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Looking for better client communication? Shut off your phone

WASHINGTON — The brain works in mysterious ways.

When two people are having a meaningful conversation, the listener often mimics the brain waves of the speaker, effectively syncing the two brain phases, research published by Nature shows. While researchers are still looking for the root cause of the phenomenon, insights into human interactions like these can provide opportunities for advisors to deepen their relationships with clients, according to Celeste Headlee, author of “We Need to Talk: A Practical Guide to the Lost Art of Conversation.”

“This is fascinating,” said Headlee, who was not involved in the research. “And yet, this is what we’ve tried to replace with emoji.”

The synchronization may be powered by vital information encoded in the human voice exchanged during conversations, Headlee said. That means face-to-face, virtual or telephone conferences are hard to replace.

“Technology is not the problem,” Headlee told a packed room at the Schwab Impact 2018 conference in Washington. “Where the problem comes in is its overuse.” According to a 2018 Pew Research survey, 95% of Americans own a cellphone and 77% own smartphones.

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*** HOLD FOR EMBARGO MONDAY, FEB. 24 2000CET *** Galaxy S5 smartphones sit on display during a Samsung Electronics Co. news conference ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. Top telecommunication managers will rub shoulders in Barcelona next week at the Mobile World Congress, Monday, Feb. 24 - 27, a traditional venue for showcasing the latest products for dealmaking. Photographer: Angel Navarette/Bloomberg

A major problem with using emails and texts messages to communicate is they’re written in isolation, Headlee said. “You wrote one message and the reader reads another message,” she said. Tone is another factor: even family and friends are no better at detecting sarcasm in emails than strangers, she adds.

It may be a misconception that technology makes us more efficient. Distractions like waiting to answer an email or checking a cell phone can turn counterproductive, Headlee said. Studies have shown an I.Q. can drop 10 to 12 points while attending to electronic messages, she added. “You’re not the kind of person you want to be when you’re online,” Headlee said.

While there is no substitute for face-to-face client meetings, there are ways to augment all communication with clients, Headlee said. By enhancing their conversation skills, advisors can build more meaningful connections with customers and prospects, ultimately leading to deeper relationships. Headlee provided 10 guidelines for better client communication.

1. Don’t multitask
2. Don’t lecture
3. Use open-ended questions
4. Go with the flow
5. If you don’t know, say so
6. Don’t equate experiences
7. Don’t repeat yourself
8. Leave out the details
9. Listen
10. Be brief

Another pro tip for strengthening communication: admit when you don’t have the answer. Like doctors, advisors feel pressured to provide answers or risk looking unprepared. When answers are hard to find, Headlee suggests that advisors tell the truth: “I don’t know, but I’m going to do everything I can to find out,” for example. This can help build deeper trust with clients, she said.

Clients are less likely to believe an advisor perceived as a know-it-all, she added.

While technology makes communication convenient, face-to-face conversations are far more beneficial for relationships with clients, she says. “I don’t accept emails from people 20 feet away from me,” Headlee says. “I delete it and say ‘I deleted that. I’m right here.’ “

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