Steps to good communication
When having "money talks," combine good communication skills with these problem-solving steps:
- Acknowledge that a problem exists. Get feelings out in the open.
- Identify the real problem. Money issues are often emotionally charged. Organized, written records give objective information.
- Discuss only the identified problem. Keep personalities, past complaints or other problems out of it.
- Brainstorm alternatives. List all possible actions/solutions, no matter how ridiculous. Withhold comments until all ideas are on the table.
- Discuss each alternative and agree on a possible solution. Write it down. A compromise may be the best or only solution, but everyone should feel their wishes were considered.
- Support the solution. Identify and avoid obstacles. Recognize necessary sacrifices. Whose support do you need?
- Keep communication open while working out the solution. Each person needs to feel understood, appreciated and loved.
Many families are challenged when it comes to agreeing about money.
It takes time, effort and effective communication to get on the same money track. If your dollar discussions escalate to shouting matches or come to abrupt halts, it's time to change your approach.
The goal of communication is understanding, not necessarily agreement. This requires good listening. During a disagreement, do you plan your defense instead of listening? Does your mind wander? Do you tune out if a subject is hard to understand?
Listen for key points and ask clarifying questions. Acknowledge everyone's feelings and priorities without judgment. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you will have different ideas about money.
The words you choose and your tone of voice can fuel or diffuse an argument. Avoid giving orders or advice, making threats, moralizing, blaming, criticizing, name-calling and making fun of someone.
Bite your tongue if you find phrases like these spewing forth:
"If you don't stop buying clothes ..."
"Your smoking is expensive and disgusting ..."
"You can't even balance the checkbook ..."
"You are such a tightwad ..."
Did you notice all the "you-messages" above? Instead use "I-messages," which focus on you and your feelings. I-messages have three parts:
"I feel ...": Make a clear statement of how you feel.
"... when ...": Name the specific behavior or event that causes you to feel that way.
"... because ...": Say why the behavior or event upsets you.
For example, replace "You never record your checks" with "I feel irritated when checks aren't recorded because I don't want to pay for a bounced check."
But remember too, simply starting a sentence with "I" doesn't make it an I-message. For example, "I think you should pack your lunch to save money," is not an I-statement. It is "advice" that blocks communication.
Finally, schedule regular "money meetings," even when all is well.
Find a place with few distractions and include all appropriate family members. Let each one express feelings, wants and needs without interruption or criticism.
People who feel heard are more likely to abide by the decision.
Source: Ohio State University Extension
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column runs in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month. Contact: 770-535-8290.