Lessons from a Deeply Offensive Gaffe

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Let’s put this in context.

Almost all the advisors I know are smart, thoughtful, caring, sensitive people. They wouldn’t dream of engaging in the kind of behavior that occurred at Purdue University in early December.

However, you may be unwittingly interacting with others in a way that has a similar impact.

The chancellor of Purdue University Northwest

According to published reports (which don’t do justice to these offensive comments), Thomas L. Keon, the chancellor of Purdue University Northwest, mocked the way Asians speak when commenting on a joke by a prior speaker during his talk at Purdue’s winter commencement ceremony. His comments were recorded on video.

When you watch the video, it’s appalling how clueless Keon was when he mimicked a mythical “Asian” language.

It’s not surprising that the Asian community was offended. I was offended.

The backlash was swift and fierce. Keon issued an elaborate apology in which he asserted his “off the cuff” comments did not reflect “his personal or our institutional values.”

Yet, we are left with the impression that he was remarkably tone deaf. If, for example, he mocked the way Americans in different parts of the country spoke, or was derisive about the accents of other immigrants, would we find such conduct amusing?

The Purdue trustees accepted his apology.

Some faculty members expressed doubts, with one psychology professor referring to the incident as “...yet another racist joke on a Purdue campus, this time by the chancellor, while the faculty who will be hooding you laughing along on the side."

Why you should care

While few advisors would engage in this type of blatantly ignorant, insensitive discourse, unfortunately some have an established way of relating to prospects and clients that may be perceived as deeply offensive.

Here’s what I see most often:

Dominating the conversation

There’s evidence more dominant people talk more, with men being guilty more than women. Men also speak longer than women.

Speaker dominance is not only rude, but it’s counterproductive. Effective communication involves intensive listening, sharing eye contact and the use of “positive affirmation” to show you are paying attention.

When this occurs, there’s synchrony between the brains of the speaker and listener. This synchrony “predicts” a positive communication experience.

Imposing your agenda

Because you likely have superior knowledge about investing and financial planning, you may assume you know what should be discussed at meetings with prospects and clients. Your views may have been validated by training systems that extoll the virtue of directing the conversation in a certain manner, so the subjects you believe are important will be discussed.

Here’s the problem.