When our daughter started her freshman year in college, she would sometimes call me at night to talk about a problem she was facing. After nearly an hour of listening to her spell out all the things that were troubling her and why she felt stuck, and an occasional question or two from me, we would end our conversation with the problem unresolved – or at least I thought so. Weeks later I’d still be wondering how things were going, and I’d get another call. When I’d asked about the last ‘crisis’ her response would usually be something like “Oh, that? After our conversation I dealt with it the next day!”
Years later, I read Time to Think, a book that reinforced the lesson I learned as a mom. Listening, asking questions, and allowing others to think out loud without interruption to help them solve problems they’re facing and decide what’s important to them is somewhat difficult, and needs practice to become a habit. I admit I haven’t mastered the skill, but I work on it each day, and when I succeed it’s very rewarding.
A recent New York Times article, Human Contact is Now a Luxury Good, made me realize how quickly our society is losing the opportunity to have these types of conversations and interactions with one another. The work of health care workers, teachers, and other service providers who are critical points of human contact are being shifted over to video feeds, with computer screens acting as a barrier of separation. Ironically, the people behind these technological advancements are concerned about the long-term impact of the lack of human interaction, so they’re sending their young children to schools with high teacher to student ratios and limitations on exposure to screen time.
I believe a lack of quality interactions with other people is having an impact on our county’s mental health. Suicide rates have been rising in the U.S. regardless of age, gender, races and ethnicity. In a national research study on loneliness conducted by CIGNA, only a little more than half of Americans (53%) today say they have meaningful, daily face-to-face social interactions with another person, including an extended conversation with a friend or quality time with a family member. According to health professionals, loneliness is a major factor in health declines.
In our financial lives, the importance of having someone who knows us and listens to us is critical as well.
Here at TAAG we have a Discovery Meeting as part of our onboarding process for new clients. At first, I admit I was a little uncomfortable asking people I was just getting to know about their values and things that were significant in their lives, but I quickly learned how beneficial it was for both our clients and us. Thinking out loud can help people set priorities, rediscover what is important to them, and uncover goals. Several times people have remembered a want or a wish they’d mentally mothballed for years, surprising themselves because it was long-forgotten until they began talking with us, and they allowed themselves to consider it.
Because we have a better understanding of the people and things that are important to our clients, we become better advisors, and give answers based on their personal circumstances and situations. A financial decision has a better long-term outcome if it’s based on the things that are important to you, rather than what you think you should do based on ‘rules of thumb.’ A software program to plan for retirement can only take you so far.
How many people do you have in your life that you feel will take the time to truly listen to you?
If you’re already a client of TAAG’s, the next time you are wrestling with a question that inevitably impacts your financial life, give us a call. To begin with, you’ll reach a person, not a machine. We’ll be here to listen, guide, and help.