Are you losing appointments to client shame? Pt. 1

By SteveLewit

United Advisors

So, while I'm getting my haircut, I'm thinking of a topic for my next article, and coming up empty. In desperation, I turn to my stylist, Wendy, and ask her if she has ever used a financial advisor. She says that she hasn't. When I ask her why, she responds, "Well, I could really use some help, but I'm afraid of being criticized or embarrassed because I haven't done a great job in managing and saving money. Actually I'm kind of ashamed about my situation."

Wendy's words hit me like a ton of bricks for two reasons: First, I am amazed at how honest and vulnerable she is willing to be by admitting her shame. Second, I am amazed that I've rarely considered the fact that people are not making appointments because they're ashamed of themselves and their current financial condition.

After giving this a lot of thought and doing some pretty deep research about shame, I’ve come to see that shame is a much bigger appointment hurdle than we may think. I invite you to step into my world to take a closer look.

Shame is the belief that somehow you are not good enough, and it comes in many forms­­­­ — shame about appearance, job, living quarters, status, the car you drive, parenting, sports ability, disabled children, or past mistakes, just to name a few. There can be no doubt that many of our clients often have layers of shame about their finances which, in my many years in the business, I have never heard discussed or considered.

It is believed that the word “shame” comes from an older word that means, “to cover.” And that is exactly what people do when they feel shame — they figure out ways to cover it up and hide it from others and, in fact, from themselves. So people will create facades that cover their shame. Those facades can come in the form of lying, exaggerating, narcissism, personality traits, misleading, etc.
On a more global basis, it is agreed amongst psychologists that we build our entire persona around hiding our shame. In other words, our personalities are built, for a large part, to hide that piece of us that of which we feel ashamed, and that shame is often caused by something that happened to us when we were very young and which we cannot even remember today.

The question at hand is just how many of our clients feel that they have not done a good job of preparing for retirement or later life, or have made major financial mistakes in the past, and are ashamed to reveal that information to anyone, including a financial professional. These people will not make appointments, as their shame will do everything it can to keep itself hidden.

After all, if someone has significant financial issues of which they are ashamed, or is simply ashamed that they have not done even better, it will be quite difficult for that person to make themselves vulnerable enough to reach out for help, especially when they know that the person helping them will have to be brought in on their little (or big) secret.

Moreover, since we financial professionals do our very best to present ourselves as highly successful — nice suits, fancy offices, great PR making us seem like celebrities, etc. — we actually make it that much more difficult for a person who holds shame about their finances to visit with us. We are, in their eyes, just too good for them; so good that there is no way they are going to reveal to us just how bad they are in comparison.

So think about it, you do everything in your power to leave an impression of personal success and a high degree of professionalism when you meet clients at seminars, thinking that people want to know you are successful in your craft. And that makes a lot of sense. At the same time, however, you are also creating a bigger hurdle for those who are ashamed about their financial condition to make an appointment to see you. It’s almost as if you are between a rock and a hard place — gaining some appointments but losing others at the same time.

Is it possible to open the doors to the ashamed client so that their shame does not hold them back from making appointments with you? I believe it is. In part two, I will show you how.