One of the most common challenges that financial advisors can face is encouraging clients to implement recommendations when they are resistant to the idea of change… even when the client is aware that those changes are necessary to attain their goals, and even when they want to make those changes! For many clients, resistance is fueled by behavioral biases that hinder their ability to think rationally as they consider a potential change to implement, which in turn can also create friction between the advisor and client in discussing the required changes necessary to accomplish their goals. But by understanding the communication tools that help their clients work through resistance, advisors can enhance their relationships while, at the same time, helping their clients actually take the action steps necessary to follow through on their recommendations!
Behavioral biases can impede rational decision-making by causing a person to discount or ignore relevant and important information. This can happen because of how an individual might subjectively accept and process information (e.g., confirmation bias causes important information to be dismissed because it contradicts a person’s preconceived notion, which a person may not even recognize is incorrect), or because of how moods and feelings about circumstances or relationships can influence thinking (e.g., the endowment effect might cause a client who is emotionally attached to a home that they need to sell to ask for twice the market price of the home).
When helping clients who are resistant to implementing important changes because of behavioral biases, financial advisors may find certain forms of reflection useful to help clients overcome the resistance. Reflection is a conversational tool that is often used by therapists to help patients work through change and accept resistance as a natural part of the challenging process of personal change. These same tools can also be used just as effectively by financial advisors with their clients, because resisting change – even when the change is one that we want to make – is normal, and very common, for nearly everyone.
Because in the end, arguing with a resistant client about why a change is necessary, and presenting data and financial planning projections to prove the point, can actually just make the client more resistant (and may even result in getting the advisor fired!). Whereas the act of reflecting, which can be as simple as reiterating what the client has just said about how they feel, can create positive opportunities for objectively brainstorming new ideas and gaining insight – for both client and advisor – around the thoughts and feelings on successfully moving forward.
Ultimately, the key point is that resistance from clients is normal and very common, but arguably the point that the client needs to make the change is rarely the best way to accomplish the goal. Instead, the best ways to help clients move forward can often be found by offering the client the time and space to reflect upon their own thought processes. And fortunately, advisors have a range of different conversation tools to choose from that help their clients break through and implement their recommendations… in addition to deepening the advisor’s relationships with their clients, too!
For most financial advisors, dealing with clients who are resistant, at least on some level, to accept the changes they need to make to implement their financial plans is often a common experience. This can be frustrating both because the client isn’t actually implementing the advice itself, and because in many cases it’s even advice they paid the advisor to get (yet still aren’t implementing!).
Furthermore, even though these issues arise frequently and the causes behind them may be easy to identify, they still present a real and sometimes very challenging problem for advisors who need to navigate their clients’ behavioral biases and help them implement financially healthy changes.
Yet, by recognizing the source of a client’s resistance, advisors can decide which communication tools they might implement to most effectively help the client work through the resistance to achieve the goals set out in their financial plans.
Behavioral Biases Can Influence A Client’s Behavior And Create Resistance To Change
Typically, a client’s source of resistance is often some form of behavioral bias. Which is, unsurprisingly, very normal, as while behavioral biases are often framed as ‘aberrant’ behavior, the reality is actually that the ‘aberrant’ nature of the behavior is the common standard (and ironically, those who easily and perfectly implement changes based on a single moment of advice alone are actually the aberrant exception to the rule!).
A general definition of a behavioral bias is an irrational preference based on a person’s failure to take in all available information (or perhaps their failure to consider it altogether) when making a decision. And the lack of that additional information can result in the person making less-than-optimal choices, or what many economists would call ‘irrational decision making’.
Still, just because many economists and other academics call behavioral biases irrational (although some do consider them rational at times, and sometimes even useful), it does not necessarily mean that behavioral biases are uncommon.
In fact, many common errors that people make every day often involve emotional and cognitive biases. For instance, a rather famous type of cognitive bias is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when someone chooses only to seek out or acknowledge information (and this choice can be made either knowingly or subconsciously) that supports what they believe to be true.
Said another way, they ignore or reject any information contradictory to their already-existing beliefs. Yet if one only reads information about how great a particular stock is, and refuses to consider anything different, their confirmation bias is drastically going to change any decisions they make pertaining to that stock (or the recommendations they’re willing to accept about it from their advisor!).
The good news is, at least for some of the errors in our thinking that result from behavioral biases (i.e., those errors that specifically deal with making decisions based on a lack or rejection of information), these errors can be fairly easy to address. Sometimes, just by slowing down to examine and explain the bias more closely, we can gain insight into how those biases may be skewing our ability to recognize and acknowledge objective ideas about a certain idea.
For example, when dealing with confirmation bias, it might be good to consider other historical examples, beyond the current instance the person may be currently struggling with, to illustrate how a more holistic approach to understanding and accepting all available data can lead to better outcomes.
Recall such companies as Tower Records, Sears, Macy’s, Kodak, and General Motors. No one would have predicted the demise of any of these companies. Yet, times change in ways we cannot always see coming – the rise of online retail marketing, the ability of our phones to do practically everything (including playing music and taking pictures), and other new technologies that improve manufacturing quality we never would have imagined ten years ago. Simply because Apple and Amazon may be popular stocks today, it does not mean we should put all of our money into those stocks and refuse to diversify… because history can – and does! – repeat itself.
Notably, this approach can be effective because it avoids making (or the appearance of making) any direct attacks on a person’s current belief system. In other words, it tries to help the person consider more information, without putting them on the defensive about the information they currently believe.
Alternatively, using examples of someone’s life circumstances, perhaps to point out a time when they considered both the pros and cons of a problem, can show the person how a balanced approach can lead to an optimal outcome.
It’s important to note that people are sometimes unaware that they are even engaging in confirmation bias, so helping someone to slow down and gain insight into their thought processes, along with the information (and especially the lack thereof) that is being used in the thought process, can be very useful to help recognize any detrimental effects of behavioral biases.
Working with behavioral biases should not feel like an exercise where the goal is to point out someone else’s short-sightedness – no one likes to be told they are biased – but instead, it should involve honest, open conversations where all parties involved are taking the time to slow down and think about what they are thinking and how they got there.
For financial advisors, in particular, behavioral biases are especially relevant to understand, as these biases can show up in clients as a resistance to implementing changes required by their financial plans.
For instance, consider the following common biases that can affect a client’s willingness to implement change:
- Status Quo Bias. The client is resistant to change because they prefer things as they currently are, even though they are confronted with a ‘better’ alternative.
- Confirmation Bias. Clients selectively seek out more information that confirms their preconceptions and tend to ignore information that does not support their ideas, sometimes in order to avoid change altogether.
- Endowment Effect. Clients may demand more to give up an asset than they would be willing to pay to acquire it in an attempt to avoid losing something they may have a strong emotional attachment to.
- Overconfidence Bias. A client believes that they have more knowledge or competence than others (even when they don’t), and it is thus difficult to convince them to consider viewpoints other than their own.
To make matters worse, if these biases are handled improperly, it can cause clients to dig in with further resistance. Because nobody likes to be told they are just wrong or biased in the first place, and pushing them to do something they don’t believe in will potentially simply cause them to reject the suggestion.
The good news is that the simple act of reflecting on the reason behind the resistance is a very useful way to overcome the resistance, especially when irrational behavioral biases are involved.
And what’s even better is that there are many simple yet effective communication tools that use reflection to deal with resistant behaviors, commonly used by therapists, that advisors can easily implement to work with their own resistant clients!
How Different Methods of Reflection Can Help Clients To Better Understand Why They Are Resistant To Change
There are many ways to engage clients in reflection; though, in its most basic form, reflection can simply involve the advisor repeating back what the client has told them in order to provide space to contemplate the issues under discussion.
Dr. Brad Klontz, Edward Horwitz, and Paul T. Klontz discuss this use of reflection in their textbook, Financial Therapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, noting that reflection is generally used to do three things:
- Ensure clients feel understood;
- Assist clients in gaining greater insight into their own thoughts and feelings; and
- Address the consequences of not
Reflection Through Reiteration
Depending on what the advisor wants to address, reiterating the client’s own words can generally be used to help encourage reflection either on emotions and feelings or on factual content.
Example 1: When Clarence realizes that he needs to develop an estate plan, he visits his advisor Favio for help. Favio recognizes that Clarence is hesitant to take the first steps and decides to use reflection in their conversation to help Clarence identify any underlying reasons behind his resistance.
Additionally, Favio feels this would be a good way to better understand what Clarence would be willing to do at this stage to get things started, and considers two options of initiating the discussion – using emotional reflection or factual reflection.
Favio thinks for a moment and imagines how the conversations might go using each method.
If the conversation begins with emotional reflection, the dialogue might go something like this:
Clarence: I know I need to get my estate plan in order; I am just not ready.
Favio: I hear you say you are feeling hesitant.
Clarence: Yes, I am hesitating. I can’t really verbalize exactly why, I guess. Just the idea that someday Violet may pass before I do terrifies me; I don’t know how I would go on without her. I know that’s even more reason to get my estate plan together, but I am still just feeling so stuck.
If the conversation begins with factual reflection, the dialogue might go something like this:
Clarence: I know I need to get my estate plan in order; I am just not ready.
Favio: I hear you telling me that you understand the estate plan is important, but you are having a hard time actually starting the process.
Clarence: Yes, I think I am just not sure where to begin. I know I need a will, but what even goes in a will? Who do I want to leave my stuff to?
In the above example, the advisor uses reiteration by simply repeating back what the client has already said to them. Yet, by hearing their own thoughts expressed by another, the client can consider their own words more objectively and, almost as a reflexive response, goes a bit deeper to think about not just what they are thinking but also how they are thinking about it.
This exercise often serves to provide more insight into the barriers the client may not even realize they are facing and can give the client and the advisor more information to work with.
Perhaps the advisor can encourage the client by suggesting, “Well, we can inventory what you do have and where it should go, if that would help?” Alternatively, depending on how the conversation goes, it may be fruitful simply to keep the reflection going and see if the client provides any additional insight.
Either way, using simple reflection through reiteration alone can help both the advisor and the client understand that the resistance isn’t just a matter of the client choosing to ignore the advisor’s instruction or that they don’t care about the financial plan. Instead, they can work together, through conversations engaging reflection, to uncover some ideas and information that actually enable the client to move forward.
While the most basic form of reflection is simply to reiterate what the client has said, Klontz, Horwitz, and Klontz also identify several other methods of communication in their textbook. Some of these methods include amplified reflection, double-sided reflection, and reframing as effective techniques that advisors can use to help their clients understand their current thoughts and feelings as they may relate to their financial planning goals.
Consider a common status quo bias that frequently comes up with estate planning. Many clients find the emotional struggle of contemplating their own death – not to mention the death of their loved ones – overwhelming and unpleasant. Which makes it understandable that many clients procrastinate about doing their estate planning, or would rather just not do it at all.
In these instances, advisors might use amplified reflection, where they exaggerate what the client has just said, to encourage the client to contemplate more deeply the reasons behind their resistance.
Example 2: While exploring Clarence’s resistance to develop his estate plan, Favio, Clarence’s advisor, realizes that Clarence is having a really hard time thinking about someday losing his wife, Violet, not to mention the thought of facing his own death, despite the fact that both are still healthy and have long life expectancies.
Favio decides to try some amplified reflection to help him identify what he is ready to tackle at this point.
Clarence: I know I need to get my estate plan in order; I am just feeling so stuck.
Favio: So you’re saying you are between a rock and a hard place, totally unable to move forward at all.
Clarence: No, it’s not that I can’t do anything.
Favio: Sure, tell me what does sound possible.
When using amplified reflection, the advisor purposefully exaggerates the client’s “I can’t!” mentality to get the client to respond with a more positive counter-statement indicating what they can do. In effect, the client, not the advisor, creates their own affirmation toward making change.
The trick to amplified reflection is to ensure that you do not come across as sarcastic or disrespectful. You exaggerate to some degree, but not without empathy and genuine interest in what it is that the client is feeling.
As such, perhaps a good way to gauge whether to use amplified reflection with a client is to assess whether you are feeling impatient or frustrated with the client. If you feel annoyed or frustrated (like you just want to yell at the client to quit being so ridiculous!), then maybe amplified reflection should be avoided. As while you wouldn’t intentionally choose to sound sarcastic, your body language and tone may unwittingly say otherwise if that’s what you are really feeling!
However, if you are feeling patient and at ease with the client and believe there is a deeper, more powerful emotion that you are interested in helping the client to explore, amplified reflection can be a valuable tool.
Another style of reflection an advisor can use is Double-Sided Reflection, which is directly expressing both sides of the argument over something that a client might feel resistance toward. This form of reflection can be especially useful when clients have feelings of ambivalence about an issue.
If the client does not clearly articulate how they view each side of a particular argument, the advisor can suggest potential alternate viewpoints. Regardless of whether the ideas presented in the reflection come from the client or the advisor, what really matters is how the client responds. For example, if the advisor presented one side of the ambivalence that the client disagrees with, the ensuing discussion could provide a springboard for further discussion since the client is likely to negate the inaccurate viewpoint and express how they do feel, bringing more relevant information to explore and address (which is really the whole point of the exercise in the first place!).
Example 3: Favio, Clarence’s advisor, recognizes that along with the discomfort of contemplating death, Clarence is having some feelings of ambivalence about the estate planning process.
Favio decides to use Double-Sided Reflection to help Clarence explore how he might work through his ambivalence. Their conversation goes like this:
Clarence: I know I need to get my estate plan in order; I am just feeling so stuck.
Favio: Yes, on the one hand, estate planning takes a lot of work and coordination, and it can be hard to get ready to do all of those things, but on the other hand, when it is done, it tends to bring immense peace of mind.
Clarence: Actually, it isn’t the coordination of the documents that bothers me. I actually feel nervous about whom to give what to? If you could tell me that, then you are right…I would have a lot of peace of mind.
Here, by using double-sided reflection, Clarence’s financial advisor discovered where Clarence’s real blocking point is, giving him a new direction to work on with Clarence to help him move forward.
Another way to handle resistance is with Reframing Reflection. An advisor reframes by using new information or perhaps offering a different perspective while still helping the client to reflect on their current emotion or resistance.
Reframing is an excellent technique to use with clients struggling with emotional attachments and endowment effect biases.
Example 4: Linda really needs to sell her 7-bedroom home and buy something smaller and more manageable as she transitions into retirement. She has lived in her home for decades and has many fond memories of her children growing up there.
But Linda is now single and will need extra income to support her retirement. Yet, Linda doesn’t feel that she can bring herself to sell her home, so she asks her agent to list the home for more money than it’s really worth.
Linda’s financial advisor, Jenna, recognizes the endowment effect here (that we ascribe higher-than-market value to something we already own, and are reluctant to part with), and has the following conversation using reframing reflection to help Linda understand why bringing the price down makes a lot of sense:
Linda: I spoke with the real estate agent again, and she says I need to come down $40,000 to even get people to come to look at it. She says, ideally, I would come down $75,000. She has no idea how much time I spent working on that kitchen over the years. The kitchen alone is worth $75,000!
Jenna: Yes, on the one hand, you have so many awesome memories and have put a lot of elbow grease into that home. Those things are truly priceless. Yet, on the other hand, the real estate agent understands the market, and your retirement projections show that you can safely retire – and start creating new retirement memories – using the market’s numbers.
In this example, Jenna acknowledges Linda’s memories and hard work but also reminds Linda by reframing how the money from selling her home will help her do the things she wants to in retirement.
Notably, Jenna doesn’t tell Linda directly that her house and the memories she has aren’t worth what she is asking – a more direct version of double-sided reflection. Facts and figures do not necessarily help when someone wants empathy and acknowledgment. Instead, Jenna reframes the issue from whether the sale value of the house is “worth” the memories left behind, to what the sale of the house can achieve in creating new memories in retirement.
Agreement… With A Twist
For some clients, simply helping them recognize their own thoughts can help them reach a deeper understanding of why they may be resistant to change.
While this might sound a bit strange at first – because how can someone not know what their own thoughts are? – it is really more about understanding the origin of those thoughts or the information that went into formulating those thoughts. And sometimes, outright agreement with (or at least offering no resistance to) what is being said can bring the client to disagree with their own original thoughts that were causing the resistance in the first place!
Agreement with a twist can be a fun tool to use with clients. It consists of a simple reiteration (e.g., restating an emotion or fact conveyed by the client), combined with a reframing reflection (e.g., as much as estate planning pertains to death, it is also about legacy). And the combination of the two can bring about greater acceptance of the new frame.
For example, the conversation might go something like this:
Client: I know I need to get my estate plan in order; I am just not ready.
Advisor: I hear you saying that forming an estate plan is not something that you are looking forward to [reiteration]. It is hard to get started; it does not feel good to think about death and dying. Yet, estate planning is also about leaving a legacy, gifting, and creating peace of mind [reframing].
Client: I really do want to stop worrying about it; maybe we can just talk about the first steps?
Emphasizing Personal Choice
The next type of reflection is called Emphasizing Personal Choice. The crux of this method considers the fact that most people don’t like to feel as though someone is making them do something that isn’t their choice. So by framing an issue to highlight or recognize a client’s right to choose, advisors can sometimes make it easier for clients to overcome their resistance.
This can be empowering for the client and does not require the advisor to force an agenda on the client, nor to agree with the fact that the client has said they are not ready to move forward.
For example, emphasizing personal choice is a good way to get client buy-in on issues that they may be resistant to accept:
Client: I know I need to get my estate plan in order; I am just not ready.
Advisor: Estate plans are important, but it is entirely your decision. Only you can decide when this becomes a priority, and I respect your timing.
Client: I know you are right, it is important, and I want to get it done.
This is a brilliant outcome, as just one statement ago, the client was not ready to move forward. Now, they are saying it is important and they want to get it done.
Had the advisor just pushed the idea of the importance and timing of estate planning on the client, instead of helping the client to reflect on their personal choice in the matter, they might have seen a very different reaction as the client may have felt that the advisor is pushing them to do something they just don’t want to do.
Coming Alongside Reflection
Finally, there is the Coming Alongside reflection. This one may also seem a little strange at first, but it can be a really powerful way for the advisor to help the client realize what needs to be done in light of their resistance.
This method involves the advisor actually agreeing with the client’s reason for resisting proposed changes in a calm, matter-of-fact way.
Example 5: Jerry really believes in the company that he works for and always buys their stock. By the time he has come to see his financial advisor, Andy, Jerry is very heavily weighted in the company’s stock.
Although Andy tries to talk about the benefits of diversification, Jerry just won’t have it, even though the company stock has recently declined. Jerry is convinced the setback is temporary and that the stock will recover.
Andy recognizes Jerry’s confirmation bias and decides to deal with the situation with Coming Alongside reflection. Their conversation goes like this:
Jerry: We are going to be just fine. We’ve already announced the big release of a new product and I’m confident the price isn’t just going to rebound; it’s going to sky-rocket! You’ll see.
Andy: It’s really cool how loyal you are to your company, and great that you love working there so much, and it’s super-cool that you feel you have such a good perspective on the opportunities for the company with the upcoming release. But let’s consider what it would look like if you were to take advantage of this dip in not just your company but the broader market to invest in a wider range of companies that could, for example, also have increases.
In the example above, Andy does not disagree with Jerry. He isn’t telling Jerry that he must diversify because of 1,000 reasons why the company might not rebound. Instead, Andy agrees that it is possible for him to stay heavily invested in his company, emphasizing Jerry’s loyalty to the company. But he also suggests that Jerry’s may want to take advantage of this time by investing in other companies also experiencing a dip in market prices.
Andy isn’t criticizing Jerry’s company or beliefs; instead, he is coming alongside Jerry’s point of view and working to expand Jerry’s boundaries around the investments he is comfortable making, yet at the same time respecting those boundaries.
By agreeing with the client first, the client will be more likely to acknowledge they are on board and may even come up with their own action. This is very different than fighting about the issue and causing the client to dig in further against not getting it done.
When One Method Of Reflection Isn’t Enough
Sometimes, certain biases will be difficult to address with just one type of reflection tool. The examples offered in this article so far have illustrated conversations that wrap up very quickly, but, in reality, dialogues often take much more time, and multiple reflections may be used throughout a single discussion.
This is especially evident when working with clients whose resistance is based on overconfidence bias. The biggest danger for clients with overconfidence is their belief that they can do it all and that they don’t need any help or additional information.
As such, when it seems that there is no way to change the person’s mind because they are so overconfident they have difficulty even seeing the issue, let alone deciding there is anything to address at all in the first place, the advisor can consider implementing both amplified reflection and coming alongside the client to help the client realize that there may be better alternative solutions.
Example 6: Bob knows a good deal when he sees one, and he wants to make a new investment. This is not the first time he has had a hunch about something, and to his credit, there have been times when his hunches have led to positive results.
Yet, all good advisors know that the past is not a reliable predictor of the future. And Tim, Bob’s financial advisor, is not convinced that the new investment would be in Bob’s best interest.
While Bob wants to move forward with the investment, Tim feels that, unless he agrees with Bob’s investment decision, he will lose Bob as a client.
Tim recognizes that Bob’s overconfidence bias may be affecting his objectivity and decides to use some amplified reflection to help Bob consider his decision more carefully and, a bit later, to implement the Coming Alongside reflection with Bob.
Bob: I want to take $300,000 out to invest in this project.
Tim: Wow! I understand this to mean that you expect this project to not only run easily and efficiently but also to produce some serious results quickly. [Tim is using Amplified Reflection]
Bob: Well, I did vet this program, and I believe in it. I can’t say at this point if things are going to be ‘easy or efficient’…or even seriously produce, but I know I can make it work. I always make it work.
Tim: Thank you for sharing with me your thought process. I won’t deny that you have had some wins in the past – you do, as you say, ‘make it work’. Yet, I would not be doing my job as a fiduciary if I failed to tell you that I am nervous about how a possible, not-so-perfect outcome would impact your retirement, even in light of your optimism. [Tim is using Coming Alongside Reflection, but not without expressing his own resistance to the idea]
Bob: So you’re saying that you don’t want me to do this.
Tim: I don’t want to lose you as a client over this decision; but you are, of course, free to invest your money any way you want. [Tim simply agrees, puts his hands up, and leans back. Once again, he is coming alongside the client. It is clear from Tim’s body language that he is giving in without a fight.]
Bob: Wait, is that it? You’re not going to discuss your hesitancy with me? I mean, I do want to move forward with the investment, but I also thought we would discuss this idea a bit more. How is it going to impact my retirement? You just said you are hesitant, but you are not telling me why and you’ve just given up without a fight. I do believe I can do it, but I think some of my past success has actually come out of you and me arguing; you’ve helped me to see all sides in those instances. Can we spar about this a bit more?
Tim: Yes, we can totally talk through it a bit more. I think it would be worthwhile to re-run the numbers for your financial plan to have a plan B if things do not go easily, efficiently, and profitable. I am willing to help you take this jump, but I want to ensure we do it with a safety net in place.
Now, if you are thinking, my client would never say that…they would just say, “Great! Meeting adjourned. I’ll be looking for my money”, then this strategy is not for that particular client. Advisors will generally know their clients and, if they truly believe they will simply take the money with no desire for further discussion, this won’t be the best way to approach their overconfidence.
Instead, other strategies, such as Agreeing With A Twist or Emphasizing Personal Choice, may be safer and more effective. In this case, Tim knows that in the past he’s historically had rigorous ‘debates’ with Bob about investment ideas and that Bob often leverages him to vet ideas, which gave Tim the confidence to set up that conversation again (through reflection).
That caveat aside, you might be surprised to find this strategy of agreement and coming alongside the client can work pretty well. Again, the client knows they have come to you for advice, so simply agreeing with them and actively not giving advice will often trigger a sense of something not feeling quite ‘right’ in most people.
I’ve tried using Coming Alongside reflections with my husband, and, on occasion, he just says, “What? You aren’t actually going to disagree with me?” People often inherently know when you are there for advice and ideas, so simply agreeing without offering any opportunity for reflection can feel a bit unsettling and can often spark some valuable dialogue!
All that being said, it’s important to remember that, as a fiduciary, an advisor’s duty is to give advice in the client’s best interest, and purposefully withholding such advice from a client would potentially break the advisor’s fiduciary duty.
In the example above, the advisor chose not to spar with the client, but also made sure to remind the client of his fiduciary duty. The advisor acknowledged that he would accept the client’s strong desire to forego his advice, but only because he wanted to keep the client. He also made it clear that by going against his advice, the client would not be acting in accordance with what he really believed was best for the client.
In other words, Tim agreed with his client Bob’s abilities and acknowledged his lucky past win-loss record. But he also set up the conversation so that he could ensure Bob understood that, by investing the money in his company stock, Bob would be going against what Tim thought was best for him. Tim did not withhold advice; instead, Tim used the discomfort that came with briefly postponing advice to create a window for offering his advice with higher impact, and prompted by the client themselves, which only makes the client even more receptive to it.
It’s important to note that while reflection is a foundational communication tool used by mental health professionals, it doesn’t mean therapists are the only ones who can help their patients reflect on their feelings and their struggle to change; we all benefit from reflection as a means to help us better understand our biases and become more effective communicators (and not just in our professional lives, but in our personal lives, too! Reflection isn’t just for use with clients, but also with significant others, friends, and children; in fact, practice using reflection with your kids – it works great!).
As such, advisors need not be concerned about crossing the line of providing therapy versus financial planning. By helping clients reflect on the reasons behind their resistance to change, advisors are simply using a communication method that helps them (and their clients) to examine and address resistance issues more easily.
The key point here is that reflection can be a really valuable tool for handling resistance, especially in situations where advisors recognize the source of the resistance is a behavioral bias. Using reflection offers a way to begin a fruitful conversation without telling the client to simply abandon their counterproductive biased behavior!
These different styles of reflection are also valuable as a tool for advisors to think of creative ways to address problems with sincerity and compassion when they might otherwise be exasperating because they simply seem to crop up over and over again. So, instead of thinking, “Oh no, not again!” when the same concern comes up for the fifth client in a row or when advisors find themselves hitting the same wall with a client, consider a ‘Stop, Drop, and Reflect’ strategy instead.
In other words, stop doing whatever you are currently doing (that isn’t really working anyway), drop any attachment to the idea that you already have the right answer (and that clients are just stubborn because of whatever behavioral bias they may have), and take some time to help your client reflect and identify new ways of thinking (that work for the client) about the problems you’re addressing together.
Reflecting will help the client and the advisor generate new ideas and gain greater insight without causing any more resistance. More importantly, reflection can help the client actually want to take the initiative to implement change by developing a deeper understanding of their own thought processes that may be causing resistance in the first place!