Are you listening?

A few years ago, after more than two decades together, my husband and I went through a separation. I’m happy to report that after about a year apart, we found ourselves back together—and happier than we’d been in ages. Needless to say, it was quite a learning experience.

As with most separations, it’s a complicated story, and one that only the two of us will ever even have a chance of understanding. If we’re lucky. But when we made the decision to split, I realized that my husband wasn’t talking to anyone about it. Not his friends. Not his family. No one. And it worried me. But when he told me why, I was hit with some spectacular clarity.

No one listens.

Ok, some people do, but very few. My husband had told a few close friends what was happening in his life. But instead of finding the support he was looking for, he faced three common reactions: anger, shock, or grief. And he realized he was forced to spend the next hour (or three) consoling someone else through a visceral reaction to what was happening in his own life. So he opted to stay out of the counseling business for the moment and work through things on his own.

In the same month, one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Yes, I said it: the C word.) And while I was part of a small circle of friends she turned to for help, she asked us to keep it to ourselves. For her, the tradeoff between the support she would receive (which would have translated into an endless stream of meals, flowers, and chocolate) and having to counsel her friends through the inevitable anger, shock, and grief simply wasn’t worth it.

In my work, I help dozens of financial advisors market their services. It’s a delicate business. Why? Because the primary catalyst for seeking financial help isn’t the desire to be smart about money. The catalyst is change. Big life changes. Marriage, divorce, and death are the top three. As an advisor, this means listening is one of your most important responsibilities. Many advisors tell me their clients have become their closest friends, and it’s no wonder. Finally the client has found someone with whom they can be completely candid about their finances (a huge challenge in itself) and who is committed to simply listening. Not telling the horror story about a sister’s divorce. Not offering medical details of a friend (of a friend) who had the exact same cancer. Just listening—and helping set the stage for a better tomorrow after what may feel like a pretty long, dark tunnel. It’s no wonder advisors become valued friends.

Listening is a powerful thing. We all have our own life experiences, face our own challenges, and certainly have a plethora of opinions. But the next time a friend, colleague, family member, or client opens up and shares something with you, it may be the time to set aside your own anger, shock, and grief, at least for the moment, and ask yourself: Are you listening?