus your boss, your clients or friends at a party.
As an advisor, it serves both you and your client to better understand and speak about these inside feelings. If not recognized or known better, these feelings will impact what the client does without you knowing it. For example, he or she may agree with you in the moment and then go home and do something else entirely.
Practicing empathy can improve your business, for the right reasons
Studies have shown what makes intuitive sense: increasing empathy can lead to a more successful business.
And importantly, by working on the relationships and connections with your clients, which empathy can support, your work can be more meaningful. It can help keep clients with you during the inevitable downturns in the markets and the economy. And importantly, it can help prevent burnout, since your relations with clients will be stronger.