Why Are Some Older Clients Grumpy and Negative?

Here are 10 reasons, along with approaches on how advisors can help improve their attitudes.

By Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders

People come in all shapes, sizes and ages. I know people who seem to be 35-year-olds inside 85-year-old bodies and I know people who are in decent health but waiting for the final curtain to fall. The second group often has a negative view about life in general. Why do they have that attitude?

Before we look at that question, I need to point out that my mission in life is to cheer those people up. My wife thinks I’m nuts. She thinks some people revel in being miserable. I think they need an attitude adjustment.

Why are some older folks grumpy and negative? Here are a few reasons:

1. The telephone has been hijacked by annoying calls.

Everyone gets comfortable with a level of technology. According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, 50% of people over age 55 are most comfortable with the phone, with e-mail coming in second at 20%. Older Americans lived through a time when a ringing telephone came with a sense of importance and immediacy. Unfortunately, most of the phone calls they get today are robocalls, surveys, people wanting to buy their house or scam calls. This upsets them.

Approach: You cannot protect them from annoying calls. You can suggest they stop answering the phone and let it take messages. They can review messages and return calls to people they know. You might notice robocalls hang up after about three rings. They could make a point of only answering after the fourth ring.

  1. Payment technology has moved on. They have not.

They prefer paying bills by personal check. Companies would prefer they use auto payments from their checking account. They feel companies deliberately make it difficult for them by stretching out the payment processing times and charging them late fees. Some companies apply a service charge if you choose to pay by check. This annoys them.

Approach: They should be able to pay through their preferred channel, as long as they pay on time. They need to realize that the mail is slower than it used to be. The USPS aims for delivery of first-class letters in 1 to3 business days. A small study showed, of 100 letters mailed, about half were delivered in the targeted time. Suggest they mail their payment in the day the bill arrives. That way they won’t forget. They can probably afford it.

3. Their technology comfort level has lagged.

They do not understand why young people sit in restaurants looking at their phones instead of talking with each other. They do not understand why people always seem to be plugged in. They felt a sense of accomplishment when they finally got comfortable with email! According to Pew Research, 86% of millennials use social media compared to 28% of the Silent Generation.

Approach: It is likely they aren’t sold on how the latest technology can benefit them personally. Suggest they buy a household device featuring Amazon’s Alexa. They can ask it questions about the time and weather, tell it to play music and research obscure facts. They might love it. You might even give it as a present and set it up for them.

4. They feel dress standards have fallen.

When they go shopping or travel on a plane, they remark that people look like they just rolled out of bed. They think back to a golden age in the past when they imagined men dressed in suits and ties all the time. People have written about this phenomenon often.

Approach: You might explain they cannot control the appearance of others, but they can control their own appearance. When you dress well, you often get compliments and respect. You are treated better in stores. If people are required to wear a uniform for work, dressing well is a sign of your respect for them. Your clothes must fit properly and be in good condition.

5. There is nothing good on TV anymore.

They do not “buy into” reality TV, dance competitions or violence on TV. They think back to the days when they watched their favorite programs. Why can’t they make them like that anymore?

Approach: They either stick their toe in the pool or they don’t. If they like police or legal dramas, those are still being made. No one is requiring them to watch talent shows. Are they aware their favorite classic TV series like “Perry Mason” and “Columboare rebroadcast, sometimes every day? Help them find the channels letting them return to the 1970s or 1980s.

6. They don’t recognize the names of movie and TV stars.

They feel they are being left behind. Their favorite stars have died or retired. They don’t recognize and connect with the new ones.

Approach: They should learn about continuity. It’s easier than you imagine. If they are sports fans, talk with them about their favorite teams. They will know who the star players are today. Talk about the James Bondmovie franchise. It’s been around about 60 years. Seven actors have played Bond.

7. Everything is so expensive now.

This is a familiar complaint. They are upset because restaurant and grocery prices have increased over time. They talk about the cost of their first house or their first car. They have conveniently forgotten how much their first computer cost.

Approach: It’s time to put things in perspective. Salaries were much lower then. In 1969, the year we put a man on the moon, the average household income was $7,005. In 2021, it was $67.463. Prices may have increased over 50-plus years, but income grew almost tenfold. You might talk about what the stock market has done over time.

8. They are falling apart.

They are angry because they cannot do what they used to do. They are thinking about their own mortality. They talk about the age of their parents when they died. They feel there are more and more things they cannot do.

Approach: Remind them the human body is probably one of the only things on Earth that can run for 100-plus years on its original parts. As long as your mind is intact and you don’t have a fatal disease, modern medicine can fix almost anything else. According to Harvard Medical School, between 1959 and 2014, U.S. life expectancy rose from 69.9 years to 78.9 years. You know good genes and access to quality medical care make a big difference. Also remind them to seek out companies that cater to the needs of an aging demographic. For example, the cruise industry understands the value of WOOFs (Well Off Older Folks) as a demographic segment and can help address mobility issues.

9. Their friends are dying off.

It upsets them because their social circle is shrinking. They feel they are going to more funerals.

Approach: You need to encourage them to get younger friends. They have an interest in spectator sports. They attend religious services. Their college has an alumni association. They have hobbies. These all draw across a wide age spectrum. Encourage them to connect with people sharing similar interests.

10. They feel the roads are filled with aggressive drivers.

When they go places, they find themselves being passed or the subject of honking. They find driving stressful but they do not want to give it up.

Approach: The problem might not be others are driving much faster, but they are driving slower. This is OK if you are in the slow lane, but not if you insist on driving in the passing lane at a sedate speed. Suggest they stick to the right lane and keep up with the general speed of traffic in their lane. Remind them turn signals are standard equipment on their car.

There are many reasons older people get angry and upset but their lives can often take a turn for the better if they make simple changes or adopt a different attitude. You, their advisor, can assist and encourage them with this transformation.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.


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