Working with grieving clients

Working with a recently widowed client is not for everyone. It takes sensitivity, tact and lots of patience.

Perhaps the greatest challenge financial advisors face in such a relationship is dealing their own discomfort in the face of another person’s grief and pain, says Karin Mizgala, CEO of Money Coaches Canada Inc. in Vancouver. That’s especially true if you haven’t previously established a relationship with the client.

“Understanding and working with clients who are grieving is not typically part of an advisor’s training,” Mizgala says. “And many advisors may not feel comfortable with the tears, worry and confusion these clients experience.”

Jennifer Black, president of Dedicated Financial Solutions in Mississauga, Ont., thinks most advisors are poorly equipped to handle the emotional issues that arise when working with widows. “Our business is mostly about numbers and processes,” Black says. “It tends to be more rigid, not touchy-feely.”

If you’re motivated, however, working with widows can be rewarding. Here are some points to consider:

> Watch what you say
“People think they have to say something profound and comforting when they’re talking to a new widow, but there’s really no way to make [the bereaved] feel any better,” says Rhonda Latreille, founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business in Burnaby, B.C.

Avoid saying unhelpful things such as: “He’s in a better place now,” or “I understand just how you feel.”

Instead, try saying: “This must really hurt,” or “I want you to know that I’m here for you’.”

> Listen empathetically
If a widow wants to talk about her feelings, encourage her to do so. The simple act of listening is one of the best ways you can show support for her at a time that is difficult for her. It also helps to establish trust.

“When I meet a new client who has been widowed recently, I ask her to tell me about her husband,” Black says. “Widows often want to talk about what their spouse was like, especially if the advisor didn’t know him. I enjoy hearing those stories.”

The key, she says, is to listen carefully, ask pertinent questions and, as the widow opens up, invite her to say more.

> Exercise patience
Everyone moves through grief at their own pace and it’s important to respect where a widow is in the process, Latreille says.

“Your job is to provide a safe place for her to laugh, cry, scream or whatever she needs to do,” says Latreille. “And if she lashes out at you, try not to get upset or defensive. Just let her get it out because it will pass.”

> Be flexible
Let your client determine the pace of your discussions. You might not progress as quickly as you had hoped, but moving at your client’s pace will make for a better relationship.

“When I work with a widow, I try to go with the flow,” says Bev Moir, an advisor with ScotiaMcLeod Inc. in Toronto. “It’s important to be aware that if a client is struggling emotionally, she might need to cancel or reschedule appointments.”

This is the second part in a two-part series on working with widows as clients.

Click here for part one.

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