Finding the Right Words:
SCRIPTING™ Your Secret Weapon for Effective
Family Wealth Management
Donna LeBlanc, M.ED, NYMHC
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Let’s go forward 2 generations. In a fairly typical scenario, you are the trustee for 5 grown grandchildren of a 100 million dollar estate. Your job is to carry out the “original intent” of the benefactor who passed away several years ago, yet the “original intent” has gotten lost in a tangle of needs, narrow goals, entitlements, and irrelevancies.
“The second and third generations have often been raised in a “luxury bubble” that protected them from the harsh financial realities known by earlier generations,” states John Mathena, BNY Mellon, N.A.
Jane is the great-grandchild of a 1 billion-dollar empire her grandfather built over 65 years. She, of course, feels entitled to her money. She is already spending $200K per month on a staff of 10 and the upkeep on three vacation homes around the world. Her assets are dwindling and she wants more. If you don’t give it to her she turns her assault on you. She wants her money, and you are “only person” stopping the flow of the family's estate to her. Her sense of entitlement can be infuriating, but the problem needs to be solved and you must, and fortunately, can do it.
RULES FOR FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS!
Working for many years as private counsel for advisers and their clients and also as a communication and conflict resolution specialist, it became clear to me that what often controls behavior and decision making is a complex network of fears, insecurities and the overall need to avoid pain and receive validation. Everyone has what I call a ‘Signature Profile’ or a style of relating to the world. It doesn’t matter whether you are working with a new prospect, co-trustee or a client you want to retain. What drives your target’s desire to move into cooperation with you is his/her own style of relating coupled with language from you that helps him/her relax and open.
This is where scripting is essential so that you the professional are prepared. I’ve found in my work that the ‘Signature Profiling’ system allows managers to know up front, who is sitting in front of them and the right words, style and tonality that will create trust, understanding and bonding with the client. The system also provides the platforms to diffuse any potential conflict that will damage the relationship already in place.
For example, some children from economically privileged families are raised having every need met without having to put forward significant contribution to receive reward, and are constantly affirmed as special for just being there. This creates a client who may seem to demonstrate a sense of entitlement, but what’s actually driving that attitude is a child who never fully evolved into an adult state.
In this context, the fact that you are looking out for the client’s best interest and trying to protect his/her wealth seems to be lost in translation. Instead you are seen as the cork in the bottle clogging the flow of the fulfillment of his/her needs.
The secret to staying aligned to original intent while meeting your client’s needs is in understanding the fact that the person in this Signature Profile has a deep-seated, intrinsic need for acceptance. Even philanthropy can be an attempt to gain love and approval from the environment.
WHAT IS A TRUST OFFICER TO DO?
“The first thing to realize is that some of this comes with the territory. If you are a people person, a caretaker, this profession can be very fulfilling. This is especially so if you knew the Grantor, helped him or her create their estate plan and feel connected to carrying out the wishes of the Grantor beyond the grave. Ironically, it is staying connected to this original intent of the benefactor, whether you knew that person or not that gives you the power to navigate these issues,”
Susan Hartley, Director of Fiduciary, BNY Mellon, N.A.
Scripting Rule Number one: Prepare yourself
Spending the time to prepare yourself once the client’s underlying needs are visible will drive a reservoir of dialogue that you can use to expresses both your interest in meeting the client’s needs while staying aligned with original intent.
In my work with family governance I have seen that it is immeasurably important to take the time to find the “right” words for these delicate conversations because handled inappropriately these situations can ignite family feuds, trustee-client issues and/or millions of dollars in losses.
Sit down think about your client’s point of view. Imagine getting in their shoes. Be careful not to spend all your time thinking about the rules in a black and white sense. If you appear like an impenetrable wall your client will figure out how to get around you. Instead, sit down and write out a script taking the ‘invisibles’ or the underlying factors into account.
Scripting Rule number two: Stop and reflect on the benefactor
As stated earlier, a primary tool to help navigate these treacherous situations is to make certain the two of you stop, take a moment and reflect on the benefactor. Somewhere, deep inside the beneficiary is a connection to their predecessor, either by love, by reputation or by desire to emulate them. In drawing your client closer to their benefactor you awaken their connection to their history.
It is important to speak as the voice of the benefactor because in fact it is the benefactor speaking through you. Do not speak as though it is you saying “no” or you will directly receive the attack.
This approach connects them to their family legacy that was put in place to protect them. You will help them feel they are upholding the family legacy and they will feel good about themselves.
It is well known that in family governance it is important to keep all family members connected through their lineage as a way of protecting the family’s estate to avoid the “shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in 3 generations” phenomenon. This gives family members a sense of being connected to something larger than themselves and being part of the whole, which is a basic human need.
Script: You can strengthen the connection to the benefactor while letting them know that you are on their side by saying something like this:
“Jane, I can see that this is really important to you. Your grandfather wanted nothing more than for you to be taken care of for the rest of your life. He would say this new request violates his intentions for you. He was very clear about wanting you, and those that come after you to be taken care of forever. I however, understand your position completely and why this must be frustrating for you. Let’s just take a look and see if we can work together to cut back some place else so we can help you get what you want.”
It is unlikely with this response that you will be hit with anger but if you are, continue to express understanding and try to give the client a piece of what they are asking for so they know their side is being heard and understood. Unfortunately, if you bend completely you may be setting yourself and your institution up for a beneficiary who has learned to escalate emotionally with you to get their needs met.
It is when the client feels that you are not “listening” to their side and you are rigidly adhering to the rules that they are most likely to escalate. The beneficiarymay increase the intensity of their frustration over thinking their hands are tied. You should allow them to vent their feelings. Take a break, look down, and write on a piece of paper so you can give yourself and your client a moment to let the intensity subside.
Script: Then with an empathetic voice you might say,
“When I put myself in your shoes I understand how you must be feeling. This is obviously an important need you have. Let’s try to look at other areas so that we can keep your grandfather’s intention, while we try to get you what you want.”
Understanding is a powerful diffuser of conflict and it is the first step in scripting powerful dialogue in client communication.
So to review, always reflect back on the original intent of the benefactor. Keep your client tied to the benefactor to avoid misplaced anger on you. Also remind them that if it were up to you, you would like to grant their wishes. It is the benefactor that left the estate to them and all their descendants.
On occasion for example, when there is sibling rivalry or the need to punish a benefactor for past discretions, beneficiaries may overspend to express anger. One sibling may overspend so there is nothing left for his/her siblings or heirs. Another beneficiary might be angry with their parents because he/she felt overly controlled or neglected growing up. The beneficiary feels entitled to the funds for “everything he/she endured.” Again, understanding these needs and then creating good scripting can help professions avoid getting entangled in these complicated family feuding issues.
Scripting Rule number three: Know when to get help
If you are hit with a particularly intense barrage of upset or emotion, always communicate with your boss and make him/or her aware of what is going on. Why? Because the secondary line of attack will be to go around you and try to diminish your status and gain power over you, by attacking your ability and functioning on the job.
Script: The client may also threaten to fire you as the trustee. You can say,
“You can do that but you may end up in the same circumstance with your next trustee. The challenge here is that a trustee is legally bound to the documents the way they were written. If I or the next trustee you find distributes your monies in any other way than was stated in the document and you get hit by a bus the next day, where would that leave your father’s grandchildren? Your kids would have to sue the trustee for Breach of Fiduciary Duty.”
Attorney Jerry Wolf, Fellow, American College of Trust & Estates Counsel
To avoid this stalemate, keep the ball in your court by turning the conversation to the benefactor and only secondarily to your company. By doing so, you take the client out of themselves and their short-term goals. You also wrap your client in their desire/need to be connected to the person who created this marvelous success; someone you respect and honor - and so can they.
Scripting Rule number four: Let them know you “hear” and “consider”
In my years as an advisor on issues with relationship management, family governance and family feuds helping clients navigate high value conversations, it became clear that a cornerstone to resolving the potential conflict in these situations is giving the client the sense that they are being “heard” and “considered.”
Most untrained listeners respond reactively with their own point of view ‘first’ instead of pausing and responding with a statement that let’s the other person know they were “heard,” and their point of view is being considering.
So take a moment and reflect on what you hear the client saying to you.
Script: So what I am hearing you say is …
Scripting Rule number five: Drop the need to be “right” or “punitive”
A major pitfall that inadvertently causes breakdowns is the need to be right. Professionals in the field are usually detail oriented; rule based individuals who follow the written word. Otherwise, they would not be suited for this profession.
Clients, on the other hand, were often raised to be rule breakers like their trailblazing parents or grandparents. So when you are perceived as standing in the way of meeting their need you will be hit with a wall of human emotion much like a tsunami that destroys everything in its path.
Trustees and relationship managers must step out from behind the rules and being “right” and meet the client squarely in the realm of emotion and the force of the human will. Avoid any statements like,
“You shouldn’t feel this way. You are already getting $200K each month from the estate.”
If you come across like a punitive parent or like a rules based corporate animal that cannot see when the rules need to be altered to meet today’s needs, you will lose the client.
If you coldly recite the rules as set out in the documents you will be right but you will also lose the client. You must communicate to the client that you are most definitely in the present day but with an understanding of “original intent” as it translates to today.
Script: You can reiterate, “I can really see how this must be frustrating to you. Let’s see if there is some other area we can cut back or make some changes in so we stay aligned with what your grandfather wanted and help you get your needs met.”
THE TAKEAWAY MESSAGE
So by scripting and taking the time to find the right words, you bind yourself to the power and the aura of being the very embodiment of the benefactor as well as having profound empathy for and connection to the client. You can then create not only protection for yourself, and your firm but for the client’s legacy as well. Having accomplished this once, the pathway gets stronger and easier and your relationship will endure and prosper.
Donna LeBlanc, M.ED, NYMHC is a conversation strategist and private counsel for advisors and their clients. She is a communication and conflict resolution specialist. For over twenty-five years she has coached advisors and family members to navigate high value conversations with powerful dialogue and pinpoint, character insight. Ms LeBlanc, a licensed psychotherapist, is also the best-selling author of two books. Her book, The Passion Principle provides a powerfully intuitive profiling system, which can be used as a relationship management tool. She is the founder of The Power of OneTM and The Family Network Method.TM She is a contributing writer in Trusts & Estates Magazine. Her most recent publication was co-authored on Avoiding Family Feuds. Donna has a global clientele and is located in New York City. She can be contacted at www.DonnaLeBlanc.com.