The illusion is that people come to financial planners for financial advice. Planners often assume that when they give advice that would seem an obvious solution to a problem, the client will take it, act on it, and profusely thank the planner for their wisdom.
That is often magical thinking. In reality, providing “the solution” is often met with resistance rather than acceptance. Clients may interrupt, argue, or defensively list all the reasons the solution is not right for them. They can also appear to agree with the recommendations, then ignore everything and never take action.
Often the planner will assume the client’s resistance is a sign they have failed to communicate well, so the planner “doubles down” and becomes more direct and confrontive. This can escalate, with both parties becoming locked in a cycle of resistance and confrontation. Research finds that client resistance leads to increased confrontational behaviors on the part of the advisor, while confrontation from the advisor actually leads to client resistance, which actually decreases the likelihood that change will ever happen.
Many planners will end up labeling such a client as “difficult.” They often give up, suggesting they are “not a fit” for the client and sending them off to another planner. Actually, the advisor has run out of tools.
A more skillful advisor with training in strategies like Motivational Interviewing will recognize that when a planner meets resistance, they are moving too fast. They need to stop, back up, and realize that the client is not feeling heard. Client resistance is a sign that the planner needs to do a better job of listening rather than telling.
There is no shame in feeling resistance to advice. According to my co-authored book Facilitating Financial Health, your “subconscious brain (which had not received a programming update in 100,000 years) is wired to resist change. It is wired to overestimate the value of the status quo and underestimate the value of [change]”.
When we resist, it is often because we are attempting to avoid difficult feelings or avoid recalling a painful event that has never been resolved.
As a client, ideally you will work with financial advisors who are skilled in helping their clients facilitate financial change. In instances where this is not the case, it’s also important for you to be able to recognize when you are feeling resistance and to understand what it may mean.
When you observe resistance within yourself, it’s a sign that the professional is moving too fast and that you are not feeling heard. Gently ask the advisor to stop. Let them know you are aware of some internal resistance to what they are suggesting and that you do not feel heard. You may need to ask them to stop trying to convince you of a solution and help you process your resistance. You don’t need to know why you are experiencing internal resistance to ask for a pause; it’s enough to know that you are.
If the advisor is not emotionally available to understand your need to process the resistance, you may need to put a bookmark in the discussion until you can explore the resistance yourself or with a friend or a financial therapist.
The bottom line for both advisor and client is to be sensitive to and aware of resistance. It’s a sign that someone in the conversation is moving too fast. It indicates that it’s time to slow down or even back up in order to keep making progress.