Question Framing and its Role in Retirement Planning

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Many advisors attribute their success to their ability to listen and to ask the right questions.  Knowing the questions to ask, and when and how to ask them, are at the heart of the retirement planning and relationship building process.

When helping a client prepare for retirement, for example, you probably ask clients when they plan to retire and how long they think they are going to live.  You may not have realized this, but the way the question is framed impacts the answer.

John W. Payne of Duke University, recently found that people would give significantly different answers about their longevity depending upon how the question is asked.

questionsPayne’s study participants gave themselves a 55% chance of living beyond age 85.  When the question was framed differently, their answers were far more pessimistic.  Study participants gave themselves a 68% chance of dying by the age 85, which translates to only 32% chance of living to age 85.[1]

In her Harvard Business Review Blog, “How to Frame a Question for Maximum Impact,” Melissa Reffoni suggests that we think about the metaphor behind the concept of question framing.

A frame focuses attention on the painting it surrounds. Different frames draw out different aspects of the work. Putting a painting in a red frame brings out the red in the work; putting the same painting in a blue frame brings out the blue. How someone frames an issue influences how others see it and focuses their attention on particular aspects of it.”[2]

By framing the question in the, “what age will you live to” context, you bring clarity to the retirement planning task.  Their attention is focused on life post-work, not when they are going to die.


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