Originally published in Advisor Perspectives, September 13, 2017
We’ve all had experience with the alpha male prospect. He is supremely self-assured. His confidence is not confined to his area of core competence. Even if his business success and educational background are unrelated to investing, he believes he knows more than you about how to invest and plan for his future.
If he doesn’t think he can do it himself, he’s convinced that he and his broker can “beat the market,” through stock picking, market timing, and mutual fund selection.
He doesn’t take kindly to your attempts to enlighten him.
He also dominates the conversation, interrupts you and anyone else in the room (particularly his spouse) and takes issue with any argument you articulate that’s contrary to his strongly held beliefs.
While there are many reasons why you may not want this person as a client, let’s assume you do.
Incidentally, there are alpha females too. But the traits I just described are more common among men than women, particularly because of male physiology, as I will explain. Although this is a gender-specific article, the advice I offer can be applied to either sex.
Converting the alpha male is surprisingly easy if you follow these simple rules.
It’s easy to write off this behavior as obnoxious and inexplicable, but that wouldn’t be correct. His conduct may have a hormonal basis.
One study demonstrated a “clear and causal effect” of high levels of testosterone and a decrease in the probability of engaging in “slow and effortful cognitive processes.” In non-technical terms, high-testosterone men scored lower on a test measuring cognitive reflection than a control group that received a placebo (instead of a shot of testosterone).
The brimming confidence in your alpha male prospect may be due to higher levels of testosterone. This may cause him to react without thinking.
It may also explain why some men believe they are right more often than women (because men naturally have more testosterone than women).
You aren’t going to win an argument with an alpha male. He’s not interested in your point of view. Efforts to persuade him will only polarize.
Alpha males tend to have “high conflict” personalities. Bill Eddy has written extensively about this personality type. He notes that high-conflict people tend to engage in “all or nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behaviors and blaming others.”
When you engage with a high-conflict personality, it’s like adding kerosene to a raging fire. Don’t do it.
A better approach
The alpha male wants to demonstrate he’s smarter, wealthier and generally superior to you.
Encourage him to talk about himself. It won’t be difficult.
Ask him nice, easy, non-confrontational questions, like: “Tell me more about how you started your business and made it such a success.”
Continue to ask follow-up questions. Let the conversation flow naturally.
Keep the focus on the prospect. Make absolutely no effort to change his mind or to persuade him to retain you.
At some point, he will ask you questions. That’s your opportunity to very briefly respond, but it’s critical that your response is factual, brief and can’t be construed as an effort to “sell” him on your services.
Don’t be concerned if he never asks you any questions. If this occurs, don’t volunteer anything.
Whether he makes inquiries or not, at the end of the meeting, ask this question: “How would you like to proceed?”
Following these rules maximizes your chances of converting this difficult prospect into a client.