Recent scandals have led mainstream media to grouse about the trustworthiness of financial professionals. But pundits arent the only ones who have the right to play the honesty card.
Some prospects are too polite to explicitly express lack of interest, and youre stuck chasing dead leads. And while most clients are truthful, some may inadvertently leave out important information during meetingsbe it debt, a difficult family member, or a disagreement among members of a couple. And other clients may deliberately hide key facts that can derail their whole financial plan.
How can you prevent these types of surprises? Learn to detect human emotions by properly interpreting both body language and verbal cues in client meetings.
First, you need a sense of a persons normal behaviour so you have a reference point for identifying changes that may arise at various points in the conversation, explains Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception.Youre looking for deviations from the baseline.
BODY LANGUAGE BASICS
Dr. Lillian Glass, a former communications professor at the University of Southern California and author of the book Talk to Win, looks at the clients posture. For example, if clients lean back, that may signal discomfort with the advisor. They dont want to get close to you. As an advisor you need to watch your own body language, and that means you need to lean in.
Meyer suggests looking for multiple signals. A single indicator doesnt mean much on its own, but becomes significant when its part of a larger pattern.
Other indicators of discomfort include a client stiffening his upper body, rubbing or touching his eyes, tugging on his ears, and curling his feet inward.
Brian King, chairman of the investigations division at CKR Global, notes when he starts asking questions that cause his interview subjects to become nervous or unsettled, they tend to lean toward the door because they want to get out of the room.
You also need to pay attention to their feet, says Glass. If their feet are pointing in your direction, it can mean theyre comfortable. But if theyre pointing toward the door, its a sign they want out.
Yet, if a clients head is cocked to the side, it usually means hes questioning something. Take the opportunity to explain your point again, Glass suggests.
King looks for changes in activity apart from the baseline. If theyre scratching, rubbing, wringing or massaging their hands, and they werent before, its a sign of major distress. The key component is changes in their body language during the line of questioning, he says.
Advisors should also listen carefully to the client when he talks.
King listens for the pitch of the subjects voice. When people are angry, youll often hear a higher pitch in their voice, while a lower pitch can indicate a sad or gloomy demeanour. Inappropriate laughter and over-the-top politeness are also signs someone may be lying, he says.
Another thing to look for is conversation stalling. It usually means theyre trying to decide whether to continue lying or to be truthful, he explains.
Clients may even start manipulating their physical surroundings to distance themselves from an uncomfortable series of questions.
If youre sitting across a desk from someone, the objects on the desk may serve as what we call barrier objects, Meyer says. The client may take an object and put it between himself and his interviewer as a way of feeling more secure (see sidebar, Surroundings matter, right).
Most clients dont set out to mislead. But when they do, liars are often cognizant theyre giving off signals of deception.
A person telling a lie may use excessive eye contact as a way of overcompensating, says Meyer.
Repeating the question is another signal of deception. When clients answer, you might even see them nod Yes even though they mouth the word No, and vice versa.
Advisors can try a trick used by law-enforcement interrogators. They look for post-interview relief, she says. Interrogators often falsely signal an interview is over to see if it triggers a shift in the interviewees posture.
Then theyll go back to interviewing and watch for whether the interviewee stiffens back up. Theyll do this in 15-, 20-, and 30-minute increments. Your client meetings may not go on that long, but advisors can adopt a version of this technique by referring to a sensitive subject multiple times in the same meeting, touching upon it from different angles, and seeing how the client reacts each time.
King explains, Often when someone is about to confess they turn their palms up and droop their shoulders. And 99% of the time theres a sigh.
Meyer also suggests listening for qualifying statements like, To tell you the truth or As far as I can recall or Let me think. Qualifiers arent surefire signals of deception, but are red flags that should encourage you to ask more questions.
Then there are facial micro-expressionsthose little flashes of emotion. Youre trying to mask an emotion but it manages to leak through, Meyer explains.
One micro-expression thats easy to detect is the sneer that accompanies contempt. Its the only asymmetrical expression that comes across the face. When you see it, its a big warning sign. In law enforcement, if interrogators discern contempt on the part of the subject, they take themselves off the case because theyre not going to get anywhere.
If you see a sneer when youre making your sales pitch, try one more thing before you pack it in. Ask an open-ended question, such as, You seem a little bit uncomfortable. What information do you want to share with me? suggests Meyer. If you give people enough room and time to talk, theyll usually tell you whats on their mind.
FEET CURLING INWARD OR TOWARD THE DOOR
The biggest indicator of fear or discomfort is rubbing of the nose. If youre in the middle of an interview and someone starts to rub their nose, its a sign the person is probably worried, says Brian King, chairman, investigations division, CKR Global.
If your client has cotton mouthyoull see him licking his teeth and lipsits because his autonomic nervous system is kicking in and his saliva is drying out. Standing erect, with hands in pockets is often a sign someone has a dominant or aggressive personality. Someone with a more submissive personality will tend to stand slouched over with their head down and their arms crossed, which is a more defensive posture.
WHOS THE DOMINANT MEMBER OF A COUPLE?
Look for the following in combination:
- Who initiates physical contact with you
- Who does the majority of the touching in the couple
- Who takes up more space, e.g. by leaning in
- Whose hand is on top if the couple is holding hands
- Whoever speaks first
- If one member interrupts you or the other person
The submissive member will, in contrast, minimize physical space with crossed arms, legs and/or ankles. Nodding, bowing, and other physical manifestations of demurring are also evidence.
Finally, watch to see if the clients voice changes when speaking with you versus the other member of the couple.
Of course, says communications expert and author Dr. Lillian Glass, you could ask the clients. But if the answer surprises you after assessing these factors, someones probably lyingor delusional.