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The Science of Getting Agreement

Take control by finding common ground.

Imagine improving your ability to persuade an affluent prospect to meet with you. How about convincing them to become a client? Or agree that your fees are fair?

Well, you're in luck.

Two behavioral scientists, Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer, have conducted numerous experiments with over 1,000 participants in the realm of settling the political arguments of today. What they discovered in this politically charged environment, where an argument with a family member or close friend over political views can seriously injure a relationship, was that compliance rates increased (an agreement was reached) when one person reframed his or her message to leverage the beliefs of the other.

In other words, Feinberg and Willer concluded that to win someone to your position, don’t challenge their beliefs by continually restating your beliefs (differences of opinions can become toxic), rather connect your position to their beliefs. Granted, this might require emphasizing only one aspect of their overall belief, but one that you agree with.

This research regarding opposing beliefs in the crazy realm of politics can easily be adapted to your world as a financial advisor, whether it’s a conversation with a prospect, a potential professional alliance or even a client.

For instance, a prospect might be questioning your fees. You know you provide value, your services are priced fairly and that they’re totally transparent. So how can you agree? By reframing the discussion around fee transparency and the frequency of hidden fees you uncover in the portfolios that you review.

Rather than defend your fees, you have reframed the fee discussion around a topic that you both agree upon: transparency. Our research tells us that today’s affluent will pay a fair price for quality (I’m certain that your services are of top quality), but their major issue is knowing exactly what they are paying. No surprises, no hidden fees, etc.

You could be in a conversation with a CPA who you’d love to develop a referral alliance relationship with, but it’s apparent they don’t really trust financial advisors. Rather than attempt to defend your integrity as an advisor, you reframe the discussion. You're not talking about the perceptions of financial advisors being untrustworthy, but rather the importance of a client’s professional service providers knowing what each other is doing for their mutual client (transparency) and how you make a point of meeting every one of your top clients’ CPAs on an annual basis—for the clients’ benefit.

Not only have you reframed the discussion to the benefit of the mutual client, but also for the professional service providers—which, in this case, are the advisor and CPA. It also creates a window of opportunity to invite the CPA to your office where you can showcase your professionalism.

Does this tactic always work? Probably not. However, what the reframing research of Feinberg and Willer shows is that the secret to getting an agreement, or even winning an argument, is to understand the other person’s perspective, their belief on the subject of discussion, and then link beliefs that support their perspective into the discussion. Essentially, you are taking control by finding common ground.

My hunch is that this approach will work more often than not.

Matt Oechsli is author of How to Build a 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing, and Retaining Affluent

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