David Richman: Welcome. This is David Richman and I’m delighted today to be with my long-time friend and collaborator, Dr. Robert Brooks. I’ve had the honor to co-author two books with Dr. Brooks including our most recent book called Chasing Positivity. The book is based on the principles of positive psychology which are the underpinnings of positive emotions and the creation of what Dr. Brooks coined years ago, a phrase, motivating environments. Dr. Brooks has co-authored an additional 16 other books and authored such. He’s a prolific thinker and motivator. He’s trained as a psychologist who focuses on the topics of resilience and motivation, creating positive work environments and nurturing family relationships. So today, we’re going to talk about one of our favorite topics which is the power of positive emotions and its relationship to positive psychology. Specifically, we’d like to discuss with you why positive emotions are so important for you as an advisor and how you can use them to purposefully create a motivating environment which is an environment characterized by trust and collaboration where people are respecting one another and wanting to work with each other. So before we dive in, just a little footnote here. I tend to call Dr. Brooks, Bobby, since I’ve only known him as Bobby since – for a long, long time. So Bobby, if you can please provide us with some background on your thoughts around the world of what has become known in the past several decades as positive psychology. 

Dr. Robert Brooks: I’d love to, David. Given your introduction, you’ve already created positive emotions for me. So thanks for having me here today. Prior to the 1990s, maybe a little before, psychologists like me or most psychologists followed what we - was really referred to as a medical model focusing on a patient’s deficits and how to fix them. When the field of positive psychology really started to emerge in the 1990s, psychologists began to realize the shortcomings of this medical model in our treatment approach. Rather than just focusing on what is wrong with people, we recognize what may seem very obvious now how important it was to identify and reinforce their strengths as well. In addition to identifying strengths, 
the research in positive psychology encompass looking at such themes as what brings purpose and meaning to one’s life, the importance of gratitude and the power of positive emotions in one’s life. I started to adopt the tenets of positive psychology because I began to recognize that if I were to be more effective in helping people to overcome their difficulties and to motivate them to change, I really had to appreciate and highlight the beauty and strengths of each person I was seeing in therapy. 

David Richman: Thanks, Bobby. So as you kind of think about positive psychology and know what advisors do for a living, why do you think it’s a topic that is worthy of their focus? 

Dr. Robert Brooks: That is such an important question because it’s not just therapists who should embrace positive psychology. I think advisors also. Let me start by saying that studies of positive psychology reveal the impact positive emotions such as joy, happiness, and contentment had in all aspects of our life. For example, there’s this wonderful research that shows when genuine positive emotions emerge, parts of the brain involved with our wellbeing get activated. Also, positive emotions help people to be better problem solvers, to be more open to hearing new ideas, and to considering different actions to take. Now, in terms of specifically financial advisors, if you’re meeting with clients, if you can create positive emotions in the meeting, the more likely that your clients will be open to hearing new ideas and very importantly, the more receptive they will be to following those new ideas. We can think about it this way. They will then become more open to engaging with you in problem solving. Ultimately, they will become more open to trusting you. 

I began to realize that my patients were more willing to work with me if positive emotions were created early on in the relationship. This helped to create what you mentioned before, motivating environments. A number of years ago, 
I coined the term motivating environments to capture those situations in which everyone wants to work together towards a common goal. You very importantly begin to trust each other. There’s a certain sense of safety and security. If we look at schools, for example, think back to classrooms where there were positive emotions. We felt much more safe and secure with a teacher who had created these positive emotions. We were more open to learning and to replying to questions. When negative emotions like fear or anger existed, we probably felt more afraid to make a mistake, which ultimately lessened our ability to learn. So I would strongly suggest that one of the first roles of a financial advisor, 
I’m really going to emphasize this, when meeting with a client is to create positive emotions that will then contribute to the creation of a motivating environment. 

David Richman: Well, that’s great stuff, Bobby. I’d love to drill specifically into this idea of a motivating environment as it relates to a phrase you taught me years ago that I’ll put in quotes, “islands of competence.” So how can an advisor embrace this concept when engaging with a client and how do you believe that can lead them to creating a motivating environment?

Dr. Robert Brooks: I love that question because it’s been my life’s work as a psychologist. I mentioned earlier that prior to the emergence of positive psychology, therapy often focused on a person’s deficit. Thus, during my first session or two with new patients, I mainly ask them to talk about what they saw as their problems because they were coming in to speak to me about their problems but it was a mistake. For example, if I was going to see a child in therapy, the first session or two with the parents, I would basically ask them to tell me about their kid’s difficulties. Then I began to realize that if all we spoke about were problems, David, at the end of these sessions, people seem more depressed. I know I felt more depressed. 

Then I had this transformative moment. One evening, after having had an especially difficult day where I felt all of my patients were doing poorly, I had this image where I felt all of my patients were drowning in an ocean of inadequacy. At that point, I had this epiphany. I said, “You know what? If there is an ocean of inadequacy, there must be ‘islands of competence’.” That image of islands of competence prompted me to change my therapeutic approach. I always wondered what would happen if after 10 or 15 minutes of learning about some of the problems my adult patients were experiencing or what parents were experiencing about their children, I were to say, “Now that I’ve heard about some of your or your child’s problems, could you tell me what do you see as your or your child’s passions, their strengths?” Or, what I call, their “islands of competence.” What occurred, David, was incredible. 

Once I asked that question, I found that my patients or the parents of my patients began to talk about themselves or their child’s strengths. It actually facilitated therapy. It wasn’t that we ignored discussing their problems. We couldn’t do that. If anything, I found that inviting people to describe “islands of competence” increase their openness to 
examining and addressing problems. I must say, on those occasions when patients said they didn’t know what their strengths were, I would say that’s okay. Sometimes we can’t immediately identify our strengths but one of our goals in therapy is to figure out what our strengths are or what your child’s strengths are so we can reinforce them. Looking back, I realize now, by asking about strengths I was creating positive emotions which led to people to be more open and free during our conversation. It’s led us to see the patient as a whole person, not just someone who has a problem or deficits and they began to see themselves in that way or their kids in that way. 

Now, we can think about what does this mean for advisors. As I said before, positive emotions lead people to be more open, better problem solvers, more trusting. If an advisor at the very beginning says to a prospective client, “One of my roles is to really get to know you as much as possible.” And, then directly ask them things like, “What are some of the things you enjoy doing and why?” That advisor is not only creating positive emotions but is conveying the following message, “You’re much more than just a financial portfolio to me. I’d like to get to know people and what they enjoy doing. All of this information is going to be important as we continue to work together.” So what I’m suggesting is right from the start, you want to create positive emotions and then a motivating environment. As a result, that prospective client is going to be much more willing to hear your ideas. This person may not always agree with your perspective but that person is certainly going to feel more willing to listen. There’s going to be a much better atmosphere of a give and take between you and the client. 

David Richman: That’s great stuff. Let’s move on to a related thought. I’ll often ask an audience of advisors what is the one thing that all your clients have in common. The answer I’m striving for and often get is, they want to be happy. Everyone has that one thing in common. Now, we may have different drivers of happiness. Yet at our core, we all want joy. We all want to be happy. So when you think about this notion of the power of positive emotions and an advisor’s ability to foster those emotions, how does that relate to your thinking in terms of your experience on the broader topic of happiness? 

Dr. Robert Brooks: It ties very much together, David. As a matter of fact, Shawn Achor, a psychologist has done a lot of research in this area and he wrote the book, The Happiness Advantage. He said something that relates directly to me to the advisor’s role. Too often, he said, we think it’s success that leads to 
happiness. While there’s certainly some truth to that such as getting a promotion or finishing a project or attracting a new client will make you happy, according to Achor, we really have it backwards. It’s not that success leads to happiness but rather it’s happiness that leads to success. 

As we reflect upon that thought, it’s important to consider how does Achor define happiness. I love his definition. He talks about happiness as positive emotions combined with a sense of meaning or purpose. We know from the resilience research that when people feel they have some sense of purpose or meaning to their lives, when they believe they’re making a difference in the lives of others, they’re going to be more resilient. Essentially, applying Achor’s perspective to the advisor situation, he would say – I think he would say that the advisor’s first goal is to create positive emotions during the meeting with a client. By emphasizing the role of purpose, Achor makes an important point. It’s not just saying to yourself be happy. It’s believing that you’re leading a more purposeful life. To support his point, he also cites brain research that indicates when positive emotions are present, it helps us to better problem solvers. 

So if I’m an advisor, I would be thinking something I mentioned before, in every prospective or existing client meeting, how might I be able to create positive emotions during this meeting? What are some of the things I could say or do? As we discussed earlier, one of the things advisors can do is to ask clients about their interest, or their “islands of competence” before you get into a discussion about their portfolio. By doing this, you’re inviting that person to begin to talk about things that have great meaning to them. This establishes a very positive tone for the work you’re doing or going to be doing. It’s important to keep in mind that many clients may tend to look at things that are not perfect in their life. As a result, they may miss out on being able to fully acknowledge the things that are wonderful and can provide happiness. By creating a positive emotional culture and being able to influence the conversation, I believe advisors can foster a sense of happiness by how they ask questions or frame the client’s perspective about something good in their life. I hope that makes sense.

David Richman: It certainly does, Bobby. Thank you for that. To your last point specifically, communicating to clients that you are attempting to understand their perspective conveys empathy, which I know you believe is an essential ingredient in creating a motivating environment. 
For instance, saying to a client, “I think I understand where you’re coming from. Or I’m glad you could explain it this way. I now have a clear understanding.” Phrases like that strengthen your relationship with your client, don’t they?

Dr. Robert Brooks: Very much so, David. As you noted, I believe being empathic is so important in developing a motivating environment. If a client feels the advisor is validating what he or she is experiencing, that they’re truly trying to understand them, that helps to create a positive emotional climate. There’s been some very thoughtful research on the concept of the emotional culture of a whole organization. Not surprisingly, the research shows emotional cultures filled with positivity are much more productive than those based on fear or anger. The research about the culture of an organization can apply to advisors in terms of the emotional climate they create with clients. 

Just as an example, a client or prospective client may feel validated and understood when advisors says something like, “If I ask you a question and you’re not certain why I’m asking, please let me know.” A comment like that relays to the client that we’re trying to understand them and it also reinforces a positive emotional culture. Research also indicates that even a small gesture, a few words expressed by one person towards another can have a lifelong impact. These small gestures have been described as micro moments. When they’re positive, they’re viewed as micro affirmation. 

For example, something as simple as the way you greet someone or smile you show will be long remembered by the recipient of that greeting. In my clinical practice, I often ask during one of my last sessions with patients, what do they remember about one of our first couple of sessions together. It’s always interesting to hear what they remember. One person said, “I remember the warm way you greeted me. It made me feel more at ease.” Another said, “You really seem to care because you told me right away that if I didn’t understand why you were asking questions, I should ask you.” Someone else said to me, “How you right away asked me about my strengths and what I was interested in.” David, it became evident to me that the small ways in which we set the tone in the very beginning of our relationships with patients and the same would be true with our clients, was very impactful on the work we were to do together. 

David Richman: You know, Bobby, what you’re touching on underscores why the first dynamic of Chasing Positivity is communicating emphatically. So, when we are emphatic with others and they feel that we are trying, really trying, to see the world through their eyes, then we are leaving ourselves behind, fostering a sense of positive emotion which can even in the most difficult circumstances add to their sense of happiness.

Dr. Robert Brooks: I would totally agree with that. Let me put it in this way. When we feel there is a lack of understanding, it typically leads us to feel frustrated and angry. In contrast, when we feel we’re with someone who’s really trying to understand us, even if they don’t necessarily agree with us, they’re validating what we are saying. When we feel validated, we experience a greater sense of trust and security in our relationship with the other person. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for me to say right at the beginning of my relationship with a new patient, “If you ever think I am not understanding you or if you don’t understand why I’m asking the questions I ask, please let me know. One of the most important things in our relationship is that we understand each other.” 

It’s so interesting that sometimes at my workshop, when I mentioned making comments like this right at the beginning of my therapy work, I sometimes had someone say, “By focusing on strength and positive emotions, does that mean we should ignore negative feelings?” I always emphasize that embracing the tenets of positive psychology does not mean you ignore negative emotions or negative events. This position is especially important during these very challenging times. Positive psychology takes into consideration problems and strengths but in doing so, it examines the way in which we are coping with negative emotions and events in our life and requests that we should not lose sight of our strengths. 

That’s why an effective advisor is not going to immediately say to a client who’s expressed being worried, “There’s no reason for you to be upset.” If clients feel that their thoughts and emotions are not being validated, they’re not going to be our clients much longer. A validating response would be, “I’m glad you could tell me about being upset or worried. This is a very problematic time. However, by working together, we can try to make it easier.” This kind of validating statement acknowledges that you understand their negative emotions, that you understand these negative emotions are present but you’re also suggesting the importance of engaging in problem solving and solving these problems which reinforces resilience. When positive emotions exist, David, clients are going to be much more likely as we’ve discussed to work closely with you because they’re going to trust you. They’re going to feel more secure with you. 

David Richman: That’s such an important point. I want to come at it maybe a little differently because when people think of positive emotions, I think perhaps that they’re just thinking about how to be upbeat. In times like these that we’re all living through, it doesn’t have to be an upbeat conversation in order to foster a sense of positive emotions which is really some of the things you’ve been talking about. 

I’ll give you an example. Recently, I was having a conversation with my colleague during which he started asking me a bunch of really heartfelt questions about how I’m grappling with this moment we’re all living through. How has it changed my outlook on things? What am I doing differently? How am I thinking differently, if at all, about tomorrow? It turned into just an extraordinarily heavy conversation which at the end of it, I just felt lighter for it. By the way, I recently thanked him for that conversation and it was just such a wonderful moment. Talk about gratitude, Bobby, and the impact of that. To tell me when you think about it, that’s the power of positive emotion. When we talk about empathy, he was really leading with genuine curiosity. He had no agenda. He was just trying to deepen his understanding of what’s going on in my life and my brain and my heart right now. When I thanked him, he came back at me and I thanked him a week later and I said, “You know, I just wanted to let you know the impact of that call.” He said to me, “Well, David, I think of you a lot and I care about you and I know you work hard and I want to know that you’re doing okay.” It almost brought me to tears. It was so heartfelt. It was so genuine. So even through difficult times, you can bring positive emotion in by showcasing how much you care and that’s why emphatic communication is such a powerful force for your continued approaches to bringing positivity to your interactions with your client.

Dr. Robert Brooks: David, that is such a poignant example. As I listen to you, a few things came to mind and it’s so, as you said, heartfelt. One, the two of you were really in tune with each other and when you’re in tune with someone, the positive emotions are so great. The second is that you are also learning from each other. I’m also thinking when you expressed your gratefulness, which we’ve talked a lot about gratefulness in the past, is such a vital part of positive emotions. It really reminds me as you were talking of some of the therapy sessions I’ve had, when I feel I’ve learned as much from my patient during the session as the patient has learned from me. Again, it has to do with being in tune with each other, being open to learn from each other.

David Richman: Yes, you’re right. It really did feel that way. It was a wonderful experience.

Dr. Robert Brooks: Just hearing it, I really [laughter] felt very emotional. I’ve had sessions during my long career where you feel so tuned in with each other that you experience very positive emotions and you’re right - I want to emphasize it, it doesn’t mean just being happy. Positive emotions arise when you feel understood, when you feel you’re really connecting with another person. That’s why it could be the smallest things that you say or do that make a difference. This actually, as you were talking, leads me to suggestions for advisors. 

First impressions are important with a prospective client. It doesn’t mean they can’t be changed but an advisor approaching a meeting with prospective clients with a thought, “How do I create positive emotions,” has a good chance of saying or doing things that will make them feel early on that you genuinely care about them. This will help create a sense of trust and a great willingness to hear new ideas and to work with you. So much can go on in the first few minutes of an initial meeting. The good news is, there are specific things we can say and do such as being more emphatic and validating and inquiring about their strengths and asking about their families that can be so helpful. What this suggests is not to worry about jumping into a discussion about their financial portfolio. Instead, focus on developing the relationship with them so they become more eager to hear your ideas.

David Richman: Yes, totally. I totally agree, Bobby. So I’ve got one last question because we’re running out of time here. Can you offer any additional best practices for creating a positive emotional culture when engaging with prospective or existing clients? 

Dr. Robert Brooks: Sure. It’s a very important question also. I’m a strong advocate of sending a brief note after a meeting with a prospect or to express genuine appreciation and show that you care. Some people may question how useful or important it is to send a brief note. As I discussed earlier, seemingly small gestures can have such a great impact, including simply writing a note shortly after your first session with a client to say, “I enjoyed meeting with you today.” It’s very meaningful to follow up with someone to show that you care. A personal outreach, for example. Sending a birthday greeting or a note at a significant event at a person’s life demonstrates that they’re a real person to you and you’re thinking about them. As you can tell, David, my entire philosophy is all about the relationship. It’s within a relationship that positive emotions and resilience arise. 

David Richman: That’s great and a great summary of your thinking there, Bobby, at the end. I would also suggest that because people are feeling to some degree so isolated during these difficult times, all the more reason why small acts of kindness that advisors take on right now are all the more meaningful. 

So let’s end in a spirit of positive emotion with a positive thought. Say you sent a heartfelt note to a client to let them know you were thinking about him or her, it would say something like, “Just thinking of you.” It’d take you 30 seconds, 45 seconds to write that note. Think about it. How would you feel if you got a note like that? If the answer is, as it would be for me, I would feel an increased degree of contentment and maybe even happiness. Take the act. Write the words. It just takes you a moment. Its impact can be extraordinary especially during today’s difficult times. 

Thank you so much, Bobby, for being with us today. It’s been a pleasure having you to discuss the power of positive emotions, the importance of creating a motivating environment and to foster collaboration with prospective and existing clients. Thanks again for your wisdom and your complete approach to the impact of creating this positive culture and deepening relationships with clients. Thank you.
  

The views expressed in these posts are those of the authors and are current only through the date stated. These views are subject to change at any time based upon market or other conditions, and Eaton Vance disclaims any responsibility to update such views. These views may not be relied upon as investment advice and, because investment decisions for Eaton Vance are based on many factors, may not be relied upon as an indication of trading intent on behalf of any Eaton Vance fund. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

What's next?

If you're interested in digging deeper into this topic, you can go to the next resource. If not, we recommend continuing to the next subtopic.