If you pardon the pun, fears of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have gone viral. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) As a result, the markets are volatile and clients are angry, disillusioned, or just plain frightened. Everyone feels confused and somewhat helpless, and the economic future is uncertain. In this milieu, it can be difficult to avoid having the stress get to you, second-guessing yourself or taking your clients' anger personally. How do you ride out this craziness without losing your mind?
First, it is important to understand that grief is triggered whenever there is a break in an attachment, and clients tend to be very attached to their money. For many, it is their means of security or a symbol of their success. Therefore, when they perceive that money is slipping away from them without their consent and in a way that is out of their control, they grieve.
Likewise, your clients value their health and well-being. No one wants to think that they or their loved ones could contract an illness that has no cure and can, in some cases, rapidly cause death. Again, as they face the spread of this virus, they grieve.
You already know the importance of proactively reaching out to clients to help calm their jitters. In that effort, you need to remember that client anger is a normal grief reaction. So, although you are likely to get an earful when you call, remind yourself not to take their anger personally. They are angrier and more frightened at the situation than they are at you. Instead, be a trusted and safe ear so clients can yell and mourn their losses. Share their anger and grief, and tell them you’re hearing that a lot.
Then when their anger and fear is spent, remind them that you’ve been telling them to expect major market corrections, that this is normal, and that this volatility is exactly why you’ve worked so hard to position their portfolio for the long term. Make sure they know you are on their team and talk about the ways you’ve protected them so far. Get them imagining into the future by talking about what you can continue to do together to make the future as bright as possible.
There is one other piece of this picture to consider. What about yourself? How do you apply the principles of grief to most effectively balance your own volatility, maintain balance and peace in your life, and make it through this difficult time? Here are four valuable tips:
- Take care of yourself. Dealing with emotional clients is exhausting and you need to replenish your reserves. Make appointments with yourself to do things you enjoy— go for a walk, listen to music, eat with friends, go to a movie, get a massage. Give your mind a break and indulge in some fun.
- When frustration builds, find nondestructive ways to express emotions. Physical exercise is a great stress reliever, so stick to your usual exercise routines. Then during the day periodically stomp your feet on the floor as hard and fast as you can for 10 seconds, or repeatedly throw a tennis ball against the wall (with permission of your associates, of course). For quieter expressions, talk with a trusted friend or perhaps a group of colleagues, write in a journal or draw. Remember to breathe deeply, all the way down to your belly. Get any anger, fear and negativity out of your system so it doesn't eat at you from the inside.
- Consciously decide to smile throughout the day. Several neurological studies have documented that physically smiling affects the brain. Smile when talking to an anxious client on the phone; your tone will immediately be much more calming. Smile at a colleague, at someone on the street, at the beautiful sky, at a funny cartoon or even at yourself. Smile as if you are truly happy. You'll find that if you do it often enough, you do in fact become happier.
- Make a list of everything and everyone for whom you are grateful. Every evening, read the list and add something good that happened that day. Go to sleep knowing that market conditions are not the most important thing, nor the most permanent. Let your family, friends and the goodness of life sustain you through it.
These turbulent economic times are extremely challenging. There is plenty of grief to go around, and financial advisors certainly bear their share of it. Following these simple tips can help, all the while strengthening you to emerge refreshed on the other side.
Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professions in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life.