Effective Listening Is Key to Building Trust

Journal of Financial Planning: March 2021

There’s just something about feeling truly heard that makes you trust that person who’s truly listening to you.

Good listeners “make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting,” write Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in the Harvard Business Review article “What Great Listeners Actually Do.” “This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.”

The first step in becoming a good listener is to have a sense of self-awareness.

“Good communication with others requires, first and foremost, good communication within ourselves,” writes Aldo Civico, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today article, “How Self-Awareness Leads to Effective Communication.”

Civico says that when we are listening to others, the information is filtered through our own experiences and we could potentially become triggered or defensive.

“Our ability to be effective listeners is hostage to our own filters,” Civico writes.

Becoming aware of how your own experiences with the matters you discuss with clients affects you—and could potentially be a barrier to good listening—is key.

“Be aware of how our life experiences…can affect our ability to listen deeply to the other party,” Civico writes. “Deep listening is transformative, but transformation begins with the development of self-awareness, that is with the capacity to listen to ourselves.”

The second step is to really be present when your clients are talking, and to seek to understand what they are saying.

Don’t type notes and don’t look at your watch or your phone. If you’re on Zoom, have them on the screen with your camera, so it doesn’t appear as if you’re looking at a separate screen and not paying attention. Don’t talk when they are talking. Give them cues that you’re listening—like nodding your head. Repeat what they’ve said back to them, so they can confirm you’ve understood. Ask clarifying questions.

The next step to being a good listener is asking quality questions based on the information your clients have already told you.

You can’t ask a good question unless you’re a good listener,” writes Josh Patrick, CFP®, in the Stage 2 Planning Partners blog.

Zenger and Folkman noted in the Harvard Business Review article that asking good questions makes the conversation “active” and offers proof you’re a good listener.

Zenger and Folkman said, “The highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child—it gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.”

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