I still have much to learn as a husband. Brooke and I celebrated 3 years happily married last week, and during that three years she has dutifully trained me in the fine art of being a spouse. She had a great deal of work ahead of her, but I admit she is patient. Looking back, one of the techniques she impressed upon me early on was the delicate nature of giving tactful advice.
For example, rather than telling me simply not to do something wrong, she might tell a story or joke about someone else. In the course of the story she would take note of their unusual ways, gently nudging me away from that same mistake. Of course, the goal is not to passive aggressively knit-pick at me—quite the opposite. She is trying to save me considerable anguish; of course, she might be the one inflicting the anguish, but not without due warning. (Let it be known that I will never leave the toilet seat up again.)
While I still have much to learn, Brooke’s lessons about imparting advice help me share advice with clients more effectively. Every so often we tend towards decisions and habits that may not serve our best interests. Clients rely on us to help them navigate their biases en route to their goals, especially in an unfamiliar arena where investments, taxes, and laws are already complicated enough.
Like Brooke, we find it helpful to overcome biases with stories and analogies about others. By bringing someone else’s bias to a client’s attention, they become more mindful of their own actions. For example, some of our clients who are years from retirement worry about market downturns and wonder if they should sell. I often say “Imagine a store where everything goes on sale…and everyone leaves the store. Then, when prices are high, people flock back into the store and want to buy things that are expensive. How backwards is that? Well, that is how people naturally tend to react to the stock market.
This works especially well when the discussion takes place long before an adverse event brings our emotions into play. Some of our most nervous clients who had this particular discussion actually called us during the latest downturn in the stock market to ask if it was a good time to increase their savings in their investment accounts. By proactively focusing on a common mistake with an engaging story or analogy, we protect them from that mistake in the future. These clients were able to overcome their underlying bias and benefit as a result.
As my partner Jim often reminds his clients (and myself), “With investing and planning, success is less about doing things perfectly right and more about avoiding the big mistakes.”
Jim’s wise words hold relatively true in marriage as well, and I happily report that Brooke and I seem to have avoided the big mistakes thus far. Thanks to the patient, loving guidance of Brooke over the years, I am undeniably a better husband and human being. However, she has much left to do. Maybe in another three years she can train me to consistently turn off every light when I leave, keep my valet space clean, and stop leaving food on the sponge. Cheers to those who handle our antics with grace and patiently guide our hand when we need it.