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Phil Wickenden: Learning to listen will help providers connect with advisers

Phil WickendenProximity and intimacy are two very different things. Don’t presume because you have the former that you have the latter.

Fancy networking dos and swooshy soirees involve too many people in too small a room – and they rarely create memorable interactions.

The digital world has torn down the barriers of space, supposedly enhancing our ability to make a connection. But too often we use that physical or digital proximity as justification for self-congratulatory ticking of our client-engagement box and toddling off to churn out some more content or so-called thought leadership. But the two are very different things.

In the hundreds or thousands of interactions we have each day, proximity gives us the chance to connect, but it doesn’t ensure that this will happen. That’s up to us.
Talking to advisers about their business and technical support needs, a pretty compelling 69 per cent said, without prompting, that providers need to spend more time understanding the fundamentals of their businesses before foisting solutions on them.

In truth most listening is far from it

Yes, Mifid II presents challenges, but advisers want providers to invest more in learning about the foibles of each firm and the quirks that make each business unique before promoting products and services. This message should speak volumes, but you can’t listen and talk at the same time.

It’s fair to say that most communications initiatives from providers and platforms first seek to be understood as the industry clamours to get its points across. In doing so (increasingly noisily and obtrusively, in some instances), advisers’ true needs can be ignored – or at best lip service is paid to them.

In truth, most listening is far from it, because we listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. Stephen Covey – who wrote The 7 Effective Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit – distinguishes between five types of listening (or pretending to listen):

1. Ignoring: not really listening at all.

2. Pretending: humming along while not really following.

3. Selective listening: hearing what you want to hear.

4. Attentive listening: paying attention to the words.

5. Empathic listening: intending to understand what the other is trying to communicate.

Empathic listening – upon which real connection and engagement utterly depend – is not about agreeing with the other or building faux rapport through clever (stupid) techniques.

It is about truly committing to understand someone else’s world, what message they may be trying to convey and why, irrespective of – and totally detached from – the solutions you may have. It is the only form of true listening.

Once the other has the feeling that you are really listening, they will ask you what your opinion is. Then, and only then, is it your turn to talk.

Phil Wickenden is managing director at Cicero Research

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