My Wharton colleague Professor Adam Grant has offered us a new way of thinking about the people we deal with. In his acclaimed new book Give and Take, he proposes considering the world as made up of “givers,” “takers” and “matchers”. It is an intriguing set of ideas and is eminently useful to you as a guide for evaluating the people and organizations guiding your financial life.
Here is a big question for you to ponder in light of Professor Grant’s brilliant opening. Think about the people and companies from whom you take financial advice and guidance, both directly and indirectly. Are those folks “givers,” “takers” or “matchers”?
When contemplating this, it is critical to go beyond the surface. You don’t want to reach a conclusion based on their word, or their promises, or their advertising materials. As any good negotiator would [Link to: Negotiating Your Investments], you must look behind the curtain. Who are these people, really, and what are their underlying motivations?
Consider, if you will, the many people we are talking about. If you work with a financial advisor (regardless of what title he or she uses) then this person tops the list. Your advisor has bosses, colleagues, and corporate mandates, though, all of whom are people contributing to the advice you follow.
If you gather your own financial information, think about who it is ultimately coming from. Reporters, writers, magazines, television channels, and even those who post on the internet all have their own interests and motives driving what they say. These people, too, provide you with guidance.
And then, of course, there are the financial companies from whom you are buying financial products. Whether it is insurance, stocks, bonds, annuities, funds, loans, services, or a bank account, these companies are selling to you. As I have argued elsewhere, all these guys sit on the other side of the table and are really your negotiating adversaries Negotiating Your Investments. Nevertheless, they are simultaneously supplying you with financial advice.
Adam Grant has given you a powerful tool. Take it and use it. Are these financial services people you deal with “givers,” “takers” or “matchers”? And, taking that answer into account, are they the kind of people in whom you want to place your trust?
It is tremendously important, as you negotiate over your investments and other financial matters, that you keep an eagle eye on costs. After all, one of your most important goals is to maximize the return on your money. Excessive costs will diminish your outcomes and, over time, will reduce your holdings by far more than you realize.
In any negotiation of consequence, you want to learn as much as you possibly can. Of special significance is the opportunity to know as much as feasible about the people on the other side of the table. What are their goals, hopes, and preferences? How do they see the situation currently being discussed? What are their typical methods? How do they formulate ideas about fairness and even-handedness? What will they do if no deal can be accomplished? How do they see you? And on and on…
It turns out that you want know pretty much everything, limited only by time pressure and a cost-benefit analysis concerning the collection of the marginal extra bit of knowledge. Absent time or cost, though, you probably want to learn absolutely everything possible about them.
Well, I have some good news for you in that regard. You are sitting across the (metaphoric) negotiating table from a group of the world’s greatest experts on the subject of them. Like most people, they are interested and excited by the subject of themselves. Given the right circumstances, they will be delighted to talk at length, and in great detail, about that subject. You are perfectly positioned to learn more about them.
You may be worried about the danger that they might lie to you. And, indeed, they probably will – at least a little bit. Human beings are like that when trying to attain their goals. But that risk is not a reason to refrain from gathering all the information they are willing to offer you. Indeed, the problem of their less than complete truthfulness is one that can be successfully managed. As discussed more fully in Negotiating Your Investments: Use Proven Negotiation Methods to Enrich Your Financial Life , the key is to separate their answers into two categories. You will, of course, find virtual treasure in what they tell you unencumbered by any motivation to fib. But you will also get valuable information from what they choose to tell you where their incentive to dissemble is great.
In the end, the negotiation lesson is a simple one. Do what the very best negotiators make a habit of. When interacting with the other side, be sure to take full advantage of the golden opportunity presented. Choose to gather, listen and learn all you can. In becoming a more knowledgeable negotiator, you will become a better one.