The Art of Making Conversation

Benjamin Haas |

Experiences shape who we are, how we approach things, and who we become.  I grew up as an only child in a house that was not really within walking distance to any other house, let alone friends or even people close to my age.  I had to be creative with my entertainment and found friendships at home with a couple of outdoor cats.  I think because of this, I always tended to be more on the shy-side, observing, and self-aware. But through these experiences, I feel I learned some important relationship skills that have helped me later in life, especially as I transitioned into the financial services industry, specifically focusing on the human side of our financial planning work. 

Making conversation is not natural for me and I’ve learned to work on this over the years through practice and putting myself in slightly uncomfortable situations in order to try and get better at conversing, speaking, and presenting.  Because I don’t enjoy talking about myself and I truly enjoy hearing others’ perspectives and learning new things, I found asking questions was the best way to help me become a better communicator. In this Harvard Business Review: The Power of Asking Questions i led by Allison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John, they likened conversation to a dance.  It’s a mutual push and pull that may take a while and evolves over time, but it can facilitate trust, sharing of information, and make you more likeable.  In groups, it can lead towards discovery.  I agree with this.

To be effective at financial planning, you have to be a good listener and a good communicator.  We talk about this internally all the time. Through our financial planning process, we strive to uncover and understand your “why” behind your financial decisions or goals knowing that your life experiences create biases that can affect your financial behaviors. This helps us align your values, vision and wealth.  And, we achieve this through asking lots of questions.  You will see this throughout our process.  Our questions are what help us understand what you feel you need help with.  I think it helps you further understand how we can bring value beyond just crunching the numbers.  

Less certainty equals more inquiry for me and I never assume I know something for sure. Questions are such powerful tools to feel more engaged and connected with people. I’m sure my questions to the team can get tedious at times, but I only seek to understand and to make us better. Sometimes questions need to be a little uncomfortable to get to the heart of what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish.  

It’s a cycle really.  I do not prefer to talk. I learn best when not speaking.  I love asking questions to learn, which leads to additional follow up questions. This tactic helps me engage in conversations.  The follow up questions allow me to pay attention and show that I care.  And in financial planning, asking the follow up questions doesn’t just show value – it is the value ii. How do you become a better questioner?  By asking more questions!  

For those of you reading this, it may come as a surprise that I would write an article like this.  A lot of my work is behind the scenes and I prefer it that way, but I think it’s important to showcase how we go about our financial planning approach and working together as a team.  We do not have hidden agendas or place judgement when trying to understand our clients and their financial data. The point of our questions is not to drag out a process or skirt around providing concrete advice on the spot. The point is to understand what influences your decisions, by sharing through your own point of view, so we can strengthen our relationship, build trust, address deeper concerns, align expectations and provide better service to you.  I know our approach to financial planning is different and may not be for everyone, but if you think you find greater value in conversations over spreadsheets, feelings over numbers, people over products - we’d love to talk to you. And if you have any follow up questions for me (or us), fire away!

By: Devon Volker, Business Development and Operations Manager

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