10 tips for better conversations

People having a conversation

Your firm's success starts with effective client dialogue

Strong and durable client relationships are the foundation of your practice. And when it comes to building those bonds with your clients and prospects, few tools are as powerful as a good conversation. But do you sometimes finish conversations wishing you'd taken better advantage of the opportunity? Could you have had a deeper, more meaningful interaction that put the spotlight on the client? Celeste Headlee, award-winning journalist, professional speaker and author of Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter, offers these tips to drive your business by raising your conversation IQ:


1) Focus on the task at hand. You want to wring every ounce of productivity out of your day. But trying to multitask during a conversation can leave you wondering what you discussed. If you're having a one-on-one conversation, but find your attention drifting to your to-do list or your next call, practice focusing on the speaker. Stay engaged during conference calls by turning off distractions like email and social media.

Dialogue between two people

2) Make it a dialogue. A good conversation is always a two-way street. Instead of teaching a client or prospect, or trying to change their mind, listen and see what they have to teach you. You will likely learn something you didn't know about them, and maybe identify a new way to help them.

Question and answer

3) Ask open-ended questions. Journalists know that a simple, open-ended question is most likely to produce a thoughtful, interesting or unexpected response. Follow their lead. Rather than over-engineer your questions, start with the basics: who, what, when, where, how. Clients' responses may uncover opportunities for you to discover new solutions for them, strengthening your relationship in the process.

Hot coffee in a mug

4) Go with the flow. We've all been there: Someone's talking and it triggers something we want to say, so we hold onto that idea until it's our turn to talk. All the while, we're missing out on what's being said. Practice pulling yourself back into the conversation as a listener, even though your brain keeps trying to make you the speaker.

Question mark

5) Get comfortable saying "I don't know." This can be hard for financial advisors, since you're expected to be the authority on financial matters. But not only is it okay to admit you don't know—doing so can earn trust. Conversely, trying to prop up a conversation with shaky facts can erode trust.


6) Shine the spotlight. If someone is telling you excitedly about his or her new job, do you feel the urge to bring up the last time you landed a new job? Chiming in with your own experiences may seem like a way to keep the conversation going, but it can act as a grab for attention, which can undermine the other person's willingness to engage in your conversation.


7) Say it once (or twice). Rather than hammering a point home, saying the same thing over and over often leads your audience to tune you out. Saying a key message once or twice, clearly, can help it sink in. Consider reinforcing key messages with handouts or a follow-up email on the topic.

Arrow at the center of a target

8) Stay on point. Adding unnecessary details can derail a conversation. For instance, if you're discussing the E.U. economy with a client, is it really necessary to tell them what year you were last in Europe? You can always make time to casually chat with clients. But when planning a client meeting, keep it simple and focus on your key points. And when you're in the conversation, stick to them and work on getting back on topic if you find yourself going off on a tangent.


9) Listen. It's tempting to focus on the speaking part of a conversation, but remember good listening is half of the secret to success. And to be sure, listening is an acquired skill. The key is practice, and the payoff is well worth the effort: Effective listening is crucial to a successful advisory practice.

Alarm clock

10) Keep it short. Remember that the clock is ticking and your client's attention span may be waning. The longer you talk and the more information you try to cram in, the more you lose people's attention.

As with any skill, being a good conversationalist takes practice. Be mindful of how you interact with your clients and look for opportunities to put these tips into practice. Doing so can not only help build deeper, more durable relationships with your clients, but also strengthen your practice for years to come.

What you can do next

  • Learn more about enhancing client relationships and adapting to investors' changing needs.
  • If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, consider a custodian that invests in your success. Contact us to learn more about the benefits of a custodial relationship with Schwab.