By Tim Owings, Ph.D., CFP®
Years ago, 1960s and ’70s viewers enjoyed watching the hit television series Colombo.
Each week, for nine seasons – not to mention the many specials that followed – trench-coat-wearing, disheveled, nerdy detective Colombo used his inquisitive, persistent methodology to track down and bring murderers to justice. At every turn, the killer underestimated our wily hero.
Written into every script was that magic moment when we knew long before the perpetrator that Colombo had solved the crime.
Do you remember what he did? Deep into the episode, our detective would be peppering the killer with questions when he would turn to leave the room, open the door, and be almost gone only to stick his head through the cracked door and say, “Oh, there’s one more thing.”
It was always that last “thing” – the question, the observation, the one-liner – that let us and the murderer know the jig was up.
The “by the way,” “I almost forgot,” “there’s one more question” and similar throwaway comments a client makes are often the vital issue preying on the person’s mind.
We may assume the meeting is over, but our guest has “one more thing” that, in fact, is the main reason for the entire visit.
We err when we take at face value the stated reason for an appointment. It’s easy to do. Someone asks for your time, you exchange pleasantries and then state the obvious: “Tell me what’s on your mind?” With ease, the other person phrases the reason and you, being the good listener, go where your guest takes you. So far, so good.
But then, near the end of your time together, as words wind down with a “so glad to see you” and “thanks for stopping by,” something very important slips into the meeting without warning. Your guest begins introducing a new subject with an innocent sentence. “Oh, there’s one more thing.”
Having counseled thousands of men and women through the years, a sentence that begins with these four words uncovers the real reason behind a meeting. Write it down: “there’s one more thing” may be the pressure point that most needs addressing – a concern that may have nothing to do with the opening, stated reason for the appointment.
“There’s one more thing. I’m starting to think about retirement and want us to talk about it the next time we get together.” Or, “There’s one more thing. My wife is having tests next week and I thought you might want to know.” And then, “There’s one more thing. My company has announced a restructuring and I’m not sure how that’s going to affect me long-term.”
The advisor who dials into these “one more thing” issues will put his or her finger on what is often the most troubling, keep-you-up-at-night, button-pushing issue in that person’s life.
So how do you respond?
First, bring Colombo back into the room and ask your client, friend, or co-worker to sit down for a few more minutes. She or he may seem like they are in a hurry, but they deeply need you to keep them from rushing off.
Second, ask them, “Would you be comfortable telling me more about that last thing you mentioned?”
Encourage the expression of feelings. Do you sense fear? Confusion? Uncertainty? Finally, put a comma in the conversation and ask for more time and soon. Find time for coffee, breakfast or lunch away from the office where you could have a less-business, more-private conversation.
Most of all, don’t miss the “one more thing” moments.
Those for whom we care will always remember that you took the time to go a bit deeper with them on some discomforting life challenge or interruption. Clients open their lives to us because they trust us and believe they can count on our support.
When you hear those four words, be aware that an opportunity stares you in the face to deepen your trusted advisor relationship. Go there and offer them your best listening and genuine care.
The writer, who lives in Augusta, is author of Cadence of Care: Imagining a Transformed Advisor-Client Experience, and can be followed on his blog at www.timowings.com.