The First Assumption that Hurts Client Relationships

Don't assume!

About ten years ago, I hurt my knee playing basketball. Having torn an ACL in my twenties, I recognized the familiar “pop” – I was fairly sure I had done it again. My regular orthopedist was not available, so I made an appointment with a different doctor at a well-respected clinic.

The doctor (let’s call him “Dr. Joe”) came in, said hello, and asked me what was going on. I told him my story, and he asked me a couple questions about what I was experiencing. Then he did that orthopedist thing where they grab your leg, move it around, and try to deduce what was going on. The knee felt a little loose to me, but not overly so.

“Well,” said Dr. Joe, “You’ve ruptured the ACL. At your age, I would use the allograft to repair it, which is cadaver tissue. I can get you in for surgery two weeks from now.”

I said, “Are you sure? Last time I had an MRI.”

“Sure, we can do that,” Dr. Joe replied, “but I’ve done a couple hundred of these, and it’s definitely ruptured.”


“So why don’t you stop at the desk and we can get you on the schedule and get this taken care of for you.”


Why Good Advice Goes Unheeded

I probably don’t have to tell you what happened next, but I will:  I walked right by the desk, went home, and scheduled an appointment with a different doctor (Dr. Liz).  She examined me, ordered an MRI, and called me a day later with the results.

Dr. Liz said, “You’ve ruptured the ACL. As we discussed, you have a couple of options – repair or rehab. What do you want to do?”

I replied, “I want to repair it.”

“Okay,” she nodded. “Based on your desire to play sports again, I recommend repair. At your age, I would go with the allograft.” She walked me through the procedure, then paused.

“Any questions or concerns? How do you feel about it?”

“I’m good,”

“If you’re ready to go, let’s get it on the calendar. I’ll have my PA call you to schedule.”


This time, I immediately scheduled the surgery with Dr. Liz, even though all she did was confirm Dr. Joe’s diagnosis.  Why?

The difference was the PROCESS Dr. Liz used, not the content. And her process was better because she avoid the first of three assumptions that hinder Client relationships and your ability to help.

Trap: Assuming the Right to Advise

The first mistake Dr. Joe made was assuming the right to prescribe solutions. This is an easy mistake to make when Clients come to you – aren’t they looking for your advice?

Even when clients seek advice, they’ll reject it if the process doesn’t feel like it takes their needs into account. And a major part of what Clients need is to feel heard and understood – like the prescription is based on thorough diagnosis.

This is a huge trap if you’re an experienced Advisor – you see problems, opportunities, and solutions much sooner than most of your Clients. If you assume the right to advise, it’s easy to offer advice as soon as YOU see the solution. And in doing so, you unintentionally short-circuit the process. But are clients ready for the advice if they don’t trust the process?

Even less-experienced Advisors fall into this trap – your desire to help clients plus your expertise lead to the same assumptive trap. And most Advisors we’ve interviewed believe clients are seeking their financial advice in annual portfolio reviews. Beware the assumptive trap!

Advisors who assume the right to advise often end up offering premature solutions clients aren’t ready for.

A More Consultative Alternative

The best way to avoid this assumptive trap is to earn the privilege of offering advice. This approach actually requires a change in mindset – after all, Clients pay you for your advice!

So how do you transform from assuming the right to earning the privilege?  Here are some ideas from top Advisors we’ve worked with:

  • Use the CONSULTATIVE PROCESS to ensure your advice is positioned appropriately. Examine your plan for Client meetings and evaluate:
    • Are you setting Client expectations for thorough diagnosis?
    • Are you diagnosing thoroughly enough, particularly more deliberate or less financially-literate Clients?
    • Does your process help clients develop an appetite for your advice?


  • Follow the process RELENTLESSLY.
    • Can you use a checklist or roadmap to be consistent in your meetings?
    • Can you refuse to short-circuit your diagnosis, even when things are obvious to you?
    • Can you defer early client requests for your opinion and continue the diagnosis?


Summary: Focus on Earning the Privilege of Advising

Clients come to you for advice, and you’re an expert – it’s easy to fall into the trap that hurt Dr. Joe. However, Clients devalue advice they’re not ready for. Instead, be like Dr. Liz and avoid the assumptive trap of assuming the right.

Simply following a consultative process can remove a significant impediment to building trust and growing Client relationships.

Dan Smaida is President/Chief Navigator at Boatman Learning Inc.