Not too long ago, men “wore the pants in the family” and women were “seen but not heard.” This remained true when family-related business was discussed with a third party—so much so that advisors of all kinds got very comfortable dealing with the male head of the household and relegating his spouse to a lesser role.
Times have certainly changed. A survey from Age Wave/LPL Financial noted that while one in five women prefers for her spouse to make decisions, two-thirds want equal responsibility. What that means for advisors is they need to get used to dealing with couples, something that might not be as simple as it seems due to:
- Discomfort dealing with men’s and women’s differing communication styles
- A lack of understanding about the different male and female finance perspectives
- Concern about facilitating conversations between couples on sensitive financial subjects and having to manage potential conflicts
Fortunately, these concerns can be alleviated with a little study—becoming familiar with how to acknowledge gender differences and learning the behavioral communications strategies necessary to be a strong facilitator.
With respect to gender differences, to ensure effective communication it’s important to understand that the primary goal for men is independence, while for women it’s involvement. For instance:
- Men seek to achieve and maintain the upper hand—while women prefer to reach consensus.
- Men don’t want to be told what to do—while women seek and give confirmation and support.
- Men see conversations as hierarchical—while women see them as negotiations for closeness.
Advisors are in the unique position of leveraging their knowledge about gender communications differences to provide balance and resolve power struggles. They must also be aware of male and female approaches to financial decision-making as well as a couple things that cut across gender lines: the influence of life events and the meaning of money.
Turning to the facilitation side, advisors must overcome some daunting challenges on the way to creating a balance between their roles of trusted confidant, financial guide and conflict negotiator. Some basic guidelines for meeting with couples include:
- Create chances for each spouse to share individual financial and lifestyle priorities, talking to them separately even if you meet with them together.
- Identify financial roles and responsibilities, and if they are shared, learn how they communicate about financial issues and resolve any problems that arise.
- Talk to women as much or more than men, since women are particularly attuned to whether you are addressing their questions and concerns.
In addition, it’s important to not expect consensus, since couples don’t have to agree on everything. The job of a competent advisor is to look for ways to move forward with the goals couples share.