The Stethoscope and the Importance of Coaching

By: Chris Budd
Ovation Finance & The Eternal Business Consultancy

Over the last two centuries, the relationship between doctors and their patients has altered enormously. This change can be pinpointed to the invention of the stethoscope. The story of this simple tool shines an interesting light on the world of Financial Planning, says Chris Budd.

The Birth Of The Stethoscope

In the beginning of the 19th century, doctors had no way of examining the workings of a body that was still being used. Without any tools, the only way in which the doctor could gain information about the inside of the body was to ask the owner. The doctor – who in those days would visit the patient in their own home – would receive information about the patient from the patient. The body was like a sealed box. The doctor’s diagnosis came from what they could see, and what the patient told them.

In 1816 a French doctor, René Laennec, uncomfortable with putting his ear to a lady’s breast to hear her heart, rolled up a piece of cardboard and put it to her chest. Amazed at the clarity of the sound, he built a more robust version, and the stethoscope was born.

A fundamental change took place with the advent of the stethoscope. The doctor could now glean information about the body without having to actually ask the patient. This gave doctors additional information to that which the patient would give verbally, and began a fundamental change in the doctor/patient relationship.

For now, rather than the doctor asking the patient what was wrong, it was now the patient that went to see the doctor to find out what might be wrong.

Visiting The Doctor

In 2010 I went to see my GP with a ‘muzzy head’. I walked from the car park to the rear of the centre, past the 4 parking spaces next to the entrance reserved for the doctors. My GP (I don’t have a specific doctor any more, I get whoever is on duty) gave me the allotted ten minutes to listen to my problem. The GP wanted to see inside my body, so I was sent for some tests. Two weeks later I returned, and my GP talked me through the results and was pleased to advise that there was nothing wrong with me. The ten minutes up, she rose to show me out the door. I remained seated. But there is something wrong, I said. I still have a muzzy head. The doctor was puzzled.

Through my own researches (three clicks on the internet), I discovered that one possible cause could be depression. Pleased to have something tangible to treat, the doctor gave me a piece of paper entitled ‘Depression Questionnaire’ and asked me to bring it back in two weeks time. Sat at my kitchen table, I looked at the questionnaire. The first question was “How many times a week do you feel like killing yourself?”

The Stethoscope and Cash Flow Forecasting

From the invention of the humble stethoscope have come advancements such as the MRI scan and the X Ray. As a result, a doctor barely needs to consult the patient at all in order to make a diagnosis. With the ability to scan the body, the doctors can diagnose problems that patients didn’t even know they had.

Cash flow forecasting has improved Financial Planning in a similar way that the stethoscope changed diagnosis. We can now look inside the financial world of our clients, build forecasts and create scenarios. Our advice has much greater meaning, helping clients to plot a path to objectives.

There is a danger that we become too focussed on the technicalities of the finances that we forget to listen – to really listen – to the client.

The Whole Person Approach

Back in the medical world, The Penny Brohn UK cancer centre has for many years advocated a whole person approach to treating people with cancer.

We have within us immune cells. These immune cells attack and destroy the cancerous cells. Conventional medicine provides the drugs that will attack the cancerous cells, however there is also much that we can do to help support the immune cells ourselves, including nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, reducing stress, and so on.

A decade ago this approach was viewed with great suspicion by the medical community. Now, however, the world of conventional medicine is realising that care can be improved if it is used as part of a wider approach to the patient’s life. Listening to the patient and giving them time to talk means that the whole person is being treated.

Coaching THEN Planning THEN Advice

I believe that Financial Planners would also benefit from adopting a whole person approach. To do so we need to develop our interpersonal skills. Listening, challenging, questioning: these are skills that need to be learned.

Financial Planning and advice on products and tax are crucial, but the coaching element should come first. This allows the cash flow forecasting to plot a path to objectives that the client might not even have known was possible before they came to see their Financial Planner.

Our technical training means that when we see a client, we are invariably looking for a solution.

We should use coaching skills first to help us truly understand the client (and in doing so often help the client understand themselves better). Next we use planning (including cash flow forecasting) to plot a path to these objectives. Finally, we use our technical and product knowledge to give advice and help move the client along the path.

A break with convention

Back at my kitchen table, I realised that conventional medicine wasn’t going to help me get better. By coincidence I was receiving business coaching, which helped me make changes to my life that cured my muzzy head. I not only trained to be a business coach myself, I started to adopt the skills into our financial advice process.

Create a financial plan to achieve a client’s objectives and you get a far more loyal client.

Create a financial plan to achieve a future the client didn’t know was possible until they came to see you, and you get ambassadors.

The invention of the stethoscope was a great leap forward for medicine. Perhaps the increase of interpersonal skills at the right point in the advice process can do the same for Financial Planning.

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