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The power of asking more questions and making fewer assumptions

Better Business News for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

4 Sep 2019

The power of asking more questions and making fewer assumptions

We probably all like to think of ourselves as reasonably open-minded and that we do not make assumptions or jump to conclusions about other people – especially where our clients and potential are concerned. 

I know that in my coaching work with clients, this is something I need to regularly remind myself of. 

It is so easy to impose our model of the world or the way we think to other people. I know when I do this, I have stopped being curious and listening.

Never a good thing. 

I was recently speaking to an adviser client of mine about a campaign he was running to acquire new clients. 

The focus of the campaign was on the 50+ age group and the question, 'When do you plan to retire?'

It seems like a perfectly innocent question, right?

But is it? 

I was just playing devil’s advocate, but I remarked that if an adviser asked me 'When do you plan to retire?' I would think he or she was making a big assumption. 

Maybe I don’t want to retire. Maybe I see retirement as a negative thing. 

In fact, is retirement in the traditional sense something that many people even identify with these days?

For me personally, the notion of retirement conjures up seeing my days out in a bungalow in Bexhill-on-sea (God's waiting room!) and pruning roses in the garden. 

Totally uninspiring!  

This does not mean to say I do not have a vision for the future and a desire to plan for it. But the language and what is behind it matters.   

I'm far from alone in this.

Probably ten years ago Standard Life ran a campaign called 'The death of retirement' and fair play to them because they recognised that the industry's approach to retirement was disengaging for huge numbers of baby boomers and subsequent generations. 

They produced a report called 'Age old stereotypes' that went into depth about how baby boomers view life post age 55. In what is called the 'Third Age' they want to continue to work, start businesses, travel, and be active in their community.

Anything but pruning roses at their bungalow in Bexhill-on-sea!

The fact is that Increasing numbers of people do not relate to the traditional view of retirement and do not want to face the question because they see it as a relic from a by-gone age.


I was reading an article about the founders of M&C Saatchi, one of the world’s largest ad agencies. All wealthy men and in their 60's, one of them said...

'The notion of retirement gets more distant as we get closer to it. People used to say success was making enough money at 55 to retire. Now success is never retiring.'

And here’s the thing…  

I’m just using the retirement issue as an example. 

The wider point is that we all live in separate realities, meaning that other people do not think like us or see the world in the way we do. 

Therefore, instead of making assumptions isn’t it far more powerful to ask more questions? 

And be mindful of the language we use.

This demonstrates that we are genuinely interested and curious in how others think, feel and see their world. It is the foundation to building trust and high levels of client engagement.

When delivering your advice, by understanding your client’s world then you can tailor it in a way that makes sense to them and speaks to them in their language. 

When we make assumptions then we run the risk of breaking rapport, inviting resistance and shutting down the conversation before it has even begun.

Can I ask your help? I would love to know what your biggest challenge is in the area of client questioning techniques.

There’s no catch. When you answer my survey I will send you a copy of my brand new and comprehensive self-study programme, ‘The art of client-centred questioning’, when its complete (value will be in excess of £500). 

To take part, click here.

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