When it comes to helping clients clarify their most important financial planning goals and priorities, many advisors may find it difficult to facilitate the insightful conversations necessary to guide clients through an exploration of these values. Clients may be tempted to postpone having such intimately personal discussions, and advisors may not be certain how to frame the discussion so that it is both productive and comfortable for the client. But by first establishing trust and guiding the client through an exploration of what their ideal future looks like, advisors can ask specific questions that help the client identify what specifically is most important to them in their lives right now, that will be most impactful in helping them structure their ideal future.
George Kinder, the father of Life Planning, developed a 3-question discovery process designed to help advisors achieve this by helping clients assess their life values and identify their most important personal priorities. While the first question asks clients to explore what their ideal future looks like (as they deepen a shared trust with their advisor, co-creating a future vision together), the second helps clients imagine the future goals that would be needed to realize their ideal future. The third and final question encourages clients to examine what they would need to do right now, in the present moment, to ultimately achieve their most important goals.
While the first 2 Life Planning questions are forward looking, asking the client to contemplate aspects of their future selves, the third question requires clients to consider what feelings they would have about the future they just imagined if they were told they only had 1 day left to live. What would they miss? What did they not get to be? What did they not get to do? Notably, the question refrains from using the word “regret”, which can have a negative association that, for many people, may discourage them from having an open and positive exploration of their feelings. Despite this, the client’s regret is really the essence of what is being examined by this question, as a way to identify the gap between the client’s dream of a perfect future and the reality of their current situation.
Importantly, because regret can be a powerfully negative emotion that can raise very uncomfortable feelings for the client, it is critical that the third Life Planning question be asked carefully, with unconditional positive regard and empathy for the client. To do this, advisors can offer their support and guidance as a facilitator, responding in a nonjudgmental manner to the client’s responses. In addition, asking thoughtful and engaging follow-up questions can keep the conversation flowing and allow the client to dig deeper into their underlying motivations. While planning recommendations should not be made during the discussion of the 3 Life Planning questions (which is time devoted for the client to explore and imagine their future dreams), the responses and insights that are shared during the process can eventually be used to develop a meaningful and actionable financial plan for the client.
Ultimately, the key point is that George Kinder’s 3 Life Planning questions can help the advisor and client better understand what the client genuinely values most and what they can start doing now to bridge the gap existing between where they currently are and where they want to be in the future. And by helping clients visualize the path they need to take with clarity and objectivity, advisors can provide the support and guidance to help them realize their most meaningful futures!