Talking about money is tough. Many of us were raised to think of it as a taboo subject. Once, after suffering some playground insults about my hand-me-down clothes and sneakers with holes in the toes, I asked my father how much money we had. He was instantly insulted and told me it was none of my business. I felt the hot flush of embarrassment. I never asked again.
Lots of us have feelings of shame around talking about our financial health. My wealthier friends often feel they need to keep their success under wraps or they’ll be considered braggarts. I’ve been a single mother on social assistance and I certainly felt uncomfortable talking about my financial struggles. I felt inferior, despite my crafty success in supporting myself and my child on less than $1000 per month.
After ten years of single motherhood, I met a wonderful man and got married. With two of us pulling the financial load together, we managed to create some savings. I had always had a dream to own my own home, so I worked up a plan for us to buy a condo and sprung it on my husband. He dismissed me without much discussion. He quoted views from his university class in economics, telling me real estate was a waste of time and we’d be better off investing the money in stocks. The conversation quickly devolved, with me in tears and him silently stewing. I felt like he was ignoring my dream and he felt that I was letting my emotions lead me down the garden path. We slept with our backs to each other for a week.
“Had I started differently, preparing him for the conversation, asking if he was willing to talk, and being clear about the purpose of my goal, we likely could have avoided that drama.”
The thing is, we were really talking about two different things. I was talking about a lifestyle dream, and he was solely focused on rates of return and financial reward. It took us months to actually get to the heart of the matter for each of us because we were both so triggered. We were afraid of each other’s reaction. When I was finally able to communicate my real estate dreams, and he understood it wasn’t entirely a move to bolster our bottom-line, his attitude completely changed. We eventually bought a condo, and I am happy to say it was a great investment! In the end, we both got what we wanted, but we travelled a needlessly bumpy road to get there.
“Starting a potentially difficult conversation with kindness is powerful.”
Asking the other party if they are willing to talk about the issue at hand can set the tone for a productive discussion. It acknowledges that the subject is delicate and that they may not want to discuss it. Having one’s fears addressed right off the top by giving the other party the choice to opt-out can empower them to continue. Maybe they say no. That’s OK, too, because it’s still a step forward. The “no” allows for a little more probing. If you can discover why they aren’t willing to talk, you can gain insight that will help you get to the heart of the matter.
I wish my father had been more willing to talk to me about money when I was an inquisitive child, but I don’t blame him for responding the way he did. I poked him in the soft underbelly with no warning. He was working 12 hours a day to keep us fed and I’m sure he felt embarrassed by my question, as if I was accusing him of not doing a good enough job. I understand that now. I have learned that if we start with compassion, and create space for the tension to dissipate, our difficult conversations can be empowering and productive.
Are you willing?