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FEATURE | thRee skills foR suppoRting gRieving clients
• In what ways has the reality sunk in, and
in what ways does it still just seem unreal?
• Tell me something good that happened
today and something that wasn’t so good.
• What do you wish people knew about
what this is like for you?
Asking open-ended questions like these lets
clients know you have a clue about what
they are experiencing and, unlike so many
others, you care enough to listen to what’s
really going on.
Establishing Common Experience
while Recognizing Uniqueness
Even if you have had a similar grief experience, do not say “I know how you feel” or “I
understand just what you’re going through.”
If you want to alienate grieving clients
immediately, tell them you know how they
feel. This is the wrong thing to say because
it’s just not true. Each person experiences
grief uniquely, based on a host of factors
including specific relationship with the person who died, personality and style of grieving, prior experience of loss, strength of
support network, culture, and faith.
Instead, use the phrase, “How is it different?”
For instance: “When my husband died, I felt
like I was walking around in a fog for five
months. Is it like that for you, or how is it different?” Or “When my mom died, I kept
picking up the phone to call her before I
remembered there wouldn’t be an answer on
the other side. Have you done that too, or
what has been hard for you?” In other words,
you share your experience and allow for your
clients to share their unique experiences, too.
plans, and more. But what is the differentiator clients want? The relationship. They
want financial professionals who “get
them,” who understand their lives and
know how to support them in their grief.
That is who will get their business.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate
your relationship with a grieving client.
Greeting the Client
Whether answering the phone or shaking a
client’s hand, overwhelmingly financial
professionals tell me their first words are:
“Hi, how are you?” That’s not surprising,
because this is a standard greeting in the
United States. However, grieving people are
acutely aware that most people don’t really
want to know the answer to this question,
especially if the answer is not good news.
So they rely on a standard response such as
“Fine” or “OK.” It’s not the truth, but it gets
them by for the moment.
You set yourself apart from everyone else
by inviting your clients to talk about what is
really going on, and being willing to listen
to the answer. Remember, they probably are
aching to talk. You can preface your questions with something like, “Hi, it’s good to
see you.” Or, “Hi, I’ve been thinking about
you.” Or, “Hi, I’m happy you called.”
Then ask an open-ended question such as
one of the following:
• So what kind of a day is it today? Up,
down, or all over the place?
• What has changed in your life since the
last time we talked?
• What’s happening in your life?
In a milieu where the population is rapidly aging, if you are not regularly dealing with death among clients and their families, you will. We had a baby boom, and we
are in for a death boom.
At the same time, in this increasingly digital world in which clients have access to
the same information, tools, simulations,
and market data that you have, they are
looking to financial professionals to provide something more than just financial
guidance and products. They are looking
for deeper relationships. Therefore, it is
absolutely critical that financial professionals gain greater knowledge and training in grief support. Those who don’t
know how to talk with grieving people are
going to lose those clients to someone else
Consider the following supporting facts:
• CEG Worldwide reports that many top
financial service firms in the United
States are beginning to outsource investment management in order to free up
time to build client relationships (Bowen
et al. 2012)
• A Merrill Lynch study indicates that
almost half of affluent investors report
that confidence in their financial plans is
tied more to their personal relationships
with the advisor than to the returns
achieved. (Journal of Financial Planning
When death occurs, survivors have their
choice of countless financial professionals
who do a really good job investing money,
insuring people, advising on retirement
Three Skills for Supporting Grieving Clients
By Amy Florian
Continued on page 34 ➧