How to Handle Hostile Client Meetings

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Hostile Client Meetings

Recently a client asked me to attend a meeting between her, her recent ex-husband and an insurance broker we have been talking to. The reason for the meeting was to explore getting life insurance coverage on the husband, to insure the alimony he was obligated to pay. Her attorney had missed this during the divorce proceedings, so it was going to be on my client to bear the cost.

I under-estimated the emotions that would be in this meeting.

While meetings with my client have been productive, and we have laughed a lot through the planning process, the environment was more hostile when everyone was brought together. It was not what I was expecting, as my client and her ex-husband talk frequently, so I hadn’t prepared for how to deal with this dynamic. As we worked our way through the discussion my client didn’t say much, so I decided to explain exactly what she needed in terms of life insurance. Maybe my tone wasn’t appropriate, or the message got caught up in the hostile environment, but it was explained by the ex-husband that my opinion was not welcome, and the meeting quickly ended with no promise of what would happen next.

I left the meeting stunned. The broker and I were expecting to come away with a policy being written on the husband, but now we were not sure if he would even entertain having any coverage on him at all.

I pulled the broker aside after the meeting and asked him for some feedback. I noticed how he was able to talk well with the husband, but when it was my turn, it didn’t go so well. As a 25-year insurance veteran, he explained an old business concept to me.

“It’s all about C-I-A-A: Control, Influence, Accept or Abort. You have to work every meeting, or potential unfavorable situation, through these steps in order to get a favorable result”.

“In this situation, you can’t Control what actions the ex-husband is going to take – so you move on to Influencing him. Given that the situation didn’t go well when you were explaining the insurance coverage, and his walls are now up, you probably won’t be able to Influence him going forward. So now you are left with having to Accept the situation for what it is or Abort the whole process of getting him covered with life insurance. You can beat yourself up about it, but you only have two options going forward. Let him do what he needs to do, and we’ll discuss it more when he comes back to the table”.

He continued, “When I walked into the meeting, I noticed how he had a list of questions and was almost combative with his communication style. Seeing that, I sat back and let him drive the meeting. He wanted to be in control, so I let him be. He had questions and concerns – whether they were justified or not – so I met him where he was. He holds the control on signing off on a policy, so while I may not like the dynamic of that meeting, if it gets us to the end goal, then that’s all that matters.”

Even though that meeting was a month ago, I still reflect on that feedback. This advice is one that I will take into all future meetings. Thanks Rob Barnes for your guidance and wisdom. I look forward to going into more hostile meetings with you!

Dave Grant, CFP®, is the founder of Finance For Teachers a fee-only RIA in Cary, IL. Dave exclusively serves teachers in Illinois by helping them to organize their financial lives and live a fulfilled life. He is also a columnist at Financial Planning magazine, a ghost writer for various companies, and the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for over 300 young, fee-only planners.