How to Have Better Conversations About Money

5 min read
July 10, 2018

How to Have Better Conversations About Money


Money is one of the most difficult topics to discuss with others. This extends from our own internal dialogue around money, which is often largely negative, to the manner in which we converse about financial matters with family, colleagues, and friends.
This shows up in the home. Recent research suggests that though money is not the most frequent cause of marital distress, "marital conflicts about money were more pervasive, problematic, and recurrent, and remained unresolved, despite including attempts at problem solving." 
Additionally, according to another study, couples who disagree over money or financial issues once per week are 30% more likely to get a divorced than couples who disagreed only a few times per month (NYT).
If we can't discuss financial issues with our own partners, its no wonder that everyone gets weird when money comes up at a dinner party! 
At the end of the day, for our own personal and financial well-being we must learn how to better communicate about financial topics.   
One of my favorite books is Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg. It's a wonderfully written and practical guidebook for learning effective and respectful communication. After a recent re-read, I was struck by how helpful the communication framework proposed in the book would be to our financial lives and everyday interactions, transactional or otherwise. To that end, inspired by the book Non-Violent Communication and some Marshall Rosenberg quotes, here are five ways to effectively and non-violently communicate about money:

Practice Non-Judgment

According to the tenets of non-violent communication, judgment of others contributes to violence. When we talk about money, we must recognize how emotionally charged this topic is both for ourselves (as the listener and/or speaker) as well as for the one with whom we are communicating. Any perceived judgment will likely lead to your conversation partner shutting down and turning off. If you feel judgment arising within you, acknowledge it internally and then let it go.    

Avoid Opinions and Advice Giving

Often when we listen to another’s problems, our first impulse is to solve them.  This doesn't necessarily come from a bad place, a desire to help is indeed a good thing.  But it can keep us from true empathy or, worse, from understanding our own feelings that may be brewing underneath the surface. Most of the time, when someone is sharing an issue with you they are not asking for an opinion.  Rather, they are desiring a listener.  Offer that space if you can. If not, pleasantly excuse yourself. However, in conversation with another, it's usually better to ask the right question(s), allowing your conversation partner to come to their own conclusions, than to offer what you see as the correct answer. 

Clearly Acknowledge and Express Your Needs

According to Dr. Rosenberg, the main roadblock to getting our needs met is that we do not effectively communicate them.  Often, we are expressing judgments in place of our needs.  Instead, we should be stating our needs, which of course means that we have spent time ensuring that we are clear on our own needs, and making clear requests to another to help us meet those needs. Here's an example:"As a family with limited resources, I believe it’s in our best interest to stick to our pre-decided monthly budget.  When you spend 'x' amount of money without communicating with me prior it makes me feel unimportant, dismissed, and frustrated. It would be of service to me if we could reaffirm a budget and commit to communicating before large purchases.  Are you willing to do that?"After calmly and clearly stating your needs, offer space for your conversation partner to respond in a similar fashion.

Don't Worry What It Says About You

We are targets of an incessant chatter from the media regarding how we are defined by what we have and how much we make.  Don't listen to it.  Don't even hear it.  Sit down in a quiet place and think about what money means to you. Assess how you learned that.  Parents? Spouse? Television show?  Keep what serves you.  Acknowledge what doesn't and leave it there.  Repeat annually, or even more as necessary.

Clear Needs, No Diagnoses

Mr. Rosenberg believes that "when people hear needs, it provokes compassion. When people hear diagnoses, it provokes defensiveness and attack."  During the first couple years of my marriage, whenever my wife and I discussed a money-related issue, I found myself attempting to 'solve' the situation.  In my mind, I had figured out the underlying problem, and I presented what I viewed as the optimal solution. What happened? She shut down.  We got nowhere. Why? Because instead of listening to what she defined as her needs, I diagnosed the situation as I saw it.  Her voice was lost.  Ultimately we ended up right where we started; or worse, a few steps back. Don't diagnosis the problem for another.  Ask good questions.  Give them space to express their needs.  Then, receive the same, gently taking the space they offer to express your own needs.  Continue on from there.  

To End...

Money is up there with race, religion, and politics as one of the most emotionally-charged and difficult topics to discuss.  As a result, we are often unable to effectively communicate about money. This can be especially true when we are put in a stressful situation with a colleague, friend, partner, spouse, parent, or child where we may have conflicting points of views heavily funneled through years of emotion.To successfully manage our own ideas of financial well-being it is imperative that we build skills that allow us to effectively communicate about money to a multitude of important people in our lives.  The topic of money and personal finances can no longer be a taboo.  Ending that status starts here…non-violently, of course.


This article originally appeared on Trailhead Planners


Morgan RanstromAbout the Author
Morgan Ranstrom is a musician, a writer, a financial well-being facilitator, and a co-founder of Trailhead Planners, LLC. After years in the wealth management industry engaging with clients, family, and friends alike he realized that traditional financial planning doesn't go far enough. Personal finance isn’t just about a number or a few financial goals, it’s about aligning your money with your core values and deepest held aspirations so that you may truly live your best life. Achieving that end with his clients, and in in his own life, is exactly what led him to co-found Trailhead Planners, LLC. Morgan is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional, a CFA® charterholder, and a Registered Life Planner via the Kinder Institute of Life Planning. He’s released two studio albums of his own music (Spotify, iTunes) and is currently writing a book on how we can develop a more positive and purposeful relationship with money.


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