Before I answered his call, I recognized the number and felt with pinpoint precision what I was about to hear. “What are we going to do?” he asked. With surprising calm, I responded, “What are we going to do about what?” At that time, not unlike these first months of 2022, the markets were painfully down. But then, there was no war in Europe coupled with soaring inflation at home. He was convinced that “we”—meaning “me!”—had to do something. He was in an emotional storm!
No matter the nature of your work—accounting, law, insurance, human resources, banking, finance—clients, like us, struggle to decouple external events from their emotions. The challenge in an emotional storm is how to respond. How, indeed!
Here’s where remembered stories are magic! Do this. Go back to an earlier time when the two of you worked through another concern. “Do you recall the time when you thought your business was on the verge of collapse?” Listen, then ask, “What did you decide to do?” Don’t answer that question! In the case of my caller, I gave him room to tell me how he worked through that crisis. When clients hear their own voices sharing a positive memory, the present conversation often goes to a better, more constructive place.
In a word, you invite perspective. Having arrived at a good decision “then” can help their emotions “now.” The key is remembering those key, positive decisions from their past.
Take marriage. When a couple says, “I do,” they have no idea what life will hand them, what obstacles they will have to overcome, not to mention the little things that knit two lives together. But couples wed anyway because they have a vision of what their shared life could be. In a powerful way, shared vision, dreams, and, yes, love pull them into the “for better or for worse” future.
In the same way, invite the client to focus on their future, not the unsettling present. Celebrate a future story you helped them write and watch how the conversation changes. Markets are volatile. Economies experience recessions. Global tensions are here to stay. And yet, today, as in the past, people make a long-term commitment when they buy a home. No homeowner, however, secures an appraisal every week or decides to sell their home because they’re having a tough day at work.
When emotions are stormy, recalling a story of past success puts what may be in pieces back together. To remember is to “re-member” what may be dis-membered, recreating those bonds that connect the client with themselves and you. In an emotional storm, we offer shelter, a safe place, where feelings can vent—no matter what they are—while keeping in focus a larger, compelling, future-tugging vision.
To be clear, we must receive and validate our clients’ emotions. Saying, “I hear you and understand your concerns, many of which I share” is vital. Don’t hold back in sharing your own feelings! But don’t stop there! Gently guide the conversation to a better place asking them to tell you again their story’s hopes and dreams.
I know this. When clients are emotionally reactive, we must be proactive, helping them to re-member the story you are writing with them. Do that and your client will know you “get them” in fair weather and foul and why they chose to work with you.