Last year, I took a long break from posting, in part because I was working on other projects (finishing off my first novel manuscript, yay!). But it was also in part because I felt sick of talking.
Specifically, I was sick of talking about money to people who don’t want to listen.
If you have someone in your life who doesn’t want to hear it when it comes to money (or if you yourself don’t!) read on!
If you’re finding someone doesn’t seem to be listening, I think it’s worth asking three questions:
- What are you talking about?
- How do they react?
- What is it they’re ignoring?
What are you talking about?
There are many reasons communication breakdown can occur. But if you’re interested in working out why someone isn’t responding in the way you’d like when it comes to talking about money, it pays (pun intended!) to start by considering exactly what you’re talking about.
In my experience firstly planning for and subsequently living out our financial independence (FI) dreams over the last almost decade, there are two reasons people might react negatively to money-related topics:
- They have a phobia of talking about money in general. They might feel judged, inadequate, or uncomfortable. And these feelings aren’t limited to ‘poor’ people, or those who are ‘bad’ with money. Those on good wages, especially women, who are capable money managers, are often uncomfortable talking about money too. Especially if they have a male partner they out-earn. If you’re just trying to talk about how much money to spend on coffee or whether the electricity bill needs paying or which savings account has the best interest rate at the moment, and your interlocutor is shutting you down, this may be the reason.
- They are challenged by your ‘unconventional’ world view. If you’re talking about financial independence and early retirement and savings rates of 90%+, you might be making your interlocutor feel incredulous (‘surely that’s not possible!’), inadequate (‘I can’t do that!’) or even outraged (‘I didn’t know I didn’t have to be a wage-slave for life!’). And all of those emotions can lead one to feeling very uncomfortable, and wanting to end the conversation.
How do they react?
When we say someone ‘isn’t listening’, it can mean various things.
Sometimes, people don’t want to listen (or talk!) at all. They shut down the conversation, or even tell us to shut up, or simply walk away. Usually, I believe, their reluctance to talk about the topic comes from one of the two factors above.
If they won’t engage with you on even the simplest of topics about money (and assuming you’re being a perfectly polite and reasonable communicator otherwise!) it may be that your interlocutor feels anxious talking about money.
If they won’t engage with you on more ‘extreme’ topics to do with money (and again, assuming you’re being perfectly lovely otherwise!) it may be that your ideas are pushing them too far, at least for the moment.
But there’s a third category as well, which is not explained by either of the above two factors. Sometimes, our friends and relatives do (at least appear to!) listen to us. But then, they show no evidence of having done so. That is, they politely hear us out, but then act in a completely contrary way.
Once you’ve identified what type of listener (or non-listener!) you’re dealing with, we can consider some better communication strategies.
(those who have a phobia of talking about money and don’t want to hear it)
One of the reasons the topic of money makes so many people uncomfortable is that it is related to power, self-worth, and self-esteem. How we think and feel about money is tied to the experiences we have had throughout life, as children, in the education system, at work, and in relationships.
If money was a source of arguments in your household as a child, you may grow up believing that avoiding the topic of money is best.
If you were made to feel as if you’re no good at maths at school, that may affect your confidence – and your willingness to talk about finance – later on.
If you don’t earn as much money as your partner, or as your parents expect you to, or simply, as much as you would like – or enough to make ends meet – you may feel anxious discussing money.
If you and your partner can’t agree on what money means and what you should do with it, you may not feel like discussing it – with anyone.
What do you mean?
Money means different things to different people. For some, money represents security. For others, it represents freedom. If you’re describing money as a way to obtain freedom, it may be threatening for someone who is used to viewing it as a way to obtain security. For example, if you’re suggesting saving money so your friend can have a ‘gap year’ mid career, or even retire early, this might feel threatening to someone who feels the need for a stash of cash and a constant supply of income in case of an emergency. Equally, if you are suggesting setting up an emergency fund of money not to be touched unless there is a dire need, like a car breakdown or a medical mishap, this can threaten someone who feels the need for a holiday on the horizon to get them through a tough work year.
If you’re trying to talk to someone like this, especially a partner, you might like to watch my video on the taboo of talking about money for strategies.
If you’re struggling to get your own family on the same page, you might enjoy the brand-new podcast I’ve just uploaded to an earlier post.
those who are challenged by your world view, and don’t want to hear it
It’s difficult for any of us who understand the transformative potential of financial freedom to give us all sorts of freedom in life to just shut up about it. Even when others don’t want to listen.
If you’re on the pathway to financial freedom, it can become an obsession, something you talk about all the time. If you’ve already made it, you want others to have what you have – and that’s something I’ll post about next time. How financial freedom can be achievable for EVERYONE.
But that doesn’t mean everyone wants to hear about it.
I’ve written before on Enrichmentality about the ‘taboo’ of talking about money. If you’re struggling to talk to a loved one about money, you might like to read But when it comes to more ‘extreme’ money topics, like financial independence, early retirement, having a savings rate of over 90%, living off your investments, quitting your job, and so on, there’s something else at play, too.
I believe one of the main reasons people shut down money conversations is because they just aren’t ready to hear something yet. They have too many mental barriers and blocks in the way, that tell them how the world ‘should’ be. If you go in too strong and start smashing too many of these preconceived notions, you may make them feel not only uncomfortable, but perhaps even defensive.
La-la-la-la- I’m not listening!
Recently I was talking to a friend who is well on her own way to financial independence and a life of travel, family, freedom, and creativity. She told me of a discussion she had with another friend about financial independence. And her friend’s reaction.
In an almost eerie echo of pretty much every conversation I had with former colleagues and friends prior to achieving our own financial independence, her friend reacted with a mixture of incredulity and irritation, it seems. A litany of reasons why what we have achieved, and what my friend is well on the way to achieving, cannot be achieved.
When my friend held up my husband and I as an example of someone who has done exactly what she is striving to do, her friend asked ‘Well, do they have kids?’
Turn excuses into reasons
As I’ve posted about here on Enrichmentality before, having kids and having financial freedom are in no way mutually exclusive. Indeed, one of my financial independence (FI) heroes, Mr. Money Mustache, not only has a son, but his son was a major motivating factor for him to retire early.
Even more ridiculous, my friend – the one working towards FI herself – has kids! And her kids are very much a part of her FI plan.
If you are trying to talk to someone that comes up with excuses as to why their situation is special or different, see if you can help them see it another way – as a motivator rather than something that will forever hold them back.
Is there something else going on?
Sometimes people’s reactions can be traced back to something that’s going on in their life that makes them not want to hear about your ‘success’. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you or that they disrespect your opinion and expertise.
A couple experiencing fertility issues or loss may not want to spend a lot of time at their friends’ baby showers or kids’ birthday parties. It doesn’t mean they aren’t happy for you, or that they wish your children ill. It may simply be too painful for them to process at the moment.
Likewise, a friend who has just lost their job or is experiencing financial difficulties may want to tune out of any money-related discussion, especially if it seems like you have all the answers (and all the luck, in their view).
A difficult paradox
Naturally, it is often when our friends and family are in the most financial trouble that we most want to reach out and help them. And, unfortunately, that’s often when (at least some personality types) are most likely to want to shut down and turn away – or even lash out at those they think are more fortunate, often without realising the work you’ve put in to get where you are.
Unlike someone who wants to skip a few baby-related events for their own sense of well-being, a person who doesn’t want to discuss money when they really need help is doing themselves a disservice. And as a friend, that can be hard to watch
If you have a friend who is undergoing some financial crisis, you might try to relate their problems to ones you’ve experienced. Let them know that it hasn’t necessarily been all smooth sailing for you either.
Timing is crucial
Try to time your discussion right. Sometimes, what we most need is someone to hear us out. We can do a lot of the problem solving and research on our own, or with help, once we’ve had a chance to vent about whatever problem we’re facing.
Other times, your friend may not be going through any identifiable crisis, but they may still be upset or irritable when you want to talk about money, or they may ask you for advice, and then totally ignore it.
Actions speak louder than words
those who are happy to listen but don’t take on board your advice
It’s frustrating to spend a lot of time and effort trying to help someone to no avail. But this is especially true when someone has specifically asked for your help. There are few things more frustrating than being asked for advice, spending literally hours or even days researching and explaining, and then having all of that effort seemingly go to waste when the person turns around and does the exact opposite to what you recommended. Or, they just do nothing.
Subjective vs Objective advice
Of course, there are situations in which advice is subjective. ‘I don’t like that dress on you,’ ‘I don’t think that shirt suits you,’ and so on.
If someone doesn’t take my subjective advice, I don’t take it to heart. Opinions are subjective. If you find that dress comfortable, you should wear it. If you like that shirt, likewise.
But other advice is more objective. It’s based on verifiable facts and figures. For example, I might suggest you open a savings account that will cost you nothing, but give you 2.5% more interest than you’re already earning. Or recommend that you have a house you’re considering buying inspected by a professional. Or suggest that it is more cost effective to invest sums of at least $1,000 in the sharemarket rather than in bits and pieces, given the costs involved in buying and selling.
This kind of advice is based on facts – of mathematics, of the law, of the stock exchange, and so on.
And paradoxically, I think that’s why I find it so hard to accept when someone doesn’t take my advice when it’s objective.
If you dismiss my personal taste, in fashion, decor, literature, food, or any other subjective field, I’m okay with that.
But when someone dismisses my advice on important matters that affect them negatively, I find that difficult to deal with.
The reason I find it so hard to deal with is that I find it difficult to understand.
Are you sure you’re right?
Of course, it is possible I misunderstood the bank’s advertisement for the savings account, or the laws regarding contracts on real estate don’t work the way I thought they do, or the rules have changed regarding buying and selling costs on the ASX. If that’s the case, not only do I understand someone not taking my advice, but I’m very glad they did their own research and decided against it.
But in cases where I am right, I have to ask…
Why do people make decisions that aren’t in their best interest?
We can all do this at times. Who among us has not ignored someone else’s advice – or even gone against our own best judgement?
Sometimes, it’s because of a desire to be independent. We rebel against what we’re told or expected to do. But I don’t think this is always the case – especially when it comes to big, important life decisions.
Sometimes, it’s because we’re dealing with conflicting sources of advice. We have multiple people telling us what to do, and we don’t always know who to trust. I’ve written before about the issues that can arise when power and money are involved in giving opinions and advice. If you’ve offered advice to someone and they haven’t taken it, consider if this might be why. You may be right, and the person you advised may even know that, but they may have been pressured, either consciously or subconsciously, to adopt a different behaviour.
If you’re trying to talk to someone who seems happy to listen, but then makes decisions that aren’t in their interest, it can help to analyse what other factors might be influencing them. If you’re interested in the undue influence family members can have over one another when money gets involved, you might like to listen to my podcast on lending money and the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’. Or, if it’s so-called ‘experts’ you’re concerned by, try the brand-new podcast on avoiding bad advice.
What is it they’re ignoring?
If you’re making a relatively simple recommendation that your friend ignores, that’s one thing. But if you’re trying to get them on board the financial independence bandwagon, and they aren’t responsive, it’s important to remember that you probably didn’t always feel this way either.
You’ve seen the light. You know what is possible. You’ve escaped the cave. It can be hard to see your friend still stuck in that old paradigm, so you want to get them out.
But it’s a realisation they’ll have to come to on their own. All you can do is be patient, and try and lead by example.
Shouting into the abyss
Try to remember just how revolutionary the idea is that you don’t have to work until you’re old and sick, or worse – dead. It’s not how we were raised, how the media tells us things work, or what the government says either.
If you live a life that is even slightly unconventional, you’ll come across people who are angry and lash out at you for being different.
Often, I think it’s because they wish they could have done the same, but didn’t realise it was even possible.
These are people who’ve spent their whole lives playing by the rule book – went to college, got a good job, got married, raised kids – and now you’re telling me I didn’t have to do any of that? That I could be travelling the world? That I could not work? That I could be writing a book? That I could be carefree? That’s not fair!
There will always be people who are angry and upset that they have ‘wasted’ their lives doing what they thought they ‘should’ do instead of what they wanted to do. And unfortunately, they’ll often take it out on the messenger instead of themselves, or more appropriately, the system. At least at the beginning.
Let it go!
Perhaps the best advice I can give is that over-played tune, ‘let it go’. If you give someone advice, and it’s well researched and well thought through, and they either don’t want to hear it, or they ask more questions and act all interested, but ultimately ignore it, don’t take it personally. You’ve done the best you can, and if your friend or loved one isn’t ready or willing to take your advice on board, that’s not on you. Continuing to push them is unlikely to help the situation.
By all means, try to analyse why your advice was not effective. Was there anything you could have changed? Made a stronger argument through more research? Made yourself easier to understand?
Or is it something to do with your listener? Was it a bad time for them? If so, perhaps you can try again later, or wait for them to come to you. Are they being influenced by others? This can be especially difficult to deal with, if you have family members lending people money or otherwise exerting financial influence or control over them, and unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do. Or perhaps the person you were talking to is simply stuck in a rut, or prefers to take the path of least resistance? If this is the case, you can try actively helping them – like offering to set up a bank account or do your tax returns together.
Sow the seeds for an enriched future
If, after you’ve completed your analysis, you realise there’s nothing you could have done to improve your advice-giving, let it go. Keep leading by example, and perhaps, one day, when they’re ready, they’ll come to you They won’t always take your advice, but simply giving people an option to wake up is valuable in and of itself, and you’ll never know how, perhaps years down the track, your words may positively influence someone to make a choice they simply aren’t ready for today.