Originally published on Advisor Perspectives
Advisor conferences are great for learning about complex investment and planning topics. But they fail to offer sessions that would give advisors the tools to use this knowledge effectively.
Here’s my suggestion to remedy that problem.
Dear Event Sponsor,
You do a lot of good for advisors. They benefit from the information you provide at your conferences. I’ve attended many of them, and really value the experience.
Before I get to my recommendation, I want to tell you a story. I pulled it from Descartes’ Error, a well-known book by Antonio Damasio. Dr. Damasio is a university professor and the David Dornsife professor of neuroscience, professor of psychology, professor of philosophy, and director of the brain and creativity institute at the University of Southern California. He is also an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. He is a recognized authority on brain processes underlying emotions, feelings, decision-making and consciousness.
He and his wife Hanna, who is also a neurologist, have created one of the world’s largest databases of brain injuries, comprising hundreds of studies of brain lesions and diagnostic images.
Damasio was asked to see a patient who suffered damage to the pre-frontal lobe of his brain, caused by the removal of a brain tumor. He called the patient “Elliot.”
Elliot had undergone a radical change of personality. Prior to his operation, he had a good job and a happy marriage. He was considered a model for his younger siblings and colleagues. Post-surgery, his condition deteriorated to the point where he could no longer hold a job, was divorced and was living with a sibling, who looked after him. As Damasio put it, while his intelligence and language skills were intact, “Elliot was no longer Elliot.”
Damasio described Elliot as “pleasant and intriguing.” He was “coherent and smart,” able to discuss political affairs, and had a “flawless memory for his life story.” The removal of the brain tumor had no impact on his ability to process information. He was fully aware of what was occurring in the world around him. He had no trouble remembering names, dates and other details he heard on the news.
But the operation left Elliot with a major deficit. He was unable to experience emotion. When he was shown emotionally charged images (burning buildings, terrible accidents, people who were drowning), his reaction was indifferent. They stirred up no emotions (positive or negative) in him.
Elliot was fully aware that before the operation those images would have evoked a powerful response, but he could not explain why they no longer had any impact on him.
His inability to experience emotion affected his ability to make decisions. He could assess the merits of a given task (like whether to buy or sell a stock), but he was generally incapable of deciding between the available options. He obsessed over how to perform basic tasks, apparently paralyzed by his choices. According to Damasio, “I began to think that the cold-bloodedness of Elliot’s reasoning prevented him from assigning different values to different options.”
Damasio’s conclusion was unequivocal: When emotion is impaired, decision-making meets the same fate. Damasio’s view of the importance of emotions in decision making is shared by psychological scientists who, “now assume that emotions are the dominant driver in most decisions in life.”
Why am I telling you this story?
Unless attendees at conferences can learn how to make an emotional connection with prospects and clients, all their expertise will have little impact. Of course, they need to understand withdrawal strategies, the future of Social Security and Medicare, factor-based investing, estate planning and tax efficiencies. But this knowledge will be unavailing without input about how to convey it so it is heard, understood, evaluated and processed.
Here are some session suggestions:
- How to stop talking and engage in active listening.
- Neuroscience 101: What happens when you empower others to talk about themselves?
- Are you “curiosity challenged?”
- The difference between authenticity and sincerity.
- The real skinny on empathy.
- What you can learn from buying a loved one a gift.
- What’s going on in the brain of others when you are talking?
- Do you have conversational blind spots?
- The power of non-persuasion.
- Why you and I can look at the same video and see different things.
- Harness of power of “contagious emotions.”
- How to make an emotional connection that rivals psychic power.
I’m not trivializing the fact-based education you provide. But what you are doing is akin to serving food without utensils.