Financial discussions with our partners and other family members – about spending habits and budgets, long-term retirement plans or other money-related concerns – are necessary but often difficult conversations. We all have been faced at one time or another with thorny issues surrounding our financial well-being, and we often put off talking about such issues until we reach a crucial point or crisis. How can you diffuse the tensions surrounding your current finances so you can talk frankly, openly and honestly as you plan for your financial future? The Humphreys Group advisors recommend stepping back to look at the big picture before you get to specific money talk:
To prepare for a conversation about finances, first examine your financial backstory by asking yourself a few questions:
What do I specifically want to achieve with this conversation? Let’s face it: you won’t be able to address all of your financial issues and concerns in a single discussion. The more focused you can be about the financial topic you’d like to discuss, and the more concrete you can be about the possible ways to resolve your issue will help you establish a foundation that enables you to address other issues on a case-by-case basis over time.
What causes me to see financial conversations as a challenge? Perhaps you assume how a finance-related conversation with your partner or other family members is going to go before it even starts. Those assumptions may cause you to begin conversations already on the defense. Resolve to handle each conversation as its own event and work to stay in the “now.” By focusing on specific goals for a specific talk you’re less likely to be influenced by your pre-conceived notions about how it will play out.
What about my finances makes me emotional? What causes me the most worry and how do my concerns affect my conversation – my tone, my words, and even my body language? If you’re aware that your stress about finances is revealed in physical and vocal ways, practice having a calm and centered approach even before you engage with another person so that you wind up being less confrontational and more communicative about your concerns.
When you begin your conversation, keep in mind a few other things:
Be curious and inquisitive of your conversation-mate(s). Start talking by expressing your point of view and let them know you want to hear theirs before you begin tackling your shared financial issues and concerns. “I’d like to talk about” or “I need your help with something” are good ways to begin.
Acknowledge points of view that are not your own. Listen to what the other parties in your conversation have to say and don’t minimize the other party’s stance. Give them space and time to articulate their perspectives and acknowledge when something matters to them by noting “This sounds important to you.” You’ve done the homework on your own conversation style, now pay attention to their tone, word choices and body language for clues about how they’re feeling as you tackle the tough issues together.
Find places in the conversation to empathize and agree. Perhaps your key money concerns are somewhat different. Perhaps you are both focused on the same issues but are affected by them differently. Acknowledge that recognizing your shared financial concerns doesn’t mean your priorities line up about which ones to tackle first. By outlining the issues that exist and learning how each person feels about them, you can work together to prioritize which ones to address.
Breaks are allowed. If the conversation becomes too heated, agree to step away momentarily so you can center yourselves and begin again with a greater sense of calm and focus.
As with any art, conversations improve with practice. And progress often comes step-by-step. Individuals who are engaged and committed to the challenge of having difficult conversations about their finances are taking a first step to be proud of. Keep taking the steps to understand your own “financial issues backstory” and listen to what your conversation mate is saying about their money concerns so that over time you can brainstorm solutions and problem-solve together through conversations that are a little less difficult – and that ensure a mutually healthy financial future.