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How Communication Is Likely To Be Interpreted If Visual, Vocal, And Verbal Cues Don’t Match

You can provide excellent guidance about how clients should think long term during a crisis, but if your body language, words, and voice tone aren’t in sync, clients may assume you’re not fully confident in the advice you’re providing.

Source: How to Practice Active Listening, Duke Today, 6/18/19

The Great Recession. Brexit. Politics. A pandemic. Inflation. There are always reasons for clients to be concerned. In challenging times, there is one thing we can be fairly certain of: It won’t be our last challenging time. How can you communicate in a way that shows your confidence and conviction that things will ultimately be okay?

At times like this, successful financial professionals speak to their clients more frequently—to reassure them, to help them keep a long-term perspective, and to help dissuade them from making any regrettable investment decisions. But as the adage goes, “It’s not just what you say—it’s how you say it.” You may have truly great insights that provide clients perspective and encourage patience, but here’s the challenge: If you aren’t able to deliver that information with confidence, clients might not be convinced enough to heed your recommendations.


First, It’s Not Just What You Say—It’s How You Say It

Perhaps you’ve heard the rule of thumb that “93% of all communication is nonverbal.” While that’s an oversimplification of the research from which the statistic’s derived, it’s still useful to understand the basic premise.1 Here’s the gist: Sometimes when we communicate with another person, we send mixed messages. For example, imagine that you’re mad about something. If someone were to ask what’s wrong and you said, “Nothing,” but you did so with an angry tone, crossed arms, and clenched teeth, you’d be sending a mixed message.

So how can someone tell which part of a mixed message is accurate? When it seems the messages we send through our body language, tone of voice, and word selection don’t match, one type is perceived as being most accurate.1 

As the chart on the page shows, it’s our body language. That’s followed by our tone of voice; then, the actual words we use. 

Let’s apply this to our current situation. Imagine you said to a client, “I’m confident this recommendation is your best option.” If you nervously tap your fingers on the desk and your voice wavers while you utter this, it’s very possible your clients may assume you’re not fully confident in the advice you’re providing—or worse, that you’re not being truthful.

So our goal should be to communicate with congruence—that is, our words, tone of voice and body language should all send the same message. How can we ensure that’s the case? By being more aware and intentional about the messages we’re sending.


Second, Tips for Communicating With Confidence

At times like this, financial professionals and clients alike can feel anxious or upset. But many clients count on their financial professionals to comfort them and guide them through challenging times with poise. In these situations, it’s not enough that our messages are merely congruent—they also need to be confident.

In each of the sections below, the column on the left shows things that could reflect a lack of confidence on your part—which could affect your clients’ confidence in you. The column on the right shows tips that can help you project more confidence. These tips can be used to communicate confidently at any time, though they are especially helpful during challenging situations.

There are many tips listed but don’t be overwhelmed. Pick a few things from the charts that you think might be the best opportunity for refinement and start there. You can always revisit this piece once you’ve practiced those to decide where to focus next.

How Communication Is Likely To Be Interpreted If Visual, Vocal, And Verbal Cues Don’t Match

You can provide excellent guidance about how clients should think long term during a crisis, but if your body language, words, and voice tone aren’t in sync, clients may assume you’re not fully confident in the advice you’re providing.

Source: How to Practice Active Listening, Duke Today, 6/18/19

  1. General Communication Tips

    Less Confident

    More Confident

    Being unsure what advice to give

    Taking time to build conviction about best advice

    Waiting for clients to call

    Being proactive with communication

    “Winging it” or scripting every word

    Listing bullets to cover most important points

    Running yourself (and your voice) ragged

    Blocking time for sleep and self-care

    Jumping directly from meeting to meeting

    Taking a moment to pause and get re-centered

    Assuming clients can fully focus on your words

    Sharing a visual for them to view as you speak, which will help them remember key points

    Being tentative on phone calls, since there’s no visual feedback to reassure you

    Glancing at a picture of friends or family while you’re speaking on the phone

    Getting caught up in any panic or confusion yourself and letting it excessively affect your wellbeing

    Remember your “why” in serving clients, and seek support from your friends, family, colleagues and mentors, as necessary.

  2. Your Words
    (aka Verbal Cues)

    Less Confident

    More Confident

    Diving right into business

    Asking first about the person, their family, etc.

    Saying things like “I’m sure you’re scared…”

    Asking “How are you feeling about all this?”

    Talking in technical jargon

    Explaining concepts clearly and simply; sharing stories, when appropriate

    Using softening words such as maybe, just, I think

    Making declarative statements, when possible

    Asking “Does that make sense?”

    Asking “Am I explaining that clearly?”

    Rushing through talking points

    Repeating main points and recapping at the end

    Trying to end the meeting/call as soon as possible

    Leaving time for any questions

  3. Your Voice
    (aka Vocal Cues)

    Less Confident

    More Confident

    Tone = dismissive or condescending

    Tone = decisive and comforting

    Talking too fast

    Slowing down

    Using filler words such as "um" or "like"

    Adding pauses to allow information to sink in

    Speaking in a higher pitch due to nerves

    Speaking in the lower end of your natural range

    Talking too quietly

    Projecting your voice without shouting

    “Uptalking,” so statements sound like questions

    Ensuring statements don’t end on a higher pitch

    Having a hoarse, weak voice from overuse

    Staying hydrated/using a cough drop between calls

  4. Your Body Language
    (aka Visual Cues)

    Less Confident

    More Confident

    Keeping a desk or table between you and clients

    If possible, removing physical barriers between you

    Looking overly stressed or worried

    Appearing calm and smiling (when appropriate)

    Fidgeting in your seat

    Sitting up straight or leaning in

    Hunching over or slouching

    Remaining relatively still

    Tapping the desk or repeatedly clicking a pen

    Keeping your hands “quiet” on the table

    Moving your hands excessively while speaking

    Gesturing smoothly with your palms upright

    Looking away often or distractedly

    Maintaining focus and eye contact

Third, Knowing What to Say

While this piece focused on “how to say it,” knowing what to say is also imperative. If you’re looking for content that can help with this, Hartford Funds has a broad range of engaging material in our Volatility Resource Center at hartfordfunds.com. Our local advisor consultants are also well versed on what pieces are available, and how to position them with clients. They can help you role play client conversations and share best practices, as well.

Remember that people may often appear nervous or upset during situations like this. If that’s the case for any of your current or prospective clients, you may see them exhibit some of the traits shown in the “Less Confident” columns, so keep an eye out for those. You can also ask clients to rate their level of stress or anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10, which can be helpful information to know.

In challenging times, effective communication is crucial. Use these tips to ensure that the messages you send—via your body language, tone of voice, and word selection—are congruent and confident. You may find that clients are more likely to heed your advice — and to suggest that their friends and family do, too.

About The Author
Ryan Sullivan Headshot
Ryan Sullivan, CFP®, CRPC®, RCC™
Vice President and Managing Director, Applied Insights

Ryan leads communication workshops around the country and speaks on a variety of financial and practice management topics, with a focus on retirement research from the MIT AgeLab. To date, he has provided insights to audiences in 46 states and Puerto Rico, as well as led over a thousand webinars. Ryan is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and Registered Corporate Coach (RCC™), and he serves on Hartford Funds’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion advisory council. He’s an avid volunteer, leveraging his communication expertise to help empower college students, athletes with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Next Steps

1 Download a PDF version of this article
2 Visit our Communicating to Connect landing page for more communication tips
3 Talk to your advisor consultant about helping clients maintain perspective in volatile times


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