Fear never sleeps. When clients hire consultants, there is always some fear in the background. Over the years many consultants I have interviewed shared this dirty little secret: a big part of a consulting engagement is acting like a therapist to the client.
I feel their pain. Often when I work with clients, I feel I could use some therapy skills. I am a marketing consultant, and I recall one conversation when I was talking to a client about their revenues and the client curled up in the fetal position. I was a sounding board and felt ill equipped.
One advantage of going to a licensed therapist is they are a sounding board for what is bothering you; the same is true of a good consultant.
I wished I could add some therapy skills to my tool kit, and then I met Susan Zimmerman at a speaking engagement in Minneapolis.
Zimmerman, a financial consultant and licensed marriage and family therapist, has been a pioneer in blending finance and therapy for more than 30 years. I think that is genius.
She is the author of five books, including Mindful Money for Wealth and Well-Being: Help Clients Strike a Balance in Financial Planning, which was listed #1 “Must-Reads for Advisers” by Investment News magazine.
Is it crazy to have expertise in both financial consulting and therapy? No says Zimmerman, who believes it is not only sane, it’s important and brilliant.
“Because it’s never just about the numbers,” says Zimmerman. “Numbers mean nothing without an understanding of how they can provide genuine, harmonious, and long-lasting solutions to human problems. And human problems are fraught with a multitude of emotions. Yes, even the money ones. Especially the money ones.”
Zimmerman says it is not possible to separate emotions and logic, so the best bet for consultants is to fully embrace understanding of both.
“There are 3,000 words for emotions in the English language,” says Zimmerman. “Most people are only aware of a handful, especially when it comes to their money. But when they engage in therapeutically driven conversations from their life advisors, their elevated emotional intelligence makes all the difference in positive outcomes.”
Therapeutic means to have a restorative effect. What is it that needs restoring when problems have surfaced and worsened? Zimmerman lists the following:
- “Communication that’s respectful and brings harmony back to relationships”
- “Confidence in one’s ability to make sound financial decisions”
- “Willingness to look within and adjust old habits as needed”
- “Mindful awareness of psychological aspects of individual personality”
“When consultants skillfully guide conversations therapeutically for optimal decision-making, clients experience prosperity clarity,” says Zimmerman. “That’s the magic that heightens their ability to identify profitable and satisfying choices, so they thrive through their life’s purpose, leaving a lasting and meaningful legacy.”
There are proven steps for success when it comes to listening carefully and responding appropriately to prospects and clients. First, identify what’s on their mind. Why did they reach out to you? What are their goals, what assets do they have in place, and what are their roadblocks? Ask questions to find out and listen carefully. Then, to respond appropriately, match your language to the mindset of the prospect.
Here is how you bring a therapy best practice to consulting. During conversations with a prospect or client, I believe the goal of a consultant acting as a sounding board should be to monopolize the listening. My rule of thumb is to listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent.