Why Advisors Should Embrace Improv Techniques

Advisors aren’t just financial fiduciaries. Obviously, that’s the big part of the job and while it’s often noted here that advisors aren’t therapists, there are instances in which the job requires elements of therapy or simply being a good listener.

Whether its divorce, an unexpected death, a premature retirement or any of life’s numerous other potential surprises, advisors are often tasked with being consolers, shoulders to cry and, yes, bringing levity to certain situations. Thing is humor doesn’t come naturally for everyone and many advisors are analytical in nature, meaning humor may be uncomfortable for them.

No expects an advisor to be the next George Carlin or Dave Chappelle, but there is value in some well-timed humor in client interactions. Think of it as one of the important soft skills that are often overlooked, but essential when it comes to earning high marks from clients.

With those factors in mind, let’s examine how advisors can leverage elements of improv for better client satisfaction.

Integrating Improv in Practices

In a recent edition of the SPDR® MasterClass program, State Street Global Advisors (SSAG) interviewed Kelly Leonard and Samantha Smith, Ph.D. of Second City Works – the charity/community work arm of the famed Second City comedy/improv theater in Chicago.

For the skeptical reader or those not familiar with Second City, here are some examples of the theater’s alumni in alphabetical order: John Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Jordan Peele and Joan Rivers. The list is far more extensive, but the point is Leonard and Smith might just know what they’re talking about when it comes to the intersection of improv and its applications in “real life,” including advisory practices.

A starting point for advisors is the concept of “yes and” – a concept that differs significantly from “yes, but.”

In an advisory setting, the concept of ‘Yes, and’ builds awareness of every idea’s value. When people bring ideas to the table and hear an immediate ‘no,’ they’re unlikely to keep offering their thoughts,” observes SSGA. “While leaders often have to say ‘no’ — especially in a highly regulated industry — listening and pausing to let the ideas land, giving them real consideration, and providing thoughtful responses can foster more innovation. With ‘Yes, and’ teams can quickly build bridges between ideas, improve hit rates, and accelerate innovation.”

So what’s the improv tie-in? Improv is largely rooted in building and extending ideas and themes. A good improv scenario is measured in many minutes, not seconds. For advisors, the translation is being receptive to ideas from your team and not quashing anything too quickly simply because it might not be “standard” or “typical.”

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s not a matter of becoming an improv expert, but Leonard stressed to SSGA the importance of practice as it relates to more personable client interactions. He mentioned the example of Major League Baseball players still practicing fundamentals such as playing catch before games.

But how often do advisors “practice” before meeting with prospects? Probably not much and the percentage likely declines for meetings with existing clients. However, just a little bit of work when it comes to softer approaches or better telling the practice’s story pay substantial dividends.

“The art of improv has the power to transform advisors and their practices. By embracing the principles of improv, we learn to listen deeply to enrich interactions with colleagues and clients, to open ourselves to the creative process, and to set the scene for innovative breakthroughs,” concludes SSGA.

Related: Demystifying CLOs for Clients