Tim Maurer hit the nail on the head in his recent Forbes.com article, “Curiosity: The Most Important Trait for Financial Advisors.” I first met Tim in 2009 when—as the recipient of the Ken Gillaspie Legacy Fund scholarship—he participated in our “Fundamentals of True Wealth™ training course. We have kept in touch over the years and he has returned to Money Quotient as an annual conference speaker and as a collaborator on a special project. Therefore, I’m always interested in what Tim has on his mind, and was especially delighted to read his insights on the value of curiosity in developing successful client relationships.
Tim wrote that early in his career as a financial advisor, he operated under the “assumption that bringing knowledge to where it is lacking is an advisor’s primary value.” As he matured as an advisor, he transitioned to a more nuanced view that judgement was actually the most important trait for an advisor. He explained that he came to the realization that “it was the ability to apply knowledge, to help clients make a this-or-that decision, that was really where an advisor could demonstrate his or her worth.”
The next stage in his evolution of thought was the realization that most people are more likely to follow a course of action based on their own judgement rather than on the judgement of someone else—but, they do appreciate having a guide.
In fact, I believe we are well served, as advisors, to heed Walt Whitman’s advice (via Ted Lasso) to “be curious, not judgmental.”
However, Tim explained that as simple as this advice may sound, the path to implementation can be challenging:
It sounds simple, if not easy, but the deliberate practice of curiosity can be exceedingly difficult for those of us who got into the field because of our love for knowledge or our bent toward teaching. It actually requires us to subvert our impulse to share knowledge. It takes practice, yes, but even more so it takes intention.
I love that Tim indicated the key ingredient to becoming an exceptional advisor is “intention”—listening solely for the purpose of understanding. Similarly, the late Stephen Covey proclaimed that “empathic listening” as the most fruitful communication skill of all, and devoted a whole chapter to explaining his view in his enduring book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
He wrote that we can’t develop empathy by learning and applying communication techniques alone—the most important ingredient is intention:
In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel. …You’re listening to understand.
At the core of this way of being as a financial advisor is the desire to truly get to know and understand your clients. It is about nurturing a genuine interest and curiosity about the life experiences and values that have shaped their frames of reference. As Tim explained so well in his article:
There’s a universality to this call to curiosity. Certainly, we may see its benefits when we are in the discovery phase of interaction with a client—getting to know someone and their situation anew. But curiosity is just as useful in the 10th meeting with a client as it is in the first, because as the best advisors know, even when a client asks a question, there is usually another question (or two) behind it that requires our curiosity to reveal.
Author’s Note: I highly recommend that you read Tim Maurer’s article in its entirety and to take time to view the Ted Lasso video that he references. You’ll be glad you did!