There's no question that not only communicating but also connecting with clients needs to be a greater priority and a keener focus than ever for advisors to be successful. Living in our modern world where glass ceilings have been cracked (okay, not yet completely shattered, but fractured a bit), you would think that how you communicate with men and women wouldn't need to be different.
You would be incorrect.
It's been 25+ years since the bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus attempted to explain what makes men and women different. A Pew Research Center survey1 confirms that key differences still exist and that the implications of those differences on the roles of men and women in society is far from settled.
The study finds that majorities of Americans say men and women are basically different in the way they express their feelings, their physical abilities, their personal interests and their approach to parenting. But there is no public consensus on the origins of these differences. Women who perceive differences generally attribute them to societal expectations, while men tend to point to biological differences. Men say it's "nature;" women say it's "nurture."
The survey also finds that society places a higher premium on masculinity than it does on femininity. Over half (53%) say most people in our society these days look up to men who are manly or "masculine" but far fewer (32%) say society looks up to women who are "feminine." Yet, women are more likely to say it's important to them to be seen by others as womanly or feminine, than men are to say they want others to see them as manly or masculine.
These differences can create difficulties for advisors communicating back and forth with Martians and Venusians.
Advisors Must Be Astronauts
The best advice I can give advisors is to buckle up and strap in. There are differences in how the genders process information, and the types of information they prefer. Some say women are "process-driven" and men are "results-driven." This has come to mean that women tend to focus on the steps, the details, and the methodology of life and work, while men keep their eyes on the prize and concentrate on the big picture.
Clearly, this is an over-simplification of how all men and women think and act, but nonetheless, it's useful to keep in mind when you're trying to be an effective communicator!
Of course, if you think about it, one can certainly understand the need for women to be process-driven, given that they often bear the majority of responsibility for the myriad, vital, and complex details of caring for the children and serving as COO of the family. That means that, on top of work, details have a habit of landing in their laps: buying the groceries, cleaning and organizing the home, making sure school work is done, that clothes are clean, that pets are walked, and that dinner makes it to the table, no matter who delivered it.
In situations where women find themselves with that robust to-do list, it makes total sense that they might have a tendency to concentrate more than men on the "how" than the "what" of life. (This reminds me of the number of successful, busy professional women I know who have told me they secretly wished they had a spouse at home to manage all of these details for them, too.)
Men fortunate enough not to have to deal with the day-to-day details can afford to focus less on process and more on results. Less "how," more "what."
Into this world steps the financial professional who is trying to be more effective in communicating with a client. In the case of a male advisor working with a female client, you might need to re-orient yourself from focusing on "results" and concentrate more on "process." For example, tell your client about the steps you took, the options you considered, the experts you sought, and the reports you read, that brought you to your recommended action plan. She'll no doubt want to know "how" you got to "what."
For female advisors with male clients, you'll want to talk about the results your past recommendations have achieved (with no guarantees of future performance, of course), and less about all the work you did to identify a course of action. The male clients probably won't be all that interested in the "i's" you dotted or the "t's" you crossed. Regale them with the "what's."
The differences between Martians and Venusians also means that how you talk about goals and long-term metrics might need customizing. Male clients will want to hear about the ultimate prize, while women will want to fully understand the steps you and she need to take to get there. I'm not saying men are not at all interested in the process and women could care less about the goal. But you have to lead with the "lede," as they say in journalism; the subject they care about most.
Yes, men and women are different in some things some of the time, but not in all things all of the time. And in the end, it's all good. And it all works.
The point is that it's incumbent upon all of us — men and women — to communicate with each other in ways the other person can "get." I call it "speaking into their listening." If they don't "get" what we're saying, it's our fault, not theirs. And it's not all that hard. It just takes remembering whom you're speaking to before you start talking!
Know that men and women are and will remain different in how they actually perceive their differences. Men tend to think women are shaped more by biology, or "nature." Women think their behavior is shaped by societal expectations, or "nurture."
Understand the "process-driven" mindset of women, versus the "results-driven" mindset of men and how you can use those insights to become a more effective, compelling communicator.
The bottom line: When you're talking to women, lead with the "how." When you're talking to men, lead with the "what."
1 http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/12/05/on-gender-differences-no-consensus-on-nature-vs-nurture/ (Most Recent Data Available)
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