The Essential Life Coaching Skills

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Readers,

I’ve spoken, taught and written about the importance of the “human element” when it comes to financial and wealth planning. Investment excellence, whether your own or from a partner, is of course essential to helping clients meet their goals, but working as a coach and consultant to help them plan is also essential.

Unfortunately, most finance and investment coursework does not include the important skills that are learned when one pursues a psychology degree or a degree in life coaching. I have worked with advisors for many years helping them incorporate these skills into their practice. As The Human Behavior Coach®, it has been my life’s work to study human behavior. In this week’s column I’ll share some important elements I include whenever I work with advisors to help them be better life coaches:

  1. Learn the art of consultative questioning. This may seem obvious, but ask open-ended questions, probe for the “why?” when a client gives you an answer and so on. Life coaches take this one step further and adapt a genuine curiosity when they are working with a client. It’s not about filling in the questions on the financial plan (which is also important, of course) but it is about learning what’s underneath the answers that a client gives you. My rule of thumb is three questions for every response from a client – in other words, if you ask, “How did you develop your approach to saving?” and the client says, “My parents were spendthrifts so I learned what not to do,” you could in many cases stop there. After all, you got the answer to your question. But if we look at this further, we might want to know: “How do you define spendthrift? What behaviors did they engage in and how did spendthrift manifest for them?” and “What exactly did you learn ‘not to do? ’” This way you are really trying to understand what’s underneath their answers. Most people need help to explore what they mean!

  1. Ask the unexpected questions. Your prospect or client is sitting with you ostensibly so you can help them plan for their financial well-being, whatever that means to them. They are going to expect you will need answers to many questions around goals, values, income, expenses and the like. Because of this, prepare something they won’t expect to be asked – “What was your favorite part about the major track you chose in college?” What? How can this help you get them closer to their financial goals? Because with every unexpected question, a person is forced to think about things they weren’t expecting. When human beings do this, they often offer up things they weren’t expecting to share. Other unexpected questions – “If you were writing your own obituary today, what things haven’t you done to this point that you would want included when someone writes your final one?” Or “What is the best thing about being a parent/grandparent/aunt or uncle?” (assuming they are one, of course). These seemingly off-point questions can offer a wealth of information about how someone thinks, what they think about themselves, what they value and how they make decisions. You must really listen to the answers in order to make these work for you.