The agenda set for a client meeting may be predictable: Has anything changed since we last met? Review the recent quarter or the past 6-12 months. Re-visit the asset allocation. Any recommended changes?  “Good to visit with you. See you next week at the symphony gala,” blah, blah, blah!

I deeply believe that no matter the client, the day of the week, or the statement numbers, we all hear more voices outside a conversation than any one of us can imagine. The voice we hear seems obvious: Review performance, ask questions about the client’s feelings in light of the findings, offer an idea or two, and then say “Goodbye” as we move to the thing on our schedule.  

The client, however, is hearing other voices – call it “noise” – that simply cannot be tuned out sitting with us. That noise may be the voice of their college-age daughter who’s coming home after a less-than-stellar semester. The noise could be rumors where the client works of possible “restructurings” or the little bump the client felt on his neck as he shaved that morning. We do not hear this noise, but they do—over and over and over.

And yes, we’ve had our own noise this year. Market volatility, a possible recession, the never-ending Washington soap opera, the war in Ukraine, gas at historic highs, fill in your own crisis! Our focus on getting the work done, may not give ourselves – or our clients – permission to acknowledge the noisy welter and whine of it all.

More than any time in memory, we must acknowledge the noise both in our lives and the lives of those we serve. As you meet with clients, look for signs signaling distraction or emotional dis-ease. Listen to their words more thoughtfully, notice gestures, and observe their reactions to what you say and how you say it.

Then find the courage – really give yourself permission – to say, “I sense you are a bit distracted by something going on in your life. Would you like to tell me about it?” If they do, notice them relax, maybe even smile. When that happens, you begin to hear the noise in their lives. Acknowledge and validate whatever that noise may be. 

Now take one more step. “Perhaps we need to delay making any decisions today, put a comma in our visit, and get back together in a couple of weeks.” When we acknowledge client pain, noise, uncertainty, and even fear, we give a priceless, memorable gift. 

We live in a very noisy world – and getting noisier by the day! Most of what needs to be done for a client can wait. What can’t wait is for them to hear from us that their life and well-being is the most important item on our agenda today or any day. 

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