Transitions always trigger grief, because they require leaving behind something known and moving into the unknown. A presidential election is no exception. The results are particularly volatile this year because half of the people in this country voted for Hillary Clinton and half voted for Donald Trump. Consequently, no matter the final outcome, half of the citizenry is destined to grieve.
While your clients may not split 50-50, no doubt there are some who are celebrating and some who are grieving. Depending on the extent of the emotional, financial or psychological investment that individual clients had in a Democratic victory, their grief may be exacerbated because the results were unexpected, out of line with the widely publicized predictions and analysis of countless experts studying the race. In charged transitions like this one, regardless of your own political leanings, you need to support your clients wherever they stand.
For those clients who supported Hillary Clinton, these are examples of normal and expected grief behaviors you may observe:
- Disbelief and searching. They cannot believe it actually happened. They may go back to check the newspapers yet again, or flip from one news show to another to make sure it’s really true.
- If-only’s. They fixate on a list of “if-only” situations: If Comey hadn’t resurrected the email issue right before the election. If only the media had been relentlessly hard on Donald’s flaws and his failure to his release tax returns. The list goes on based on their perceptions of what could have made a difference.
- Emotional waves. Anger is common, whether directed at the Democratic National Committee, the people who voted for Donald Trump, the Electoral College, or simply the situation. This may be mixed with sadness of varying intensity, from generally feeling “down” to welling up with tears. Frustration, disillusionment, shame and fear add to the mix.
- Narrow focus. For those grieving most deeply, the entire world seems less colorful. The sun doesn’t seem to shine as brightly. Food doesn’t taste as good. Things that normally would make them feel better lose that effect. They experience everything through clouded grey lenses.
- Helplessness and yearning. They want to change the results, to turn back the clock and make it different. Their inability to do so causes frustration and more anger.
Given the volatility of the situation, what can you do? The first and most important thing is to check in with your clients. No matter how they voted, whether they are grieving or celebrating, let them know you care enough to call and answer any questions or fears they have about the impact of the election. Here are a few tips that can help, especially with those who are grieving:
As with all grief support, ask good, open-ended questions and be willing to really listen to the answer. Avoid listening in order to reply; instead, listen to understand the client’s perspective. You may be surprised at some of the answers you receive, especially when you carefully keep your own opinions out of the conversation, and that knowledge will help you more effectively serve your clients going forward.
Some good questions to ask, no matter your client’s position:
- What is your reaction to the election results?
- Some people are telling me they can’t believe the election turned out like this. Is it like that for you, or how would you describe your perspective?
- Tell me what you are most angry, frustrated or worried about going forward.
- Is there anything you are relieved about?
- Sometimes even one’s closest friends and family disagree. What is it like in your family and friendship circle?
In addition to asking initial questions, say, “Tell me more about that” or “I’m curious to know more about what you just said.” When you believe you understand, ask for clarification: “What I hear you saying is... Do I have it right, or how can you help me understand better?”
You can also feed their responses back to them in a way that summarizes their reactions, which lets your grieving clients know you understand. For instance: “It must be incredibly frustrating for you to know that this is not what you expected, and yet there isn’t a thing you can do about it now.” Or “I can see why you are angry about this, and it seems you are most worried about....”
Thank the client for sharing and start turning the conversation.
Once you have truly listened to your clients’ reactions, turn the conversation by thanking them for sharing so honestly with you, telling them that it helps you serve them better when you understand them as people.
Then say something like: “Given the reality of a Trump presidency and your particular concerns, let’s look at what we can do together to mitigate any risks, maintain your financial future and protect your family.”
Define financial and non-financial steps that are constructive.
This is particularly important for clients who are upset, because it is often reassuring for grieving people to do something. For instance, make a change in the portfolio, even if only a minor one, that clients agree helps address their worries. Ask whether they want to investigate organizations or nonprofits to whom they’d like to make a donation in order to maintain their voice and efficacy. Use a little imagination and find constructive actions clients can take so they feel less helpless and more focused on continuing to make a difference.
Reassure grieving clients that an emotional roller coaster is normal. Advise being patient with themselves. Encourage them to take a break from the news and social media, and instead take a walk, play music, cook a favorite dish or do whatever is comforting to them. They may wish to connect with friends for support, consolation and the knowledge that they are not alone.
Continue to stay in touch.
By this point, you have identified clients who are most disturbed and who need extra hand-holding. Contact them frequently—perhaps every week. Find out what they’re thinking. For instance:
- The last time we talked, you said you... Is that still the same, or how do you see it changing over time?
- What is happening in your family and friendship circles at this point?
- I want to serve you the best I can. Do you feel that we are doing enough together given the election results, or have other issues or questions come up for you that you’d like to address?
Your clients’ grief always needs to be taken seriously, whether you agree with it or not. When you follow up with steps like these, you let them know you understand, you care, and you are working together for their future.
Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professionals in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life.