Tips For Type ‘A’ Financial Advisors To Better Master Stress

By Dr. Jack Singer

Many advisors contact me with the following question:  “My dad is a Type A personality and I am just like him.  Is there any hope for me or am I doomed to be hyper and stressed in my advising career forever?”

Type A personality traits were actually discovered by two prominent cardiologists, partners in an office in San Francisco.  That’s correct, it was two cardiologists, not psychologists, who began to explore the relationship between personality traits and cardiovascular disease.

These doctors noticed something unusual: Only the front parts of the cushions on the chairs in the waiting room were worn, not the main part of the cushions.  Also, only the front of the armrests were worn, but not the main part of the armrests. The doctors were baffled by these discoveries, so they asked the front desk staff to casually observe what the patients were doing while waiting.

They observed that many of the patients were restless and agitated, while waiting to be called into the back offices for their appointments.  As they sat there looking at the clock, getting irritated that they were being kept waiting, many were impatiently rubbing the fronts of the armrests and leaning on the front of the chair cushions, putting most of the wear on those two parts of the chairs.

After observing this phenomenon, they compared the cardiovascular diagnostic symptoms for those patients who were most agitated in the waiting room, and amazingly, they found that the patients who were the most agitated, impatient, irritable, etc., (i.e., Type A behaviors) had significant cardiovascular diseases.

As a result of these findings, they eventually compiled their data into a breakthrough book, “Type A Behavior and Your Heart,” with the goal of teaching patients with cardiovascular diseases how to prevent those symptoms, even if they were genetically wired with Type A traits.  As one of the authors wrote, “We now know beyond any doubt what we suspected before-that Type behavior can be treated effectively.”

An Advisor Case Study:

Melanie is a financial planner who contacted me for private coaching. Her issues included feeling anxious most of the time, both in her job and in her life.  Impatient in lines at the bank and supermarket and in congested traffic, she frequently got so frustrated that she said she could feel her blood pressure escalate.  A rapid speaker, Melanie often found herself finishing sentences for people, because, as she put it, “They are just to slow getting their point out.”

Beginning in college, Melanie admitted to multi-tasking, simultaneously looking at her emails and message slips that her assistant put on her desk, while attempting to listen to clients on the phone.  Because Melanie considered wasting any time unacceptable, she believed that if she took time just for herself or even for her family, she would fail to accomplish her goals.  Therefore, her husband and children had to beg for time from her in the evenings and on weekends.

Melanie’s career goals were lofty; they included being honored as her firm’s number one producer for the year, and not attaining that goal equaled failure in her mind.  This competitive nature fueled free-floating hostility.  Her hostility surfaced when anyone or anything got in the way of what she was trying to accomplish.  Having a short fuse, some of her advisor colleagues accused her of making “20 dollar reactions to 20 cent provocations.”

Part of Melanie’s personality dynamics included needing to be in control of everything in her life, including her clients.  Therefore, when a client asked her a difficult question or wanted her to explain why a recommended product or equity wasn’t doing well, Melanie viewed this as a challenge to her need for control.

Assertive clients gave Melanie negative feedback about her abrasive and patronizing behaviors, and they complained to her manager. Her manager told her that her that despite her productivity, she was becoming difficult to manage and he was considering letting her go.  He encouraged her to get help, so Melanie sought out my confidential coaching.

Melanie overcame her rigidity and defensiveness and committed to following my coaching advice.  Even though she was concerned that she was “stuck” with Type A genes, I explained that any behavior can be modified.

I taught her relaxation and mindfulness skills and anger mastery, which she absorbed like a sponge!  We worked on her need to control everyone and everything in her life.  She also “took the risk” to spent the bulk of her weekends engaged in relaxing activities with her family, letting go of work-related issues that used to consume her time and concentration.

Not only did Melanie’s stress levels reduce significantly, but her clients began to give her feedback that she was much easier to deal with.  Indeed, her AUM increased nicely and she was ultimately recognized as the advisor of the year in her office!

Action Plan:

  • Read a book describing methods of modifying Type A personality traits, such as “Treating Type A Behavior and Your Heart” or “The Financial Advisor’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide.”
  • Build relaxation skills into your life.
  • If anger and irritation seem to be part of your “make-up,” learn anger mastery skills.
  • Understand the events and people in your life that trigger your anger and irritation and get counseling to change your reactions to those situations and people.