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By David RichmanNational Director, Eaton Vance Advisor Institute

Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person is still speaking and you are already framing your next comment? We have all been there. What's that about? It's likely you have stopped actively listening.

Communicating empathically starts with your ability to slow down your own thoughts and a healthy dose of "agendaless" listening. So drop your agenda and learn what matters most to clients. Here's how:

1. Ask great questions. The fuel for great listening starts with asking the right questions and continues by asking appropriate follow-up questions that allow the conversation to move toward the next level of client understanding.

2. Concentrate on understanding. Go beyond the superficial and silently seek answers to such underlying questions as:

  • "What might be their deep feelings and attitudes about money?"
  • "How does money impact their self-image?"
  • "What memories, obsolete beliefs or family influences may be affecting their decisions about money?"
  • "How can I best help them?"

Why silently seeking answers? Because blurting out questions such as those above will likely send them packing. Once they understand that you are genuinely interested, you might want to say something such as, "The reason for my questions is to help better assess whether we can be of value to you."

3. Go beyond words. As your clients talk, listen carefully. Go beyond their words — their "text" — and notice their "subtext" — the meaning behind their words. Pay careful attention to their facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Often, that is where deeper truths lie.

4. Dive deeper. Formulate more questions to ask. You can replicate a doctor's method and say:

  • "Is there anything else? That's interesting. Please tell me more."
  • "What I hear you saying is ___. Is that correct?"

Bottom line: To fully hear your clients and understand them, you need to do more than pause your presentation. You need to pause your agenda.