David Richman: Welcome. This is David Richman. I’m delighted today to bring you Dr. Robert Brooks. He and I have collaborated together for over a decade now. Our work includes writing two books together for financial advisors. He has also co-authored and authored 16 other books. He’s quite the prolific author, thinker, and motivator. He’s also a clinical psychologist who focuses on the topics of resilience, motivation, creating positive work environment and nurturing family relationships. The Charismatic Advisor, our first book together, was written back in 2010. It’s about the importance of becoming a source of strength in the lives of your clients. Our latest book, Chasing Positivity, brought out in the spring of 2020, 10 years later precisely, takes the concept of becoming a source of strength to the next level by offering a paradigm for advisors to engage in conversations that create motivating environments that inspire action. Today, we’re going to introduce you to this paradigm which we call the three dynamics. A little editorial note here since we go way, way back, I’ve always called Dr. Brooks Bobby, so I always trip when I try to call him Dr. Brooks, so with me today, he’s going to be Bobby. Bobby, welcome. Dr. Robert Brooks: Thank you so much for having me here today. David Richman: My pleasure. Let’s start off with a question for our listeners. How many times have you heard an existing or prospective client say to you, “Let me think about it. I’ll get back to you,” right after you made what you thought was a very thoughtful recommendation? Bobby, while the audience thinks about their response, why don’t you share what you think that phrase really means, “Let me think about it. I’ll get back to you?” Dr. Robert Brooks: Well, I think, David, it’s really a very nice way of saying, “No, I’m not interested in moving forward with your suggestion.” What’s more, it puts you, the advisor, in a difficult situation because you then have to chase this person for a definitive response and you’re going to start looking like a salesperson if you do. David Richman: Yes, isn’t that an interesting, ironic twist? Most advisors we work with try to do everything to not be seen like a salesperson and yet by someone thinking they’re being nice by saying, “Let me think about it,” they’re putting them in exactly the position they didn’t want to be in, which is now chasing that person. Now, when I present that concept of, “Let me think about it,” to groups of advisors, I often then follow it with the question, “What is your number one competitor?” For our listeners, go ahead and take a shot. What word or phrase would you use to answer that question? Go ahead and write it down. Bobby, as an expert - while everyone is writing that down - in human behavior, what do you see as advisor’s number one competitor? Dr. Robert Brooks: You could see I was ready to jump in because I’ve seen it in so many different walks of life. It’s inertia. I see it all the time in my clinical practice. People are often hesitant to take action even if part of them wants to do so. When I dig deeper into this, when I’m seeing people in therapy, I will specifically ask them questions like, “Do you like your comfort zone?” because they’re staying in their comfort zone. Often they’ll actually say no, yet they continue to stay in this comfort zone. They may not like it but there are things that hold them back. They’re more afraid of taking action and trying new things even though they are not very happy with what exists right now. David Richman: Over decades, you’ve seen that play out in so many therapy sessions with so many patients. In the financial world, behavioral finance experts have a phrase for this They call it “status quo bias,” the status quo where they were thinking about your patients or advisor’s clients or prospective clients. The status quo is often appealing because it’s exactly what they’re doing right now. To change status quo, someone needs a compelling reason. An advisor who is unable to help someone overcome the status quo ends up grappling with inertia which is a formidable enemy to overcome. In writing Chasing Positivity, Bobby and I developed a paradigm, this thing that I referenced earlier, the 3 Dynamics, which advisors can practice and apply to all dimensions of conversation in order to help clients and importantly prospective clients overcome inertia. Here’s an overview of each before we dive deeper into more detail. First, communicating empathically. This means starting your conversations with an attempt to understand the other person’s perspective. Second, collaborating consciously, and we use the word “consciously” quite consciously to make certain that in every conversation you are being intentional about how you collaborate. Our third dynamic, to put an exclamation point on this whole process, we call inspiring action. Your success in inspiring action is often based upon how you phrase things, the words you actually use with clients. Words matter. Bobby, so let’s move to our first dynamic. What are your thoughts on this notion of communicating empathically? Dr. Robert Brooks: It’s such a vital part of all of our work. We know from the field of positive psychology that one of the main tasks in a relationship, let’s say a financial advisor-client relationship, is to create positive emotions. In a relationship with positive emotions, clients will be more willing to hear our ideas. They will be more willing to consider different options, and they’re more likely to follow through on our suggestions. Research shows that problem-solving parts of the brain, and this is so fascinating, are activated when there are positive emotions in the environment. With that background, communicating empathically means trying to put yourself in the shoes of another person to see the world through their eyes. Empathy, David, is much different from sympathy which means to feel sorry for someone. When someone senses another person is trying to understand their point of view, they feel validated. When you validate someone’s point of view, it doesn’t mean you agree with that person. Rather you’re communicating, “You know, I’m really attempting to see where you’re coming from.” This kind of validating statement helps to trigger actually positive emotions. Communicating empathically requires advisors to stop and think about the client’s point of view, to respect that point of view, and to really listen closely and not express your next thought until you hear what the client has to say. When an existing or prospective client feels understood because their advisor validates his or her thoughts, they will be much more receptive to hearing your ideas because your empathy helped to create these positive emotions. David Richman: That’s terrific, Bobby. The best advice given to me on communicating empathically came from an interview with a doctor. When Bobby and I were collaborating on the Charismatic Advisor way back in 2008-2009 as I mentioned that came out in 2010, we interviewed a whole range of professionals, not just financial advisors. We spoke with a number of doctors since in our view many of the best doctors do things in certain ways that have commonalities to what we deem as best practices for financial advisors. In my specific interviews, I interviewed when I was living in Connecticut at that time five doctors, and one of my initial throwaway question at the end of the interview that started to become part of each interview was, “Gee, Doctor, if you had a choice of one doctor in the area who you would love to have as your general practitioner, who would it be?” Four of the doctors came up with this one woman’s name and they then quickly said, “Yes, but she’s got a close practice.” Well, obviously, given my curiosity being so piqued, I networked into that doctor and she agreed to having a meeting with me. Ultimately, fast forward the tape, I’ve got into her office and I said, “Doctor, I know how busy you are. I really only have one question for you,” and she politely asked, “And what is that?” “What makes you special?” The first thing she said was, “I don’t know.” She was kind of sheepish about it. Fortunately, I practice what I preach and I just smiled and paused. Then she gave me this gift. I’ll share it with you today. She said, “I’m not sure. All I can tell you is one thing. When I knock on that door before entering the examination room, then walk into the room and close the door and greet the patient, I leave myself behind.” I got to tell you when she said that, I felt goose bumps. Our continued conversation then went into her highlighting this idea of what that meant to her, and I think that it is really one of the most important lessons for any advisor to follow. If you want to be communicating empathically, it starts with your ability to leave yourself behind – your own biases, your own agendas, your own preconceived notions of where this conversation should go. By doing so, you start the process of being able to really be an empathic communicator. Dr. Robert Brooks: David, when I hear it every time, it’s just such an incredible, beautiful story, and I want to add two points to what you said. First, I found it very helpful as a clinician to say to a patient early on in the first conversation, “If I say anything that you don’t understand, please let me know.” What I found is inviting people to let you know when they’re not certain why you’re saying something or they don’t understand something you’re saying, it really sets the stage for their feeling comfortable and asking you questions and ensuring that you’re on the same wavelength with them. The second point I have is related to the phrase “leave yourself behind.” There are specific questions we can ask ourselves that help us to be more empathic as it relates to this phrase. For example, what words would we hope our clients use to describe us? Because all of our clients have words to describe us and – and this is very important as you and I have discussed – are we intentionally saying and doing things in a way where they’re likely to use these words? These kinds of questions really encourage us to put ourselves in the client’s shoes and imagine how we are coming across to them. David Richman: Thank you, Bobby. That’s really great, and it really touches the surface on a topic that we could be discussing together for many days. This first dynamic, communicating empathically, is important because it’s the foundation for consistently chasing positivity, to inspire people to do what you and they decide to be doing, to do what you know is in their best interests. Let’s move on to our second dynamic which is dynamic of collaborating consciously. Bobby, what does this mean to you with respect to the notion of intentionality, please? Dr. Robert Brooks: I’ve always been very interested in motivation and I actually years ago coined the term “motivating environment” to capture those situations where people trust each other where they really want to work together and they feel comfortable taking action. A basic dimension of almost any theory of motivation involves the feeling of collaboration. When we use the word “consciously,” we’re really emphasizing that even as experts in our field, we have to make certain that our clients feel that their voice is being heard and really respected. We’re in a journey with clients. That’s how I look at it, David, and we’re looking together at different options and hearing their thoughts about the options they want to pursue regarding their financial life. We’re not only inviting their input but also making certain that we do not minimize or dismiss their thoughts in any way during this journey. The last point ties to our discussion about empathy because we’re really trying to understand their point of view. It’s almost impossible for me to think about creating positive emotions or working closely together if one person in the relationship feels their voice is not being heard. We have to be very conscious - there’s that word again - throughout the conversation to ask questions that invite feedback such as, and here are a couple of questions. “How does this idea sound to you?” “What thoughts do you have about it?” These are the kinds of questions that convey a desire for collaboration and they help clients to feel that they have a sense of ownership for what is happening. David Richman: So true, Bobby. In my experience, the best advisors who harness the power of collaboration are extremely conscious about it. They recognize that they can be far more impactful when the client feels completely intertwined in the decision-making process as opposed to simply being told what to do. This is different from those advisors who think they know what the client should do. If the advisor says, “Don’t worry about it. I got it from here. I’ll tell you what to do,” and the client follows through, then he or she was never involved in the decision. If anything goes even slightly wrong, maybe even just a little sideways for a while, the client might say, “You decided that I should do this, so this is all on you.” It’s kind of what I like to call a no-risk zone for the client. Dr. Robert Brooks: As you’re saying this, it’s very seductive when people say, “Just tell me what to do.” It’s very seductive and it maybe seems easier to just tell them what to do. However, if they do not genuinely feel - it’s what you said, David, if they do not genuinely feel that their voice is heard, you’ll certainly hear about it when things don’t work out. Even if things work out for them, you’re robbing them of a sense of ownership which can really interfere with a good working relationship. I always say it’s important for clients to have a sense of ownership of these decisions. Being an expert means you share different ideas with your clients. You engage them in a dialogue and then you would arrive at decisions together, not that you’re making the decision for them. David Richman: Now, that was really well said. You really touched on what I think is an extremely important notion that some advisors feel collaboration somehow weakens them. Yet in fact, you and I have talked about this at length, it’s the opposite. It strengthens them. Bobby, maybe you can relate to some of that in your experience as a therapist. Dr. Robert Brooks: Yes. It may seem paradoxical but I felt patients or people with whom I’m coaching or consulting and who view me as an expert and I do have more knowledge than they may have in certain ways, but I have always made sure that they see themselves as active participants in a conversation. In no way does it lessen them seeing me as an expert. I believe that they respect me more because I am respecting them and really encouraging them to tell me their thoughts. David Richman: Ultimately, collaboration allows an advisor to lead with genuine curiosity and keep asking that next question. Then by asking next questions of the clients, you’re going deeper and deeper into what really matters most to them. You’re essentially making sure you have not prematurely, to use a medical analog here for a moment, prescribed something that may or may not be appropriate. Collaborating consciously then helps you do that consistently in conversation. Let’s move on to our third and final dynamic, which we call Inspiring Action. In many ways, we view this as a secret sauce to help clients and prospective clients overcome inertia. Just to be clear, there is no secret sauce, but we’ll call it that. I have coached so many advisors who are great at these first two dynamics, but then somehow they fall short in helping clients move forward in overcoming inertia and inspiring action. Dr. Robert Brooks: David, in collaborating with you on the book Chasing Positivity, I truly loved how you divided the issue of inspiring action into two key moments - moments of reflection and moments of inflection. I really think they are separate but related, and I would love to hear you share your thoughts about both of these. David Richman: As we’ve deliberated on this section of the book and really brainstormed a great deal, we started to recognize that there are moments that we’ve started to call moments of reflection which are really mindsets. You as an advisor can influence through dialogue. Mindsets shape beliefs and emotions regarding whether someone wants to move forward with you and your recommendations. These are ongoing moments, as prospective clients are experiencing you, that their inner voice is reflecting on something that you’ve either said or done. The more you as an advisor recognizes that there are indeed these moments of reflection going on in conversation, the more you realize that it’s not just the client you’re dealing with. You’re also dealing with that inner voice that’s talking to them. This means there are more people reflecting in real time on what exactly is going on. On the flipside, there are situations when literally the proverbial light bulb goes off in existing or prospective client’s mind that says, “Yes, this is someone I want to work with. Yes, we should move forward on this idea.” These are what we came to call moments of inflection. Moments of inflection have so much to do with the words and phrases that you choose to use or not use to help inspire action. The idea of creating a motivating environment can be enhanced with a simple use of certain words and phrases. Bobby, anything to add there? Dr. Robert Brooks: Definitely, David. What we found during our many years of really wonderful collaboration that applies both in the advisor situation and in therapy is that one or two words, just one or two words said differently or added to a conversation can make a difference whether a client or patient will be more willing to listen and work with us. I know you have some favorite words that financial advisors can use to create a climate of positivity and help people to be more receptive hearing what we’re going to say. I know one of them is, “I agree with you.” David Richman: Well, something that often can follow, “I agree with you,” which yes, I agree with you, Bobby. I love that word. Basically rejects that comment when someone says, “I agree with you,” but I debate the word “but” with people quite regularly. In fact, I’ve just got off the phone with someone where I was debating the word “but.” The word “but” likely does have its place, yet it’s an overused word that does not always inspire action. As you know, Bobby, I like talk about the difference between karate and judo. Suppose you were to use the ultimate judo-like approach with a prospect who explains something to you. Say they’re sitting in cash due to how confusing these markets are right now. The ultimate judo-like response is to say, “I agree with you.” Now, if you were to say, “I agree with you but,” what does that really mean? Well, to me, it really means that you really didn’t agree with that person, or you wouldn’t have inserted the word “but.” Instead, you could say, “I agree with you and.” “This world is nuts and.” It’s a totally different dynamic. The subtext of “and” is you acknowledge what they’re saying without judging its merits. This allows you to build upon their current position and thinking. For those of you who find yourself using the word “but,” what you might want to do is strike it from your vocabulary and stop using the word. I’ve candidly gone cold turkey and I’ve debated with other folks this topic who think, “Well, sometimes the word ‘but’ makes sense,” and my answer is, “Yes, maybe, yet I’m just not able to completely distinguish those limited times when it does,” so I’ve just gone cold turkey on it. If you agree with me, stop using the word unless you’re absolutely sure it makes complete sense within this context. For me, instead start replacing it with the word “and,” “And I agree with you.” See, this approach can help foster a moment of inflection in the minds and hearts of your client or prospective client, and lead that person to want to take action. Dr. Robert Brooks: You know that I will never be able to think of the words “and” or “but” in the same way anymore. It’s a wonderful example of how just two words can change the meaning of a conversation and lead from one direction or another and be experienced so differently. I know two words which both of us agree we really like, “we” and “together.” I remember when I was in graduate school, someone did a study in which they found that when people incorporated words like “we” and “together” in a comment such as, “Together, we have to figure out what will be most helpful,” rather than saying, “You tell me what to do,” people were more willing to work together when words like “we” and “together” were incorporated. David Richman: Yes, absolutely. Even when participating in meetings, I always pay attention to who’s running the meeting and how this person uses the words “we,” “Together, we.” “Together, we have to do this.” “Together, we should try to,” or just the word “together.” Dr. Robert Brooks: You can readily observe at a meeting how particular words bring people together. I’ve often recommended to therapists and advisors notice how often they use words that suggest collaboration and bring people closer together. David Richman: Yes. I’ve always felt that the word “we” is hands-down the best word in the English language for inspiring action. You want to talk about trying to with your text and your subtext, get someone to realize that you are collaborating consciously, use the word “we” instead of “I think this.” When we focus on trying to inspire action, in our view, it’s little words and phrases like these that can actually make the total difference. Dr. Robert Brooks: I agree and I know another favorite word of yours is “imagine.” David Richman: Yes, I love the word “imagine.” When you ask someone to imagine something, it depressurizes the moment, doesn’t it? When you use the word “imagine,” you’re asking someone to create a mental image of something. It’s just a wonderful word to use especially for highly visual people. Listen to how powerful it is to put these two words together or these phrases together. “If we can imagine together for a moment,” it’s one of my favorite phrases to help to inspire action because now, you’re going to get into exactly where that client’s headed at. My favorite example is when a prospective client tells you they’re already working with another advisor. Now, you have a choice to make. Either you assume that they’re telling you the truth or you assume that maybe they’re not and are trying to get you out of the phone call. How about if you didn’t have to choose either? You could say, “May I ask you a question about your relationship with your current advisor?” Now, regardless of whether they have an advisor or not, it’s likely they will agree. You then say, “If we can imagine together for a moment, what would you wish your current advisor would be doing for you and your family right now that he is currently not doing? What would that be?” Now, you’re going to learn what this person really would love to get out of any advisor, whether it’s that fictitious advisor they said they had or the actual advisor they do have. You’ll discover if there’s something else that they need right now that they’re currently not getting. Essentially, you’re inspiring action by getting the client to share a top of mind issue that they’d like to get some help on. Dr. Robert Brooks: That’s a great example you just gave, and if we go back to the topic of collaboration, we can think of it this way. You’re already starting the collaboration by having them share with you what they would like to see in you as an advisor. You’re engaging them in a dialogue and asking for their opinion. I’ve always been interested in comments we could make that are likely to be experienced as collaborative rather than comments that may make someone feel defensive. For instance, in the situation we just discussed, someone could immediately ask, “Why do you want to change advisors? Why don’t you like your current advisor?” Right away, this kind of comment immediately could lead someone to feel like they’re being interrogated and that they’re going to become defensive now and it’s going to create a great deal of tension, and they are not likely to want to have you as an advisor. David Richman: I’m really glad you pointed that out along with the important issue which is when people start to get defensive. By using the words, “First of all, do you mind if I asked you a question, in this case, about your existing advisor?” once they say yes, at least the door has been opened. It makes sense to follow that with a question that will not get them on their heels or get them feeling like they have to actually defend a decision that they’ve made. There’s no upside to that. Dr. Robert Brooks: Yes, and it brings in one of the other dynamics again, communicating empathically. How would we like to be asked questions like that? It gets back to how the words we say and, of course, the tone of voice we use, convey empathy and invite collaboration. David Richman: Bobby, you have a phrase that you use a fair amount that I love, which is, “Please ask me to explain,” which you often link with, “I want to make certain you understand.” Can you just spend a moment and expand on that a bit? Dr. Robert Brooks: Definitely. In the beginning of my career, David, when I made a statement to a patient, I assumed that the patient would understand what I was saying or what my intention was in making the comment. I soon realized that was not always the case. Some people didn’t understand why I was asking certain questions or saying certain things, and some people even experienced my comments as being judgmental which, of course, was not what I intended and interfered with our relationship. I decided to begin each new relationship by saying things like, “If I ever ask you a question and you’re not certain why am asking, or if I ever say something and you’re not certain what I mean, please let me know. One of the most important things as we work together is for us to understand each other.” It turned out my saying this was incredibly powerful. In fact, patients would tell me months later how important that statement was in terms of our work together. Another thing I do, which advisors can adopt, is to prepare people to hear certain messages, especially messages that you know they may disagree with and that may create negative emotions. One example of preparation and I call it preparing the patient is to say, “I have something to share with you. If you disagree with what I say, please let me know.” Interestingly, the more you prepare people to hear messages that in the past they may have interpreted as judgmental, the more likely they are to work with you. Basically, what you’re doing is to short-circuit a very quick negative response on their part by saying to them, “You may disagree with me.” David Richman: That’s beautiful, Bobby, and such a perfect ending to our visit here today. We’ve talked about how the 3 Dynamics of Chasing Positivity, namely communicating empathically, collaborating consciously and inspiring action weave together. They are interwoven in conversation by having you reflect on how you are listening, how you respond in the follow-up question that you ask, how you frame your questions to motivate someone to move forward in a direction that you think is going to achieve the financial outcome that they desire for their future. This idea will end where we started which we believe by bringing the 3 Dynamics into every conversation, you will be able to tackle head on the number one competitor that we’ve talked about early on in this visit which is inertia. Bobby, any closing thoughts here? Dr. Robert Brooks: I want to emphasize the more an advisor focuses first on getting to know the client rather than getting to know the client’s portfolio, the greater the probability, David, of creating positive emotions in a motivating environment that will result in a much more productive collaborative relationship. David Richman: That’s a perfect end to our conversation today. Thank you, everyone, for listening and, Bobby, thank you so much for sharing your passion and your wisdom with us today.