Watch Those Ums and Ahs
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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Our advisors are good at what they do, but a couple of our best performers are terrible communicators. They consistently pause when delivering information. One of them, who is an older gentleman, will sometimes look as though he is lost in his thoughts. The other one, a younger woman, ends every single sentence with “right?” She had a meeting with a client where I sat in as the investment expert. I counted and she used the term “right” 19 times during a one-hour meeting where she wasn’t even talking most of the time.
Is this the norm? Have good conversational skills been abandoned? Is there a polite way for me to bring this up?
As a college professor who works with students and a corporate trainer who works with advisors, I feel your pain. Just this week, I was attending a virtual conference for a fintech client and listening to these professionals, all very successful, speak was painful. Every sentence was peppered with “um” and “ah” to get the thought across. I get so focused on the fillers I lose sight of what is being said.
It isn’t the norm, but people have let down their guard on how to speak clearly and professionally. When we are speaking, we are not very self-aware. Once someone brings it to our attention, we become more focused and more aware. This is why video role-play meetings are valuable. I remember years ago going through some sales training and watching myself on video. I never realized how often I used “So” to start a sentence. I can still do that and notice it in my writing and in my presenting. Becoming aware of it helped me to recognize it years later.
When your team isn’t being videoed, it leaves you as the colleague to bring it up in a supportive and professional way. Most people want to know how they are coming across. Good advisors seek input; they don’t reject it and most everyone wants to believe they communicate well and looks for ways to improve communication wherever possible.
Share your observations with your colleagues. Ask them if they are open to receive feedback. “I noticed something in our last meeting together I would like to share, are you open to hearing feedback right now?” Always give a person the choice to hear it or not. Most everyone will say “Sure! Tell me now.” But some people are having a bad day and don’t need an additional negative issue to focus on so always give someone the choice. Then share your experience of their communication approach. “The material you were sharing was excellent, but I found your style of delivery had the client losing interest. Is it possible we could practice this together for the next meeting?” It’s helpful to give an option for a next step, or a way you can provide support, so you don’t just share the problem and leave the person to fix it.
Or, once the person says they are open to feedback, ask them if they are aware they finish every sentence with “right?” Just like in my own personal example, I was aware of this, but it is helpful when someone brings it to my attention. I realize I am doing it again and need to be more conscious of it. Your colleague may know she has a tendency to do this, but a reminder is helpful.
When offering feedback you are trying to be supportive and help your teammates improve. If your intentions are good and your style is non-threatening, your colleagues will respond well. If you are noticing bad speech habits, likely prospects and clients are noticing it and that’s not good for anyone.
How do I manage my extreme aggravation when one of our advisors takes the floor and drones on and on about some client or investment-related issue? On a regular basis, he hijacks meetings and puts the focus on himself. If not bad enough, he is a terrible communicator. He cannot get through a sentence without doing this weird snorting thing and then saying “okay?” to everything he presents.
Do I say something or just suffer in silence? I know colleagues find this irritating too.
Your question has two parts – one is about your own personal triggers and how to manage your frustration, and the other is whether you address the irritation with your colleague. Focus first on managing your triggers and becoming more self-regulated about how you are responding and reacting to this person. Then address the situation with him directly. If you are irked and aggravated, you are not going to be objective and supportive when you speak with your colleague. When people get triggered, if they act right then and there, they can’t help but share that emotional upset with the other person.
As I mentioned to the first writer today, it is professional and courteous to share your viewpoint with your colleague in a supportive manner. He may be very unaware he commandeers the discussion and asks the “okay?” filler to his speaking. When people add things like “okay?” and “right?” it sends a message they are less confident about what they are saying. Without realizing it, they are asking for validation. Rather than exude confidence, it detracts from it. If your colleague does this with you, he likely does it with his clients too. It is a habit he needs to recognize and break.
Get yourself centered. His behavior is likely hidden to him, so your irritation and annoyance is misplaced emotion. He isn’t doing it on purpose. He isn’t doing it to drive you crazy. He is simply doing it. Once you see this and let go of the aggravation, you have more power to speak objectively to him.
Have a conversation offline with no other colleagues around to ask him whether he intends to be the main speaker at every meeting. Does he realize he makes good points, but he diminishes them when he asks the “okay?” question? Explore how much of this behavior is known to him and how much he hasn’t been made aware of before.
He may ask you for your help in remaining aware of what he is doing or of course he may simply disagree and ignore you. If he asks for your help, give it. He is trying to improve, and you are in a position to help him do that if you care enough to work with him.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.