When a Colleague Just Isn’t Listening

May 13, 2014

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

One of our more senior financial advisors struggles with communication. He knows what he wants to say (I think), but he doesn’t convey his ideas in a clear and thoughtful way. We have given him media training, and it worked moderately well. It seems to me that he just doesn’t listen well, and that’s why his responses are not strong and clear. Is it possible to teach listening skills?

Heather, Northeast

Dear Heather,

Presenting or communicating with confidence, in my opinion, is one of those things that many smart people do poorly. It’s an interesting observation you make: It isn’t only about the communication but also the listening, which is when understanding takes place (or not). While we can teach people the right questions to ask, teaching them how to actively listen to the answers can prove challenging, as you observe.

It’s good that can join this person in meetings and comment on what you observe. If you are a peer or in a senior position to him, you might have a chance to take good notes and explain to him in a supportive manner where he went off track. Walk him through a presentation with a client and ask what he thought about when the client answered this way, or that way. See if he actually “heard” what the client said but just didn’t react the way you might have.

Instead of giving negative feedback right away, try and probe why he responded the way he did. There might be something you are missing, too.

If you know specific ways he can improve, then give him very specific steps he can take. I often find people give feedback that is too general – “you need to listen more effectively,” for example. Make sure you are giving him insight into what went wrong and what, specifically in your opinion, he could do differently next time. This could be something like, “When Mr. Anderson said he was worried about his son, it seemed like a chance for us to talk about estate planning. What did you think about when he talked about this?” Let him respond and then say what he could have done: “I would have liked to hear you share the story of our other client who was in this situation and talk about how estate planning could help him and his son.”

Remember that sometimes there are behavioral issues that manifest in our communication styles. Your colleague might be a more thoughtful, pensive person, while you might be more reactive and able to think and respond quickly. It’s possible that you perceive a problem, but the client doesn’t. Maybe this person is listening and responding appropriately, just not the way you would have done it. Check whether you are projecting how you’d like this advisor to be and whether his behavior is really harming his ability to win over clients.

If it’s the latter, give him support and specific feedback and hope he will see ways to use it.


Dear Bev,

We are preparing for a client event. Is it proper to tell clients they cannot come if they do not bring a referral? I read about this being done by another advisor.

Stephen G., Upper Midwest

Dear Stephen,

It’s a “client event,” but clients aren’t allowed to come unless they bring a referral? Wouldn’t that, by definition, be a “referral event”? I know it sounds tongue in cheek, but I am being serious.

You need to be clear about what kind of event you are having and why. Some advisors hold Client Appreciation Events targeted to the clients. Referrals, prospects and centers of influence may attend, but the primary focus is on the clients.

In other cases, advisors hold workshops, educational opportunities or “Nights Out,” and the focus is specifically on getting new faces and new prospects there. In a case like this, you could limit existing client attendance to those who bring along a friend or referral.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. Confirm your desired outcome, then be clear and specific with clients about what you are doing, why and what request you have of them, if any, other than to come and have a good time.


Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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