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This is the second in a two-part series. Read part one: Physically Speaking — Age and Communication

I speak and write a lot about how to communicate effectively with older clients, and it is easy to forget that I am now an “older client” too. As I approach my 65th birthday, I am far more able to understand the changes that take place during aging than I did when I was a lot younger!

One of the biggest challenges to communicating with clients like me is simply getting us to listen to the message. As we age, we tend to become more set in our ways, and aren’t always as open to learning new things. This is why establishing trust is so important. When we trust someone, we are more likely to listen to them because we believe they have our best interests at heart. We also tend to listen better to those we like and those we respect for their knowledge or expertise.

While there’s no guarantee we will automatically listen or internalize a message, even from someone we trust, we are more likely to pay attention out of respect. We are less likely to “tune them out.”

Our brains change as we age. Below are five things psychologists have learned and how you may be able to help:

  1. Right-brain dominance — We find it easier to process sensory or emotional images rather than data-driven, abstract, informational content. (Read more about this under Emotional Triggers, below.)
  1. Processing speed — We may take longer to recall information and complete tasks. It’s not that we can’t think quickly, but why bother? Lay things out clearly to make it easier for us to see the whole picture.
  1. Cognitive flexibility — We tend to make decisions based on our intuition, experience, and first impression — and then stick with it. Help us work through why we need to change first, by going beyond facts, figures and logic so we can become emotionally invested in change.
  1. Drawing inferences from information — Studies suggest that we are less apt to read between the lines and reach a conclusion based on the information. Make it easier by clearly connecting the dots.
  1. Multi-tasking and focus — Life experience teaches us that we tend to make better decisions if we can focus on one thing at a time. Keep it simple.

Reach your clients through emotional triggers

Skilled communicators understand the role that emotion plays in their clients’ decision-making. One of the best ways to overcome some of the challenges noted above is to engage us in discussions about things we really care about. In fact, it is crucial for you to move the conversation to these emotional issues to keep our attention.

Here are six emotional triggers you may want to remember:

  1. The need for safety. We have a need to maintain the status quo, even though life conspires to make changes. Safety also speaks to our desire to avoid stress whether over money, problems in a relationship, health concerns or personal security. When these stressors could potentially have a financial consequence, your solutions should make us feel you are protecting us from unnecessary worry.
  1. Protection from fear. Many of us fear unexpected events that could change the way we live our lives or how we view the world. This also plays into the need for safety, in that we want to ensure nothing catastrophic will affect our sense of security.
  1. The need to be independent. The feeling of ‘being in control’ becomes important as it represents a link to youth and personal empowerment. We generally want to feel we are still in charge and not in a position where someone has to tell us what to do.
  1. The need to belong. We often like to belong to groups or social organizations as a way of extending our social network. In addition, we expect you will be aware of the issues associated with the biggest group we belong to: people over 50! That means your solutions, marketing approach and communications strategy should reflect your respect for our situation.
  1. The importance of altruism. As we get older, there is often a growing need to turn our success into significance. Charitable giving, gifting money to loved ones, contributing to a grandchild’s education or building a legacy are all examples of altruistic behavior. You would be well-advised to include questions in your discovery process that draw out our need to be altruistic.
  1. Search for life meaning. The older we get the more contemplative or spiritual we become. In fact, longevity studies suggest spirituality has a direct relationship to longevity — it’s easier to get up in the morning if you feel life has a purpose or meaning! Your role is to continue to find ways to remind us of who we are and where we are going. This is where the goal setting and strategy work comes in and is one of the most important reasons why we need a coach rather than an advisor.

As we increase our understanding, we increase our potential to communicate more effectively. I hope these ideas help you improve your conversations with your clients who are nearing or already in retirement…like me!

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