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Phil Wickenden: Seek first to understand; then to be understood

Phil WickendenYork Railway museum does not understand. Neither do many providers, but more on them in a moment. While the dotting of Thomas the Tank Engine simulators amid the Pullmans and Bogie Bolsters might seem a fun thing for all the family, quite the opposite is true.

The problem is, Thomas the Tank Engine triggers a deep yearning in one-and-a-bit year olds that no number of pound coins punched into Thomas’s greedy little slot can satisfy. So, thanks Metropolis Entertainment for scattering these little machines all over the place and marring an otherwise delightful day.

Talking to advisers about their business and technical support needs, a pretty compelling 69 per cent said that providers need to spend more time understanding the fundamentals of their businesses before foisting solutions on them.

It is easy to not, but time must be invested in learning about the foibles of each firm and the quirks that make each the unique business it is before promoting products and services. This message should speak volumes, but you cannot listen and talk at the same time.

If providers do not know who does what in a business, why and how, it will just be a blanket approach, which can be useless.

It is fair to say that most communications initiatives from providers and platforms seek first 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 paid lip service to.

In truth, most listening is far from it because we listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. Author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey, distinguishes between five types of listening (or pretending to).

  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 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.

“Providers should come and work in an office and see how we have to research. They tend to not actually understand how business is done and how we advise clients.” 

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.

“Providers just need to understand us and our specialisms. A one-size-fits-all approach just won’t wash any more.”

Empathic listening 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.

“Providers and platforms need to ensure their support is relevant. That comes down to understanding our business rather than trying to impose their business model on ours.”

Phil Wickenden is managing director of Cicero Research

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