Connecting with the Developmental Tasks of Middle Age

Building rapport with middle age clients requires a balance between collaboration and advisory. The goal is to resonate with the tasks. The temptation is to over emphasize advisory by focusing on traditional milestones as an on ramp for planning conversations. While milestones such as retirement remain important, they are a poor starting point for middle age adults. Instead of being proactive, they come across as unwanted advice that can quickly provoke discomfort or out right resistance. A more effective strategy is to lead with a topic that represents the overriding concern for all middle age clients: sustainability.

For this demographic, sustainability is both a metaphor and strategy. As a metaphor, it captures their need to stay afloat in a world of competing obligations, increasing complexity, and inconvenient timing. As a strategy, it offers a framework that accommodates the diverse definitions of sustainability and shifting priorities.

Sustainability can be introduced as the advisor’s decision to offer middle age clients an expanded approach to planning. Here is an example:

The world of middle age has changed. Old conversations are not enough. They are still important, but they are not enough. Today’s middle age clients need more. They need a new framework to better understand their situation and how to manage it. That new framework is sustainability.

The Sustainability Survey™

A helpful tool for facilitating transition conversations with middle age clients is the Sustainability Survey.™ It is an advisor-facilitated survey based on six quality of life sectors that the client assesses as sustainable or unsustainable. The primary benefit of the Sustainability Survey™ is that it offers clients and advisors a simple but effective overview of “where you are today,” a snapshot of the sustainability landscape. This holistic summary is not specialty focused for finance, law, or medicine; it is middle age focused. As such, it resonates the tasks of the middle crossing.

The survey can be used as a starting point for a sustainability-focused dialogue, a prompt that gives middle age clients an opportunity to tell their story. Rapport with second half of life clients predicated on mining the story. The simple retelling is a disclosure that helps clients connect the dots surrounding aging issues, an organizing process that increases stability and reinvention. As important, it uncovers areas of motivation where the client is signaling both their importance and willingness to make changes.

An effective way to mine the story is with open-ended questions that have been embedded with task-specific words such as volatility, complexity, instability, stability, simplify, and sustainability. Here are some examples:

1. Tell me more about the volatility surrounding your family situation.
2. How will your husband navigate the complexity of his health issues?
3. What makes you feel your current position in the company is becoming unstable?
4. How will you help your close friend stabilize her situation?
5. What will it take to sustain these financial obligations?

Through reflective listening, useful summaries, and a non-judgmental demeanor, advisors help clients organize, understand, and prioritize the sectors. All of this interaction is eventually integrated into a new game plan that synchronizes the non-financial with the financial and increases overall sustainability.