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What the All-Knowing Advisor Doesn’t Know

Originally posted on Advisor Perspectives, April 17, 2017

Many advisors feel the need to project an image of total confidence. They answer questions about investing and financial planning with no hint of doubt. But they overlook the virtues of humility, especially when it comes to questions outside their areas of expertise.

Branching out

In an effort to demonstrate their value, some have taken the role of a life coach, offering advice on how to live more fulfilled and rewarding lives. They disseminate homilies on social media, like “you can be whoever you want to be” or “create a bucket list now!”

I’m guilty of engaging in this conduct. In my Smartest Sales book, I discussed the benefits of meditation and included a section on how to achieve happiness. I did so by summarizing (and referencing in an extensive bibliography) peer-reviewed studies on these subjects. But, the advice I see from advisors seems to reflect their life experience, which they assume can be extrapolated to others. I have rarely seen any objective support for their views.

Lawyers use the term “ipse dixit” to refer to refer to “an unsupported statement that rests solely on the authority of the individual who makes it.” Some advisors and “thought leaders” seem very comfortable making statements that fall into this category.

While well-intentioned, giving clients advice in areas in which you have no qualifications has obvious perils. Here’s one you may not have considered: Doing so, makes you less likable.

The peril of perfection

This article in Inc Magazine posed an interesting question: When was President John F. Kennedy most popular?  Most people assume it was after he died or after the Cuban missile crisis (I guessed the latter). Both are incorrect. He was most popular after the Bay of Pigs debacle when he accepted full responsibility for what occurred.

There’s ample research indicating we are more likable when we are more vulnerable. The seminal work in this area was a study authored by Elliot Aronson, Ben Willerman and Joanne Floyd and published in June, 1966 in Psychonomic Science. This research demonstrated the attractiveness of a competent person was enhanced when he committed a clumsy blunder.

In the study, a participant was given a quiz. He demonstrated competence by answering 90% of the questions posed competently. The authors created two tapes. One was unchanged. The researcher was heard correctly responding to almost all questions posed. In the second tape, the contestant was heard spilling a cup of coffee over himself at the end of the quiz.

When a series of panelists were asked to rate the two tapes, all panels rated the contestant who spilled the coffee higher than the contestant in the unchanged tape.

In his book, 59 Seconds-Think a Little, Change a Lot, author Richard Wiseman theorized that we find it easier to relate to those with imperfections (just like us) and difficult to do so to those who project perfection.

Using this research

You’re expected to be an expert in your profession, but not to be all-knowing. When I pose hypothetical questions to advisors in my coaching sessions, I often get answers asserted with great confidence that simply aren’t accurate.

You don’t know the future. The fact the market has behaved a certain way over the long term doesn’t mean it will do so next year, the next decade, or ever. Advisors often don’t consider the possibility of “black swan” events when trying to convert prospects who express anxiety about geopolitical events.

Try incorporating this phrase into your conversations, where appropriate: “I don’t know.”

It will enhance your likeability and improve your conversion rate.

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