Getting to “Yes” With Older Adults

In our training sessions with staffs of retirement facilities, we begin with the following premise: Whether we like to admit it or not, the aging process changes us. As with the senses of vision and hearing, our ability to process information decreases with age. The ability to process information accurately, completely, and quickly peaks in the early 20s and then declines. At age 40, on average, 50% of the inborn level of fluid intelligence-our ability to quickly and accurately process information-has disappeared; by age 60, on average, about 75% is gone.But the good news is that we compensate for the loss of fluid intelligence with a second form of smarts: crystallized intelligence. That is our life knowledge-what we know from experience. The ability to use that form of intelligence does not decrease with age. In fact, we know more with each passing year.This means we have to handle older adults somewhat differently than youthful ones. Older adults will understand what you have to say, but you’ve got to present it in a way that suits their stage of life.Why older adults resistIf you were to be asked what two plus two equals, you would immediately know the answer, virtually without conscious thought; that is crystallized intelligence. On the other hand, if you were asked what 231 multiplied by 963 equals, you would not immediately know the answer, and neither would most other people.They would have to process the information consciously in order to arrive at an answer. That is fluid intelligence, and with age, starting for many people in their mid-40s, they would make errors in processing and might arrive at the wrong answer.Information is a lot like math in that a fair amount of fluid intelligence is called for to process the input. With age, that level of fluid intelligence is no longer easily available to many people. Therefore, if they are required to use fluid intelligence to understand complex information, they are likely to make errors in processing and:o Not completely take in what is said
o Not accurately understand what is said
o Give up trying to understand because they cannot process the information quickly enough; it is all too overwhelming and goes by too fast.You’ve got to overcome these communication barriers by tuning in to your older adults really well. It’s not just a matter of slowing down; it’s a matter of picking up on what they most want to hear from you.Give older adults the right informationYou will never get a recommendation accepted with adults unless they (1) get enough information and (2) feel comfortable with the amount of time they have to process it. “Enough” will vary for each person, and it is defined in two ways: by quantity and the kind of information the client wants.Think about the information requirement like this:o People need different amounts of information to feel comfortable making decisions. Information is like water: some people need a glass and others need a gallon. Those regularly work with adults who want to know every conceivable detail, while others simply want top-line information. It’s your job to figure out how much each individual needs.
o People need different kinds of information. Advisors typically want to give adults lots of numbers. Older adults generally don’t want very many numbers because they require fluid intelligence to process. They typically need other kinds of information.Once you have determined their information style, aid older adults using their crystallized intelligence-their experience-as it applies to the investment issue under discussion. Discuss your recommendations in terms of their life experiences. Tie your presentation to positive outcomes they have already experienced or want to experience. Get to know adults so that you can tailor recommendations to their lives.Give older adults more timeAt age 17, an individual’s ability to process new information accurately, completely, and quickly is about at the peak. At age 60, that capability is very, very low. Yet, 17 year-olds have many more accidents driving automobiles than do 60-year-olds. Why?The answer, of course, is experience. For the 17-year-old, every potentially dangerous situation is new. He has to think about it and then react. For the 60-year-old, every potentially dangerous situation has been seen many times over. He doesn’t have to think about it; he can just react based on his experience, which has been hard-wired into his central nervous system.
Similarly, an older person who uses his life experience will usually be able to make a good decision. But, that often requires the presenter to help him connect that experience with the subject at hand. Make time in your meetings to do that.In the typical sales situation, adults do not have the time and latitude for rational thought. The client is in front of the advisor, and the advisor wants a decision on his recommendation. Older adults will feel particularly rushed and pressured in this situation because of the decline in fluid intelligence. They simply must take longer to process information and think through what you have said.Even if the older client goes home and thinks about the recommendation, it is likely he will have difficulty following the reasoning. Serious reasoning is hard work. It requires large amounts of physiological energy. Oftentimes, older adults will run out of energy before they have completely and thoroughly analyzed the recommendation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make good decisions.Older adults make intuitive decisionsThe upshot is that you must remember when you’re working with older adults that they will substantially base their decisions on experience, which manifests itself as intuition and gut reaction. It’s basically a chemical reaction!When the brain hears a proposition, its neurotransmitters automatically kick in. Chemicals, like dopamine, transmit nerve impulses. When the input is positive-whether it’s more money or a delicious meal-dopamine circuits are activated to different degrees. The amount of “yes juice” an individual produces in response to any individual reward is a function of his or her past experience and biology.So when you bring up a particular concept, your client’s brain makes a rapid chemical decision about it. Neurotransmitter systems go into action before a person is conscious of having made a decision. In a very real sense, decisions are made unconsciously and then justified by reason or by the articulation of experience. In other words, brain research tells us that gut decisions are in fact well rooted in the individual’s experience and not simply a passing irrational response.Younger adults may be able to rationalize that gut reaction faster, and to articulate their reasoning. Older adults may not be able to put their reasons into words so quickly. Give them time, and respect their process.7 Quick TipsLife experience is an amazing teacher, and older adults have a lot of it. So when working with them to meet their financial goals, keep these tips in mind:-Don’t rush seniors into a decision.
-Check in often during the conversation to make sure they are with you.
-Ask them how much they need to know.
-Don’t inundate them with extraneous information.
-Don’t focus on numbers if it’s not their style.
-Show respect for their life experience.
-Tie your suggestions to their life goals.