ABA: The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication for Advisors

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MIAMI - Sixty percent to 80% of all interpersonal communication is non-verbal, which means everything financial advisors do is meaningful, said Joe Navarro, author of “Louder Than Words” in his luncheon speech at the ABA Wealth Management Conference.

This goes a long way toward explaining why almost a quarter of clients fire their advisors. “It is astounding how much is transferred without words,” Navarro added.

When a client first meets a new advisor they are assessing: whether they trust the advisor, whether the advisor is telling the truth, and whether the advisor is a leader. Navarro referenced a study that found those who wore three-button suits were perceived as less honest than those who wore two-buttons. The lesson is that our actions and our demeanor are the most critical.

The question is: If all else is equal, how do people differentiate themselves in the banking and financial services industry? There are four things that ensure success in life, Navarro said: the ability to observe, whether observing trends or observing clients; the ability to communicate effectively; the ability to move to action; and the ability to make people feel comfortable.

On average, Navarro explained, people remember bad experiences for 13-15 years.  Yet when people move to action, whether successful or not, clients respect the effort even if the action fails. “With BP, look at what happened when they were perceived as not moving to action,” said Navarro. “You don’t have an option anymore about moving to action, especially with the 24/7 news cycle.”

Another way to differentiate is by making sure clients feel psychological comfort, which happens when desires, preferences, need and intentions are met. Those who don’t feel psychological comfort don’t work with those firms or advisors again. Being observant and accommodating, Navarro explained, doesn’t cost the company any more money. “There is a comfort dividend and you’ll be rewarded for that through your clients’ allegiance,” he said.

A handshake, standing too close - everything matters. It’s important to have great curbside appeal, like Bill Clinton, said Navarro. Toxicity in an organization ruins morale, team cohesion and causes firms to lose clients. Even the colors of pamphlets or office walls make a difference. Researchers have found the color blue is soothing, said Navarro.

When clients are uncomfortable they’ll communicate that through their non-verbal actions as well: their neck will get stiff, they’ll stand with their legs apart, and they’ll purse their lips, just to name a few. It’s important to look for comfort and discomfort in individuals.

“Those firms that communicate with clients and set expectations maintain their relationships,” said Michael Kops, vice president of personal investments at Heartland Advisors. “Those who don’t worry about losing clients.” There were some clients who would have left their firms during the recession no matter what, said Kops, because they felt their advisor was to blame for losing their money. But everyone probably lost about the same amount of money since all the business models are about the same. Yet the buzz at the conference – and a good number of sessions- are about relationship management, a sign that non-verbal as well as verbal communication are still critical pieces of the puzzle. This is a relationship business after all.


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