Let Silence Sit
Most financial services professionals work hard to be seen by their clients and prospects as someone they can trust. The goal is to be a trusted advisor who is knowledgeable, that understands their needs and has a solution that can solve those needs. This leads to a lot of education, experience and knowledge that you may want to share with clients and prospects.
At the same time, this can also drive a financial services professional to learn a bad habit of filling moments of silence, especially after you’ve asked a difficult or personal question. For instance, there are times that you must face clients or prospects with the idea of their own demise. What happens to their family? Who takes care of their children? How does the family pay for debts and keep their home without your income? What legacy do they want to leave behind?
These are not easy questions. For many, they can be difficult to ask, let alone to answer. Some of your clients and prospects may want to actively avoid these conversations. Some may have never pondered what’s important to them or even realize the possibilities of what they could do, or understand the risks that they face. And it’s not always just about their demise. It could also be questions about what if their health fails? What if they get cancer? What if an uninsured driver causes an accident that they can’t avoid?
These necessary questions create a list of risks and opportunities that can be uncomfortable to consider. This leads to silence that can feel uncomfortable. And to ease that comfort both for themselves as well as for the client or prospects it’s not unusual for a financial services professional to jump in and fill that silence with knowledge. It moves that conversation in a way that sets them up as the expert, but also takes away the uncomfortableness.
However, your clients and prospects need time to process what you’ve asked them. It takes time to consider what it could be like. Can it feel uncomfortable? Absolutely, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s that uncomfortableness that allows clients and prospects to see the gap between what they have now and what they want to have. That gap might be pain such as realizing they have risks or the realization that if something did happen, they wouldn’t have what they need. It might also be more of a dream and becoming inspired by what they could have in the future. Either way, you need to let the client or prospect live there for a moment. Let them be the guide of when it’s time to move the conversation forward.
When you fill the silence, you lose the opportunity to hear what they think, to allow them to process, and for them to express what their real concerns, fears or even dreams are. And it’s not easy to let the silence sit, but it’s vital.
Here are three tips that can help you leverage silence to meet your client's needs:
- Focus on the client or prospect, not yourself. Just because silence seems uncomfortable to you, doesn’t mean it’s uncomfortable for them. They may be processing and thinking about your question in detail. It’s okay to take the cue from your prospects and clients. Trust them to lead the conversation without the need to move on because it feels uncomfortable to you. They need this.
- Learn to let silence sit. For each person this might be different. Start to pay attention to how long you let silence sit. Do you rush to fill it right away? Maybe you need to take a breath and count to 5, or even 10 depending on how fast you count, before you attempt to move the conversation forward. This is a great technique that gives clients time to ask their own question or give you their thoughts. Start with baselining yourself and then adjust to let the silence linger enough to give your clients and prospects time.
- Know when to break the silence with a question. If you feel the silence has become awkward for your client and you need to move the conversation forward, avoid filling the silence with more facts or your opinion, break it with an open-ended question. Keep a few in mind that you can use such as, “how do you feel about that” or “what does this bring to mind for you?” Sometimes, the most powerful thing you can do to break the silence is to open the conversation with a simple, but powerful, question.
Remember, silence is not bad. There is a time and place for you to be the expert or advisor, but it’s not when you’ve asked a question that your client or prospect needs to consider. Give them time and learn to be an expert in letting silence work with you and not against you.