Language barrier

The Language Barrier

I conducted my first client advisory board in the United Kingdom this week (my fourth country!). One benefit of working in Britain is the absence of a language barrier.

“Since dad’s passed on I’m quids in. Really, more than I’ve ever had. Even though I’d not seen Nigel in donkey’s, I knew he had gone into finance. So I thought I’d give him a tinkle before I made a right bodge job of it.”

So maybe I don’t speak English.

The participants in the meeting were gracious and acknowledged the Yank in the room and made some accommodations. One in particular mentioned futbol and, looking at me, changed it to soccer. For the most part they discussed the issues among themselves. And there were times I had no idea what had just been said. Of course, they understood each other perfectly well because it is the language, idioms and all, they have been using their whole lives.

If you are not careful, your clients may feel the same way speaking with you. If you have been in financial services for many years, you may forget (like I do sometimes) what’s everyday speech and what is technical talk. Jargon gets in the way of communication. It inhibits trust. And you use more of it than you probably realize.

I am surprised sometimes at the terms clients are not familiar with. Asset allocation, equities, even cash flow may not be part of your clients’ vernacular. If you work with business owners, they will of course know what cash flow is. But if they are not involved in the financial workings of their company many do not.

When was the last time you checked your clients’ understanding?

Don’t ask whether they understand – most of the time, unless they are seriously in the weeds, they will say yes whether they do or not. Or they may think they have it.

How can you overcome this potential relationship barrier? Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good way to confirm how well someone grasps an idea apart from asking them to explain it back in their own words. And that can be difficult to do without being tedious or condescending. If you have discovered a good approach, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

The best suggestion I can offer is to review your standard explanations for the advice you provide (using a standard outline to be consistent) and check that all the words you use are normal, conversational terms. I’m interested to hear how you address it. Before it goes all pear-shaped.


  1. Bruce PetersSeptember 19, 2021

    What is that you’re asking? I don’t seem to understand?

  2. Steve WershingSeptember 20, 2021

    I’ll take that as humor, Bruce! Thanks for the comment.


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