Sometimes, your job as a financial planner involves conflict resolution. ou might have to figure out how to work with a client who disagrees with you or one who makes decisions that directly contradict your recommendations.
But the arguments that can arise in financial planning don’t always involve you directly. Sometimes, you have to figure out how to work with clients who are in financial conflict with each other.
Many of us have clients who are couples. And it’s not uncommon for couples to fight about money — it’s an emotional topic that can be hard for people to agree on. So, how should you handle it when a couple starts fighting — especially in a financial planning meeting?
Follow these four tips to help reduce the tension and promote productive conversations.
Conflict Resolution Tip #1: Take a Break
One of the best things you can do when clients start getting upset in a meeting is to take a break. Even 5 or 10 minutes can give people the chance to calm down, master their emotions, and come back ready to have a reasonable conversation.
If things get heated, suggest that everyone take a few minutes to get up and move around. This can be a good time to offer water or coffee or to tactfully step out of the room for a minute to “gather documents” or “check your schedule.” Just give your clients a few minutes to pull themselves together without feeling like they’re under a microscope. This approach can help you build your clients’ trust.
If the argument continues after the break, it might be time to end that particular conversation and suggest picking things up next time. Sometimes a longer break like this is the best way to allow your clients to reflect on the issues being discussed, work through their emotions, and get ready for a more productive discussion.
Conflict Resolution Tip #2: Redirect the Conversation
Another option is to redirect the conversation away from the divisive topic and back toward the things that your clients agree on. For example, if your clients are starting to argue about their individual discretionary spending habits, guide the conversation back toward their common goals.
Maybe they want to boost their emergency savings or reduce their debt. Focus the conversation back on the things they agree on. Once everyone remembers what the overall goal is, it might be easier for them to agree on budget decisions without fighting or blaming each other for overspending.
Redirecting the conversation might not lead to a full agreement right away. But it can help remind your clients that you’re on their side and are ready to encourage and support them as they pursue the financial objectives that matter most to them.
Conflict Resolution Tip #3: Find Compromises
It might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget about compromise when a discussion starts to get heated. Even if you aren’t directly involved in the argument your clients are having, it can be tempting to choose a side (even in your own mind).
Instead, try to look for a middle ground that everyone can agree on. Compromise isn’t always the happiest solution, but it’s a crucial part of most relationships. Chances are your clients know how to compromise — they might just need a little reminder when things get emotional.
Conflict Resolution Tip #4: Encourage Discussion Outside of Meetings
Sometimes, clients just need a reminder to discuss their issues outside of financial planning meetings. If they can work through some of the conflicts on their own, there’s a better chance to have productive financial discussions during the meeting.
One of the best ways to encourage your clients to have these conversations is to send them a list of the questions or topics you plan to discuss ahead of time. That way, your clients have time to think through their answers and discuss those things with each other, which can help cut down on conflict during a meeting.
Sending questions ahead of time also helps your clients feel more prepared for the meeting. They can walk in confidently knowing what’s going to be discussed. This can be especially helpful for clients who experience money shame or guilt. When they know what to expect in a meeting, they may subconsciously be less defensive and more willing to discuss even challenging financial issues openly.
Be patient when financial conflict occurs
Money can be an emotional issue for many people, especially when they don’t see eye to eye with their spouse or partner. At some point in your career, you’ll probably have to deal with clients who start fighting with each other. It’s an awkward scenario, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong. Moreover, it gives you a chance to help your clients resolve those issues.
How can you turn fights into productive discussions? Encourage clients to take a break if things get heated. Then redirect the conversation back toward their common values and goals. You can also provide your clients with “homework” — questions they can discuss together so they can come to meetings feeling prepared.
If the financial arguments are constant or start veering into conflicts about other issues, you may want to encourage them to see a counselor — but use this approach cautiously. Many people are sensitive about their personal relationships and might not appreciate that kind of advice coming from their financial planner.
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