Lean Into the Negative: On Gut Punches, White Elephants, & Terrible Comments

April 22, 2022 | Written by Samuel Newland CFP

If you were to think about the most valuable conversations you have had in your life, it probably involves someone you trusted changing the way you think or behave regarding a specific issue. Inherent in these life-changing conversations is that the way you thought prior to the conversation was fundamentally different from how you thought after the conversation. An exchange of information, clarification and correction of prior false premises and beliefs to more correct ones are what made the conversation valuable.

This is exactly the dynamic you have when convincing your client to fund tax-advantaged retirement plans, purchase life insurance, or get an estate plan. The delta of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge between you – the expert – and your client is so much larger. This is what makes it harder. Also, providing information to your client in a digestible, empathetic, and respectful manner is how you can add more value to your client and get more referrals.

The disability conversation is about refuting and correcting your client’s beliefs with understanding and respect so that they “see the light.” Plain and simple, the conversation is a negotiation of ideas. Negotiations require courage and telling the other person they are wrong without saying “you’re wrong.”

What is an essential skill you will need to navigate this difficult discussion? Leaning into the negative labels things your client may think about you and declaring them outright out loud. Chris Voss calls it an Accusation Audit.

There are two alternatives to leaning in – leaning out and ignoring the negatives. Here is why they do not work:

1. Leaning Out:

Leaning out is when you deny the negatives. Most famously, it is when you hear someone say “I don’t want to sound ungrateful/racist/rude, but [Insert ungrateful/racist/rude comment here]”. Whatever you say after denying the negative will be construed as exactly that to your face or behind your back. They will focus on thinking how that comment was ungrateful, racist, or rude.

2. Ignoring the Negatives:

Probably even worse than denying the negatives is simply ignoring them. Imagine someone saying an ungrateful, racist, or rude comment without even having the foresight, consideration, or compassion to acknowledge how it might be problematic. By ignoring the negatives, you come across as clueless and lacking compassion. The people denying the negatives are on the right track to acknowledging and trying to neutralize the negative, simply their execution is off.

Consider these three examples of a client explaining why they have not had a CFP illustrating Leaning In, Leaning Out, and Ignoring the Negatives and you decide which one comes across best:

Ignoring the Negative:

I feel like all CFPs are solely interested in earning that 1% commission.

Leaning Out:

I don’t want to sound like I am stereotyping, but I feel like all CFPs are solely interested in earning that 1% commission.

Leaning In:

This is going to sound like a gross generalization, but I feel like all CFPs are solely interested in earning that 1% commission.

Leaning into the negative clearly comes across as the best. And what is even more interesting is that the demonstration of the recognition of the negative generates that you 1) understand the other person and 2) have something important to say. It incites curiosity because a person naturally thinks there must be a good reason for saying something that could come off rude. Otherwise, you would not say anything because you do not want to cause distress for lack of a good reason.

If you are still not convinced about leaning into the negative, here are two other ways of thinking about it. First, the elephant in the room does not disappear because you do not acknowledge it. Do not let your client think about the lack of recognition of the elephant after you have finished your conversation. Second, the bad news and the emotional pain is coming no matter what. It is far better to warn them to soften the blow of the comment ahead of time and warn them than to give it to them as a surprise. Harry Houdini never died from gut punches he knew were coming. He died from an unexpected stomach punch.

Consequently, here are some phrases that may be useful to have in your back pocket or copied in your notes and reviewed on a regular basis:


This might sound like…

This is going to sound like…

You probably are going to think/feel/sense that…

Admitting the Negative:

  • … I am not listening to you
  • … I am disregarding what you are saying to me
  • … that it is rude that I am continuing this conversation when you have indicated a lack of interest
  • … that I am only focusing on what happens to the minority of people who are disabled as opposed to the majority who never become disabled
  • … that I am wasting your time with this conversation
  • … that disability is just a waste of time because you are never going to become disabled


  • … would it be a problem to clarify your expectations regarding the premium?
  • … would it be terrible to ask what you think the odds of disability are?
  • … would you mind if I asked how long you think the application process will take?
  • … it seems like you think this premium is for the rest of your life. How long do you think you would pay disability premiums?

It sounds scary to admit all the negatives. When you first try it, it may feel uncomfortable. With practice, you will feel very confident with it after seeing the positive reactions and outcomes you get from clients and when you use it in real life. By doing so, your clients will experience the conversation as much more respectful and empathetic as you navigate their true feelings and ideas about long term disability.

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  • Have any specific questions about the concepts or ideas in this article series or do not think it would be a bad idea to learn more about how to have better conversations
  • Or how we can help your clients with acquiring the best life and disability policies for them

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