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Ten years on: Michelle Hoskin reflects on the essential skill of listening

They are still talking, but we are still not listening. In celebration of IFA Magazine’s ten year anniversary this month, Michelle Hoskin reflects on the essential skill of listening and why she believes that financial planners need to harness its power

I’ve been in this profession for nearly 25 years during which time I’ve seen a lot, said a lot and done a lot. Some things have remained unchanged and, despite my best efforts, I have failed miserably to make the full impact I believe is needed.

A few months back there was a post on one of the financial services Facebook groups. It simply asked what key skills do you believe today’s financial planners need to have?

After sitting there pondering for some time, my mind flooded with an extensive list of must-haves. I realised that the one skill I believed was needed over all others is the skill of listening.

I don’t mean hearing; I mean listening. If I could sum it up in one sentence, it would be this – the essential attribute of seeking to understand before being understood.

It seems so obvious, but frequently, even in the conversations I have with planners, their teams and often their clients, while the desire to listen remains strong the ability to understand is sadly not.

Since the first edition of IFA Magazine first landed on advisers’ doormats back in 2011, the sector has come a long way. With the introduction of financial planning, life planning, lifestyle planning and now life-centred financial planning, it would appear that we’ve cracked it. Or maybe not?

How to speak

In June 2019, I attended an MDRT [https://www.mdrt. org/] meeting in Miami. Approximately 15,000 financial advisers all gathered in one room, excited about what the next three days would uncover. As we entered the main platform, ready for the opening speaker, I sat there inspired and enthused by the energy in the room. There was a real buzz and I was about to get my annual fix of pure unlimited motivation.

Julian Treasure opened the meeting with his presentation “How to speak so that people want to listen”.

I listened with intent, fuelled by a desire to learn as much as I could so that I could share the teachings with our wonderful group of clients and professional partners in the UK. However, while listening a certain sadness came over me. How was it that the main keynote speaker was standing in front of so many financial advisers teaching the life-changing skill that as humans we must change the way we speak in order to be heard?

Don’t people listen? It would appear not!

Word power

I think, if we were honest, most of us, including me at times, really only listen for words that trigger in ourselves some form of action, whether that be action to respond or action to advise or action to fix. But that’s not really the real reason we need to listen. Our words and the words of others are extremely powerful; they are a doorway into our hearts, our souls and ultimately our lives.

Personally, I am always fascinated by what’s not said. The words and statements that are missing from sentences, missing from stories and missing from the conversation – this is where I believe the magic of true listening lies.

According to Mental Health First Aid England, in research taken from Swanson, C.H. (1984), in our lifetime we only receive 0 to 0.5 years’ worth of training in the art of listening yet we listen 45% of our life. How can there be such a discrepancy in that teaching?

Before I dive into what I believe is the real skill in listening and how I believe the profession in 2021 can truly add value to its clients and all those important people around them, I’d like to take you back to something I learned recently from Tony Robbins: our modern-day human needs. I feel this is the place to start as, without an understanding, you may miss what is really going on when you ask “so how are things?” and you get the response “yeah not bad!!”

We all know we have human needs – in fact Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been well and truly drilled into us – but how does that set of needs serve us for modern day living?

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