Author of 39 books and numerous articles, Peter Drucker was acknowledged as the Father of Management Theory.  On communication, he wrote: “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” Along similar lines, a leading human resources consultant said about reference checks: “When doing reference checks, it’s wise to listen as much to what isn’t being said as to what is.”

Harvard’s Stephen Pinker has written that people often make indirect comments and use nuance to make their points, so that the listener can choose to ignore requests and suggestions without confrontation. By taking what people say at face value, you will miss important insights.

Here are four suggestions to help read between the lines in conversations with both existing and prospective clients.

  1. Practice active listeningRather than paying 100% attention to what the other person is saying, many advisors are “waiting to speak,” focusing as much on what they will say next as on the points the other person is making. The first step to reading between the lines is to develop the habit of giving the words that you hear 100% of your focus and attention. Sometimes taking brief notes can help achieve that, provided that that you maintain eye contact during most of the conversation.

    One way to practice active listening is to employ the three most-underused words in client conversations. When someone says something that is not 100% clear, pause briefly in case they want to go on and then ask for elaboration, saying “Tell me more.”

  2. Ask questions that are easy to answerWhen engaging with clients, if you want to know how people feel, it’s important to ask questions that are easy to answer.  So for example rather than saying, “Are you happy with the experience you’ve had working with me and my team? try instead,What one thing could I do to improve your experience working with me and my team?”

    Or at the end of a meeting, finish with the 10-word question:  What one thing should I know that we haven’t covered?” That question alone may open up insights that you would otherwise have missed.

See full article on The Three Key Words in Client Conversations by Dan Richards, Advisor Perspectives