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Having good technical skills is expected of financial advisors. But equally important are your “soft” skills —your ability to build and maintain long-lasting relationships with your clients.

“Soft skills keep the door wide open with clients,” says David Andrews, portfolio consultant with Franklin Templeton Investments Corp. in Toronto. “Clients look to advisors for effective relationships, not effective transactions. They want to be cared for and cared about.”

Your clients want to see value in you as a person because they trust you with their money. The rate of return they get is not the only thing that matters; it is an anticipated deliverable. When markets are difficult, Andrews says, it is the effective use of soft skills that keeps clients invested.

Soft skills are an “art” that is developed over time, Andrews says. They go hand in hand with putting your clients first, being reliable and responsible and demonstrating compassion and ethical behaviour.

Below are some of the steps you can take in dealing with clients to improve your soft skills:

> Listen
“You have two ears and one mouth,” Andrews says. “And that should be the ratio between your listening and speaking.”

By listening attentively, you demonstrate that you value your client’s story and will earn his or her confidence and trust. Allow the client to finish their story before chiming in. Even then, do not try to dominate the conversation.

> Show understanding
During a conversation, you can acknowledge that you understand by simply smiling or nodding. Often, the unspoken word is a powerful way to communicate and show acceptance, Andrews says.

You can also demonstrate that you understand what your clients tell you by paraphrasing what they said.

Be respectful of their opinions and avoid being critical. If you want to express an alternative viewpoint, you might ask: “Have you thought about …?”

> Show empathy
If clients describe a difficult situation, show empathy. Tell them that you understand their pain and why they might have done things in a certain way. Try to comfort them by offering an appropriate solution.

Be aware that the words you use, the tone of your voice and your body language can also communicate your feelings. Wherever possible, compliment clients for making good decisions to boost their confidence.

> Ask active questions
A conversation should not be a one-way monologue, Andrews says.

Ask your clients “active” or “open-ended” questions that require detailed answers, to get them talking freely.

“Get them to think differently,” Andrews says, “which is a good way to change their behaviour.” Asking your clients active questions can also demonstrate that you want to learn more about them, and show that you appreciate their situation.

> Tell stories
Storytelling is one of the most powerful soft skills. Stories can go a long way in consolidating client relationships.

Andrews suggests telling “real life” stories that are related to the client’s personal situation.

“Show them you live and breathe like them,” Andrews says, “and that you’re not some distant, uncaring entity without emotions.”

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