How to Use Active Listening to Manage Stress and Strengthen Client Relationships

By Dr. Jack Singer

Stress mastery is an important skill for everyone, regardless of their career or industry. For financial advisors, stress mastery can help you perform better under pressure and better deal with difficult clients.

The key to stress mastery is understanding that events themselves do not cause your stress – you cause your own stress by the way you interpret and process these events. The main goal of stress mastery is to change the way you interpret events by understanding your thought processes that cause stress. Doing so will help you lower (or even eliminate) the stress you feel.

In my last article, I discussed specific stress mastery skills for both Type A and People Pleasing personalities. However, there are also more general stress mastery tips that work no matter what personality you have, what job you hold, or what situation you are in. Today I will discuss the most important general stress mastery tip – active listening.

What Is Active Listening?

Verbal communication is a common part of daily life – but you’d be surprised how often people aren’t really listening. Sure, you HEAR the words that are coming out of their mouth, but your brain is focused on gathering your thoughts in order to respond. This is not active listening.

Active listening is when you listen with no other motive in mind but to hear the other person’s point of view. This is hard in regular conversation, but when you’re in a hostile exchange with another person it is especially difficult. In these stressful situations, people are often working on defending themselves as the other person is talking – and when you’re trying to find the other person’s weak points and formulate your response, you aren’t really listening.

The stress of hostile situations – when you are dealing with an angry client, spouse, family member or friend – can be greatly reduced when you practice active listening. It demonstrates empathy and understanding, which can calm the other person down so you can have a meaningful conversation. When done correctly, this process can eliminate the stress from a potentially stressful situation and strengthen your relationships.

Active Listening – An Example for Financial Advisors

To demonstrate how active listening works, consider the following hypothetical situation.

Mr. Smith, an important client of yours, calls you one day about his stock portfolio. He is upset because of what has happened in his portfolio during the last month because of market conditions, and he is speaking in a threatening way. “You told me to do this – now look what is happening!” Mr. Smith screams into the phone.

A person who is NOT practicing active listening would be immediately alarmed by the call. The minute they recognized the anger in Mr. Smith’s voice, their fight or flight responses would go off, stress levels would rise, and they would be carefully planning a way to defend themselves when they are able to get a word in edgewise.

Contrast that with a person who is practicing active listening. That person would not be thinking of a response because now is not the time to respond – it is the time to listen. When Mr. Smith stops speaking, this active listener would demonstrate empathy and understanding. “I can really hear what you are saying, Mr. Smith. You are irritated, upset, and probably frightened because of what you think is going to happen to your ability to retire when you planned.” This sort of active listening – really listening to the client then repeating how they feel – will help ‘take the wind out of their sails’ so to speak so you can have a conversation. You can then discuss market realities, calm the client’s fears, and think of other proactive solutions.

If you can train yourself to become an active listener, you will dramatically reduce the stress within your interpersonal relationships – from your relationships with important clients to your relationships with your spouse, family members, and friends. Active listening can be hard to do if you have relied on a ‘listen in order to respond’ mentality. However, like all stress mastery tips, it becomes easier the more you practice. Give it a try today and you will be on the way to making active listening a regular habit.