Dealing With Insane People

We can all agree that we should avoid dealing with people who are insane.  The problem is that everyone is clinically insane some of the time. 

One of those times in when people are making decisions that they believe to be important and are doing so under ambiguous conditions.  Should I pick method A, or B, or maybe even C and I don’t understand D.

What could go wrong?  What if one I don’t pick turns out to be better?  What if I lose?  Will people think I am stupid for picking the one I picked?

During the decision, just for a moment, the people are dealing with complex emotions like fear and conflicting goals, wishes and abilities.  They are not coherent.  Eventually people decide, essentially a guess, and move on.

As an adviser, there are things you could do to help with the decision and its aftermath.  They all revolve around a single theme.

The adviser’s role is to assign meaning to information.

Prior to the decision,

  • Be sure that the client has adequate information, on their terms, on each choice available, including the do nothing choice.
  • Be sure the client has a baseline, a simple definition of the problem, they can relate to.
  • Be sure the client understands that each decision has risk
  • Be sure the client knows how to identify and control the risk inherent in each
  • Be sure that the client knows that they are not the first to try this

Post Decision, the client becomes very focused on making their choice the “right” decision.

  • Be sure they have real information to support their decision.
  • Be sure to confirm that their decision will work within the baseline framework
  • Be sure they know how to notice the risks
  • Be sure to tell them what they need to do if a risk appears

This is very like the process a good physician uses when starting a new medication.  Here is what it is for, here is why you need it, here is why this one works for you, here is what to watch for, here is what to do if you see it.  And a final emphasis that doing nothing has side-effects too, and they are more serious.

Essentially the client decision process is worry – learn – hope – guess/decide –  rationalize.

You need to support the client in rationalizing their decision.  If the rationalize part doesn’t happen the client will eventually second guess the decision in unforeseeable ways, and blame the adviser for any failings they find.

Another of the reasons to have well informed clients with whom you continuously communicate.


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Contact:  |  Follow Twitter   @DonShaughnessy

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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