On Trust, Paying Attention, and Listening

The homepage of Brené Brown’s website has a wonderful quote of hers: “Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.” By now you may have read Vanguard’s new paper, “Assessing the Value of Advice,” and learned that their recent (2018) research shows that “emotional outcomes account for 45% of total perceived value” of financial advice. And within that 45%, trust was found to be the most important factor, followed by “personal connection with the advisor.” The remainder of the perceived value of the advisory relationship was found to be the technical part–financial and portfolio outcomes.

On Paying Attention and Listening

In addition to designing some learning experiences here at the Financial Transitionist Institute, I teach kids and adults mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). What that means at its basic level is that I teach people what it feels like to pay attention and what it feels like to listen. I provide them with ways to experience attention and listening, often for the first time. Paying attention and listening are part of the fabric of our lives, and we’re supposed to magically understand how to do them from early childhood. We’re supposed to learn from the grown-ups around us who are modeling these crucial life skills. The problem is that the modeling is often not happening. To recap: Kids are constantly being told to pay attention and to listen, but they aren’t formally taught how to do either. Furthermore, they cannot rely on what the grown-ups around them are modeling, as they haven’t had instruction either.

The Good News

Both paying attention and listening are skills that can be cultivated by just about anyone with an intention to learn them. And they involve similar kinds of personal practice–the development of similar qualities of mind and body. If trust does indeed come largely from paying attention and listening, it behooves all financial advisors to be able to do both. The good news is that no one in your life will benefit more from learning how to pay attention and listen than you. An entirely new world of awareness opens up when you begin to pay attention. Awareness of self, others, and environment. New ways of meeting uncertainty and conflict emerge, and old ways of reacting melt away.

Build Trust by Transforming the Way You Pay Attention and Listen

Here are some things you can do in your next client meeting to begin to improve the quality of your attention and your listening:
  1. Find your stillness. One of my favorite M. Scott Peck quotes is, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” And that includes taking notes. Yes, there are times for collecting information during meetings. Those times involve active listening, and my guess is you’re pretty good at that. But if you want to become a better listener in the moments that call out for it, you are going to need to go deeper. And that depth begins with stillness.
  2. Resist the temptation to fill silence. Prompting, paraphrasing and jumping in with solutions are frequently appropriate when speaking with clients. But sometimes they’re not the most skillful response. This is particularly true when the client is having difficulty articulating their feelings or thoughts.
  3. Notice the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise in you while the other person is speaking. None of us is without a rich personal history, frequently labeled “emotional baggage,” that can be touched and moved by the words and behavior of others. If you’re human like me, sometimes you respond from the midst of your own story rather than the one sitting across from you. Don’t beat yourself up over it, just be aware–just notice when you do it. Awareness builds and spreads exponentially, you’ll find. And it causes shifts within you and in the way you interact with others. It creates compassion from pain, and it allows the shackles of judgment to be released.

Learn More

These tips are by no means a quick fix. But they have a chance of developing momentum and then becoming integrated into your way of being through daily practice. How can you learn more? Look into your local Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course and get acquainted with yourself in a way you never knew was possible. If you’re a financial advisor looking to become a better listener, Deep Listening is part of the curriculum of our yearlong program in Financial Transitions Planning (we call it “Core”). There’s still time to jump into the group that begins in October, and the following group begins in December.