What Investors Are Looking for During Market Volatility

What do the current market volatility, jail inmates and pinball have in common?

The answer is empathy.

Last week I was disappointed to hear an advisor basically mocking their clients for calling up the advisor concerned and frightened about present market volatility. They were talking about showing them graphs and showing them the growth from 2008 and really making fun of them for being overly concerned and being frightened.

It’s important we show our clients empathy. Now as an advisor, you may ask, “How can I show empathy when I really do have a good grasp of what’s happening – that markets go up and down, that things have come back from 2008…? How can I show empathy for somebody who’s frightened and concerned when it’s just from their lack of knowledge?” But that’s my point: just because you’re not sharing their exact point of view doesn’t mean you’ve never been frightened or concerned sometime in your life when things have gotten a little out of control.

I know as a jail chaplain, often I would go in and talk with inmates. When I came out, people would say to me, “How can you show empathy to these people? You’ve never been in jail.” But the reality is, I’ve made poor choices sometimes, and I’ve had negative consequences because of that. Sure, I haven’t made some of the choices these people have made, nor had consequences like going to jail, but the reality is I’ve made poor choices and there were consequences. So, I can have empathy for the inmates when I’m talking with them. I was surrounded by a phenomenally supportive family, and I had a wonderful group of friends. Oftentimes these people have never had that kind of benefit.

So, with the market volatility that we’re experiencing right now and with the political turmoil we’re hearing about, with the way the headlines are out there talking about all the bad news, sometimes our clients can be feeling like pinballs, just shooting and zinging all over the map, and really having no way to be anchored and gain perspective of what’s going on.

So think of this image: remember the pinball machines – when we were playing, you’d have the flippers put up to an angle where the ball could come and rest in the flippers. You’d hold it there. Slowly all the dinging and zinging and bells and the whirring would gradually all slow down, and you had a chance to think about what you were going to do next. Now you’re still in the game – as people are still in the economy, still in the markets, obviously – but you had a chance to catch your breath.

That’s what you can provide for your clients; you can have them just ease up, catch their breath. You provide them that opportunity just to settle through listening to them, through asking them more about what their deepest fears are, through asking them about how they’re going to respond next, and then by talking them through the different scenarios and opportunities available to them, that you and they share together.

Consider how to do that with them. Just keep them contained and relax them. That’s one of our jobs as advisors – to bring sense to the situation or circumstances.


  • When you do have a client that comes in and is angst-filled and brings up those points, listen! Just hear them.
  • While you are listening, don’t formulate the response immediately in your mind. By doing that, you’re not going to hear them fully, and very quickly you’re going to respond, and they’re going to see you haven’t really heard them.
  • Take on what they’re feeling. Consider how you’ve felt in exactly the same situation. Think back to a time in your life where you haven’t had complete control of your circumstances, and then respond and answer them accordingly.

You’re going to be a way more effective advisor if you can do that. What’s most important, you’re going to be a way more effective human and better friend for them.