Let’s face it, some things are just hard to talk about. Whether it’s talking about our relationship, sex, religion, politics, or health issues, some topics just make us uncomfortable. And for a lot of people, money is one topic they’d rather not discuss. It turns out, even with our children and our parents, we’d rather not talk about money. According to two surveys, 31% of parents say they aren’t talking to their kids about money and over 25% of adults say they have never talked to their parents about money management. But money is a vital part of our day to day lives and talking about it doesn’t have to be difficult. As with most things, difficult conversations get easier with practice. Here are five things to keep in mind when starting conversations about money and other uncomfortable topics.
When starting conversations about money and other uncomfortable topics, it can seem easier to just jump in…blurting out what is bothering you or what makes you feel uncomfortable to “get the ball rolling”. On the surface this may seem like a good approach. But you can catch others off guard and make them defensive. Instead, if you need to talk to someone about something that is pushing your comfort zone, it helps to warm up.
Different Types of Warm Ups
There are a few different ways that you can warm up and shift the conversation into difficult territory. First, you can start with small talk to ease into the conversation. Remember that you care about the person you’re talking to. Starting with small talk can seem like a delay but it lets you connect. This connection makes tough or awkward conversations easier. It shows that they are coming from a real place.
Another strategy you can use to warm up when starting conversations about money and other uncomfortable topics is to schedule the conversation. This technique works particularly well with money. Let the person you want to talk to that you’d like to chat about debt, savings, budgeting or whatever. But you’d like them to come ready to talk and don’t want to catch them off guard. Then find a time that works for both of you. It could be 30 minutes from now, or 3 days down the road. But giving the person a heads up allows them to get in the frame of mind to talk.
How This Can Work
Personally, I use the scheduling technique often with my husband. Not only are our work schedules sometimes different, but we also process information differently. I’m an external processor. I need to write out or talk out my feelings as I process them. But my husband is an internal processor. He typically sits with problems and thinks and feels his way through before he’s ready to talk. Giving him a heads up that we need to chat about our budget sometime over the weekend and to let me know when he’s ready is helpful for both of us.
Warming up to difficult conversations is important. It creates rhythm, rapport, and trust. Just like you wouldn’t go run a marathon without stretching first, get in the habit of warming up before starting difficult conversations. It will help you and the person you are talking to be more present and engaged. And it will help the conversation flow more smoothly.
Be Clear in Your Motives
Another thing you want to do when starting conversations about money and other uncomfortable topics is to be crystal clear in your motives. This is very important when discussing financial matters. Imagine if, out of the blue, your sister suddenly asks you if have a plan for your money when you die? With no context or prior conversation, your mind jumps to “what is she trying to get from me?” or “I bet she wants that set of China grandma left me.” That’s how our minds tend to work. We jump to conclusions and usually it’s a worst-case scenario.
Instead, what if your sister said “Hey, I know you talked about naming me guardian of your kids if something happens. Could we talk about how your finances are set up, so I’m prepared?” Here, even if you are uncomfortable talking about money, you understand why she’s having the conversation. The why is important. It changes the whole tone of the conversation. Being clear in your motives gives you a clear why and helps the other person understand. You aren’t having this conversation to be difficult, but rather to be prepared.
Being clear on your motives is especially important when talking to aging parents. These conversations can turn into a power struggle if you aren’t careful. Instead of trying to control the conversation, be up front. Let your parents know that understanding their financial situation gives you peace of mind, and you just want to know more about it. Being clear on your motives makes these difficult conversations easier.
Be Ok with Being Uncomfortable
I know the advice typically goes “fake it until you make it”. But, when having conversations about money, or any other topic that makes you feel uncomfortable, I think this advice misses the mark. Instead, when starting conversations like this, be ok with being uncomfortable. If you’re uncomfortable, chances are, the person you’re talking with is too. If you put on an act to seem at ease, you might make the conversation harder. The person you’re talking to may feel even less like talking because they think they are the only one who’s out of their element. None of us like being uncomfortable. But it is easier to face tricky conversations when we feel on equal footing.
Instead of pretending to be comfortable, acknowledge the discomfort. Letting the other person know that this topic is a bit difficult for you or makes you feel uncomfortable creates genuine connection and trust. It also allows them to express tough feelings they might be having around the same topic. It’s hard to be vulnerable but leaning into the discomfort leads to honest conversation. When you find yourself starting conversations about money and other uncomfortable topics, embrace the discomfort! It changes the tone of the conversation.
This should go without saying, and really is a rule for all conversations, but when tackling uncomfortable topics always do so with respect. This means having respect for the person you’re talking to, the subject matter, and yourself. Like leaning into the discomfort, showing up in a respectful way allows you to have genuine conversations about important issues. Respect takes many forms when having tough conversations. It’s listening without interrupting, giving the other person space to express themselves, keeping the conversation in the present not rehashing old arguments, or honestly trying to see the other person’s point of view.
When it comes to money conversations, respect also means understanding that not everyone’s view of money is the same. Each of us has an extremely personal relationship with money. And this relationship is built over a lifetime. When you are talking about finances with a loved one it is helpful to understand your different views.
Bonus Tip: Truly Listen
In the words of my mother (she taught preschool) “Use Your listening ears”. It is so important when starting these difficult conversations to show up and be a listener. So often we listen to others with the intent of forming our response. This means we aren’t truly hearing them. So, if you’ve taken the time to sit down and talk money (or any other difficult topic) with someone you care about, listen! Listening starts with eye contact. So be engaged with the person you are talking to. And remember, it’s ok to pause when they are done to collect your thoughts. You don’t have to respond immediately.
The More You Do It, the Easier it Gets
As with most things in life, starting difficult conversations about money and other uncomfortable topics gets easier the more you do it. Eventually, talking to your partner, parents, or kids about money will be like talking about the weather – just another conversation. And I think that’s the ultimate goal. These conversations are uncomfortable because we avoid them…but we avoid them because they are uncomfortable. It’s a vicious circle. The only way to break the circle is to start having the tough conversations. Initially, you will feel uncomfortable. But the peace of mind that comes from having these conversations is worth it. These conversations keep you on the same page as those you love, help you make plans, and allow you to reach your goals. Just remember, our comfort zones are great, but that’s not where the growth happens!
Sometimes, these conversations are difficult because of our own stress and anxiety about a topic. If you can’t talk to others about money because it causes you too much stress, check out my blog post The First Step Towards Eliminating Financial Stress.
If you want to talk to someone about your money to get yourself on the right track, financial coaching could be a good next step. Set up a free 30-minute clarity call here to learn more.