We humans live by story. Stories, like tributaries meandering into a larger river, flow and feed who we are and what matters most to us. And yes, more so now than ever before, voices heard and overheard, posts, blogs, and sound bites trickle ideas into our consciousness we often accept without question. True or false, positive or negative, these ideas, which western writer Louis L’amour called “notions,” take on a life of their own and seldom die.

To the point, both advisors and clients bring their notions – all of them – into the conjoined stream of our work. Some of these notions live in our collective consciousness. A prospect or client says, “The markets are rigged,” “stocks lose money,” “cash in the bank is safe,” and “I don’t believe in insurance.” I’ve heard them all and when I do my mental reaction is, “Say what?” followed by an attempt to deconstruct the notion with the client doing the heavy lifting.

How do we address inaccurate, but passionately held notions? It’s not easy! Begin by asking, “Can you tell me where and when you first heard that?” The idea here is to focus on the notion rather than the client. You may want to blurt out, “That’s the lamest idea I’ve ever heard!” but that would only put the client on the defensive. Go beyond the client to the source. “Can you tell me where and when you heard that?” And then listen to the story, picking up all those extra bits of information the client shares. Asking that one simple question will tell you more about your client than you can imagine.

Second, respond to your client’s response by saying something like, “I grew up hearing that same idea,” or, “More than a few of our clients have shared with me a similar story.”  When we learn that others share our feelings – whether they are based on fact or fiction—we draw some measure of comfort. Finding that common ground is where deconstructing notions begins.

Now ask, “May I share something I have learned about that commonly believed idea?” Everyone enjoys learning something new. Gaining client permission moves you to what we call “the teachable moment” when facts may – and I emphasize the word “may” – lead the client to a place of greater awareness and knowledge. This approach has the client talking rather than you telling owning with you the process of discovery. 

Storytellers that we are, our lives fill up with notions of all kinds. Many of them help us understand our world for the better. Some of them cripple our ability to make decisions that are in our best interest. 

Learn to recognize notions both in yourself and in others. When a notion does not pass the factual test, invite the client to share a story. Lean into and listen to that story finding the teachable moment that creates another place for you to live in the advisor role and serve your clients.

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