10 tips for better client conversations

Female advisor having a conversation with a client

Great conversations rarely happen by accident.

Celeste Hadlee, award-winning journalist and author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter, shares 10 tips on how advisors can have more meaningful and productive discussions with clients.

1. Focus on the task at hand

Illustration of a female advisor focusing on their client.

Multitasking during a meeting is not only bad manners, you're also more likely to miss important information. If you're having a one-on-one conversation but find your attention drifting to your to-do list or your email, put your devices away and focus on the speaker.

2. Make it a dialogue

A good conversation is a two-way street. Instead of talking at a client, or trying to change their mind, listen for what's driving their point of view. Are they anxious? Is there an underlying issue that they haven't brought up yet? Is there something you can learn that you hadn't considered? You might hear something that sparks a new way to help.

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. Questions such as "What are your savings goals?" or "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" are more likely to uncover new opportunities and strengthen your relationship than yes-no questions such as "Do you feel you have the resources you need?"

4. Go with the flow

Illustration of two people talking across a river

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 speak. All the while, we're missing out on what's being said. Practice pulling back and being a listener, even though your brain keeps trying to make you the speaker.

5. Get comfortable saying "I don't know."

This can be difficult 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.

6. Shine the spotlight on them

A male shining a spotlight on another male

Chiming in with your own experiences may seem like a way to keep the conversation going, but to the other person it can feel like a grab for attention. Rather than telling a competing story, focus on their story and ask questions that can bring out more details.

7. Say it once (or twice)

Rather than hammering a point home, delivering a message clearly once or twice can help it sink in. If there are important points you want to make, consider reinforcing them with handouts or a follow-up email that outlines the conversation.

8. Stay on topic

Adding unnecessary details can derail a conversation. For example, if you're discussing the E.U. economy with a client, is it the right time to tell them about your trip to Italy? Casual chats are a good way to start a meeting, but once you're talking business, stay focused on what's most important to your client.

9. Listen

When you listen closely, you learn what's important to your clients. Effective listening is an acquired skill that requires practice. The payoff is knowing you're ready to help your clients navigate challenges and focus on their goals.

10. Keep it short when you're doing the talking

Respect your clients' time and attention span. Long explanations or too much information might make it harder for them to understand your point or to make decisions.

Every conversation is an opportunity. Take full advantage of each occasion to build deeper, more lasting relationships with your clients.

What you can do next

  • Learn more about Guiding Principles for advisory firm success and how to define value through your clients' eyes.
  • Consider a custodian that invests in your success. If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, Contact us to learn more about the benefits of a Schwab custodial relationship.


Based on “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter,” presented by Celeste Headlee at the IMPACT® conference in Chicago, Ill., October 2018.