How to Overcome the Human Listening Bias Trap

You have it. I have it. Your friends and neighbors have it. Listening Bias. It’s a human condition. When people are able to recognize it and lessen its dominance they improve their ability to communicate, process a wider range of information, and become more knowledgeable. Entering the new year is a perfect time for tackling this bias. After all, people are more likely to open up and discuss personal issues – COVID has only increased the depth and breadth of our personal issues.

As simple as this sounds, it’s all about proactively listening to everything that’s communicated. Financial advisors who can get a handle on this bias will improve their ability to manage client relationships and experience more success in acquiring affluent clients.

What exactly is listening bias? In layman’s terms, it’s simply listening to what’s of interest to us. I found myself guilty while writing this article when Sandy, my wife of 43 years, explained to me which gifts were going to each of our six grandchildren. A few hours later, with all the gifts organized on our dining room table and I asked who’s getting what, and was blasted with “You didn’t hear a word I said. I told you this morning.” Ouch. Apparently either I assumed I knew what she was going to tell me, or it wasn’t important enough for me to really listen.

We’ve been witnessing a blatant example of this through our politicians and media outlets. They communicate to their base, and their base only listens to what they want to hear. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such a blatant display of listening bias as it seems to have been accelerated by the COVID pandemic and the hordes of 24/7 news outlets reporting on it.

This has created a window of opportunity for financial advisors to take steps to lessen the impact of their listening bias.

Because we tend to listen to what is of interest to us (sadly, grandkids gifts weren’t of interest — but I love them dearly and am working on my bias), many financial advisors spend an inordinate amount of their communication with clients and prospects on financial matters. It stands to reason that financial advisors have a strong financial bias, after all this is your expertise and it’s essential that you’re on top of your profession.

That said, paying attention to multi-dimensional personal issues that your clients were forced to deal with this past holiday season is likely to provide you with a treasure chest of information. Information that will help strengthen relationships and accelerate client acquisition. The key is to have your antenna activated for any type of information not directly related to finances.

Think about that talented physician with poor bedside manners. It’s not that this doctor doesn’t spend enough time with patients, rather it’s a serious case of listening bias. They’re listening only to medical issues directly within their purview. Satisfaction survey after survey tells us patients DO NOT like this and consistently rate them lower than their quality of medical expertise.

Many financial advisors have developed a tendency to tune out the personal elements of a conversation. In their mind, it’s not relevant to their expertise in managing money. Think about this for a moment. During a typical client review meeting, what percentage of the time is spent discussing their portfolio? 20 percent? Maybe 35 percent? The response I usually get when I’ve asked advisors is 10 to 20 percent. You don’t need to showcase your financial expertise by going down the rabbit hole of financial-speak. Most clients want to spend time discussing personal matters.

The million-dollar question is:

Are you really listening?

Good listening creates a dialogue that strengthens rapport and leads to an emotional connection. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, an emotional connection signals an ideal client. This makes it much easier for you to guide them to a decision. However, good listening requires controlling your listening bias.

This might sound complex, but actually, it’s relatively simple. The first step is to outline what you want to be listening for and then you simply craft your questions accordingly. This can run the gamut from…

  • How their family handled this holiday season. In today’s environment with many families celebrating the holidays on Zoom, the information you uncover will likely lead you to ongoing opportunities; some immediate and others down the road.
  • Names of people within their spheres-of-influence. These are people who typically come up in conversation; they’ve done something socially with, colleagues on the recent Zoom call, neighbors, family members, etc.
  • Surprise and delight opportunities. Personal conversations will always take you into a client’s world, which is full of opportunities to create a WOW moment. As I’ve already mentioned, this COVID holiday season should disclose a lot of non-financial personal information. Hence the surprise and delight opportunities — an opportunity to activate the WOW factor which naturally stimulates word-of-mouth-influence and unsolicited referrals.
  • Identify an investment opportunity. Today’s affluent have always been drawn to various causes. Whether it’s investing in a “green” company or taking a tax write off for a charitable donation, you want to be paying attention – listening.
  • Identify a potential referral alliance partner. This can be a high-end realtor who’s listing your uncle’s million-dollar house, to the divorce attorney working with Mrs. Affluent client’s girlfriend — this type of information is most easily gathered during personal conversations.
  • Identify a marketing opportunity. Social events require more creativity in today’s COVID world, but people are carving social interaction. Whether it’s creating a Zoom book club, a March Madness countdown, or a group Zoom lunch to celebrate (your call) — you’ll be surprised at the interest if you’ve been listening to your clients as they tell you their interests. You might discover that a webinar for your client’s colleagues might be doable. Fundraisers are another opportunity.

The above is designed to get you thinking accordingly and is by no means all-inclusive. But “‘tis the year” to work your listening bias.

Let’s start off 2021 with a commitment to paying attention and, of course, staying healthy.


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin