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It’s not what your say, but how you say it – and how well you listen!

It’s not what your say, but how you say it – and how well you listen!

00:00 01 November in Articles Written by Jon Henschen

by Jonathan Henschen, CFS and featured in Broker Dealer Journal
November, 2006:

I’ve been in this business a long time and have had the privilege of knowing a lot of people–broker/dealers and others–involved in recruiting. I’m also routinely bombarded with feedback from Advisors about what they like and dislike in broker/dealers (some of which is very revealing about both parties!). The point is, how broker/dealers communicate with Advisors—on the phone or face-to-face–can cement these relationships for years to come—or derail them before they ever leave the station!

We all have quirks and idiosyncrasies when we communicate. These may be family or regional traits, or simply poor speaking and listening habits picked up over the years. But because communicating is of such major importance in our business, its worth paying as much attention to how we say things—and how well we listen–as we do to what we’re saying.

Which Type of Communicator Are You?

With the invaluable help of Joe Richard, President of Wall Street Financial Group, I’ve sketched out the different types of communicators Advisors have told me about: my way of highlighting the verbal faux pas broker/dealers should avoid. In one way or another, most of these involve talking too much or failing to practice active listening skills. And, oh yes, I’ve included one uniquely Midwestern trait that can be profitably adapted to your speech pattern—no matter where you’re from.

Can you spot yourself in any of these?

The Interrupter

If you’re from a large family, as I am, with a gang of people trying to get a word in, you’ve probably had a problem interrupting people when they’re talking to you. It’s inbred, and can pose problems when we’re away from home, since it says you’re only interested in your two-cent’s worth; no one else’s. I confronted this habit in my early years as a broker, and, even now, make a concerted effort to keep my mouth shut and let the other guy (or gal) finish a thought. Of course, this habit is only reinforced whenever I visit my family; so from time to time, I have to redouble my efforts at not being an Interrupter.

The Immediate Responder

Here we have a more “polite” version of the interrupter. Immediate Responders may wait for you to finish what you are saying, but the instant you stop talking, they chime in. Years ago, I had a manager who did that. Instead of listening to what I had to say, I was sure he was already framing his response. Every time we spoke, he was just waiting for me to stop talking so he could start.

The General

People with military and other leadership backgrounds often fall into this category. When broker/dealers speak with authority, and in absolutes, Advisors will often assume the firm is as ridged and inflexible as the president or recruiter sounds. Some Advisors respond well to that, but other start building defensive walls around themselves; if things get bad enough, communication shuts down completely. The solution? It’s simple: “At Ease!”

The Non-stop Talker

We all know people in responsible positions who’ll talk your ear off, never letting anyone else get a word in (unlike Interrupters, these folks may not realize what they’re doing, because no one ever told them!). After a while you get the feeling they’re so enamored with the sound of their own voices, it doesn’t matter who’s at the other end of the conversation. Here’s bit of advice for Non-Stop-Talkers out there: God gave us two ears and one mouth because He wants us to listen twice as much as we talk. If you’re a recruiter who invariably dominates conversations, take that advice, because this is one of the worst communication habits you could possibly have. The thing is: Conversation is NOT waiting for the other person to stop talking!

Active Listening Checklist for Broker/Dealers

Here are some active-listening tips you can put to the test when recruiting Advisors by phone or face-to-face:

Let the Advisor Speak First:

  • Cue your staff that you’re not to be interrupted by phone calls or visitors.
  • Shake hands firmly, and make eye contact.
  • Put the Advisor at ease with a few minutes of low-key friendly talk about common interests (family, sports, the weather…anything but politics).
  • Let the Advisor know your phone calls and visitors are being held, and that this time is “all ours.”
  • Let the Advisor talk first. Ask if he or she would object to your taking notes about what is being said.
  • Mind your body language. Lean forward, nod when appropriate; make confirming statements and gestures.
  • Demonstrate your interest in what the Advisor is saying by asking confirming follow-up questions or making confirming comments.

When it’s Your Turn:


  • Tell the Advisor about your firm, its history, distinctions, requirements and benefits; but don’t over do it.
  • Ask the Advisor, “What are your questions?”
  • Ask about what you’ve heard the Advisor tell you, as well as about the things you need to know.
  • Ask if there is anything else you need to discuss with the Advisor, or if there are any further questions.
  • Wrap up these meetings by thanking Advisors for their time and interest, and wishing them the very best, no matter what decision is made.

The “It’s-All-About-Me” Type

Occasional feedback from Advisors who’ve visited the heads of broker/dealers tell me that some of these people fall into this category. Apparently, so desperate are “It’s-All-About-Me” types to impress Advisors, the conversation never gets around to the Advisor’s needs. Instead, the President launches into his story, background and designations. Then it’s right on to the firm’s history, prestige and numerous accomplishments. Trust me: this is not an attractive trait.

The Closet Economist

Recruiters who used to be brokers sometimes fall into this camp. It may be insecurity that drives them to insist Advisors understand the full depth of their knowledge–or simply because these people are closet economists–but they drone on and on about markets, where they think the economy is headed, and what investment styles they prefer, and why. I’ve found it best to keep this kind of self-serving blather to a minimum and most of the Advisors I consult with agree.

The Sniffers, Yawners and Gum-Smackers

You wouldn’t think I’d have to bring this up, but I’m treated to incidents of gross personal behavior on a regular basis–at all levels and in every imaginable context, but mostly over the phone. Not only are sniffs and yawns common, but so is slurping coffee and other liquids. For the listener, this is communication at its worst.

The Multi-Taskers

“While we chat, you won’t mind if I take a phone call or two…send a fax…type notes into my contact manager… give some instructions to the staff…or flip through some of these papers. Would you?” Of course people mind! When you’re on the phone or meeting with Advisors in your office, stick to two things and two things only: Talking and listening!

The Slick Go-Getter

Advisors complain about this one all the time. Even though we’re all in sales in one way or another, Advisors have an aversion to Gung-ho, “We-Can-Do-It-All” sales types; they don’t trust them, and this can shut down a red-hot recruiting effort cold. “We-can-do-it-all” may sound good, but Advisors need boundaries. Being accommodatingly flexible is a positive message to convey–up to a point. But if Advisors start thinking your firm is a tad too accommodating, they’ll begin wondering if you and your firm aren’t a compliance problem just waiting to happen.

Pregnant Pausers

Here’s that good Midwestern communication habit mentioned earlier that you should try incorporating into your speaking style; but do it sparingly. A good example of a Pregnant Pauser is veteran Chicago radio personality, Paul Harvey, who is said to have delivered more pregnant pauses than a rhetorical obstetrician. Drawing out your thoughts lets people know you’re thinking through what they’ve just said because you value their point of view.

I’ve heard two guys in our industry—both Midwesterners, originally—make very effective use of the Pregnant Pause (intentionally or otherwise). They are Tim O’Rourke, head of recruiting for FSC Securities, and Jeff Auld, President of NEXT Financial Group. Both men lead by example, and have a knack for addressing Advisors in a language that they clearly understand, never speaking down to them or attempting to Wow them with their positions and success.

In speaking with an Advisor who ended up going with Jeff Auld’s NEXT Financial, the man spoke highly of Jeff’s interviewing style. Jeff had spent time talking about the firm, but didn’t go overboard. The Advisor is from the Northeast, where conversation is fast and furious, so while he confessed that some of those “pauses” made him feel like ripping the words out of Jeff’s mouth, all in all, he could tell Jeff respected him and was actively listening to him. In the end, the Advisor was flattered Jeff spent so much quality time with him.

Want to Stand Out in the Crowd?

In financial services, a lot more finesse is required of us than simply being understood. It means coming across as a knowledgeable, positive, level-headed professional, and being as interested as you are interesting. For starters, avoiding the communication faux pas described in this article–and being an active listener–will help you profitably stand out in the crowd.