How to Handle Awkward Money Conversations

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Welcome to “Talk RX with Doctor Neha.” This week, I have been getting questions about money. While I am not a professor of money, I do know that communication around the subject of money can be awkward and get a little bit crazy. So we’re going to talk about communication around money.

Money can be the source of stress and a lot of exploding, shutting down and people not feeling valued. The first thing I want you to remember about communication around money is first of all that money is not money. Money is about an exchange of value. Someone is providing you with a product, a service, something of value and you’re saying, “For this, I’ll give you this green stuff [or whatever color it is in your country].” It’s about an exchange of value. A lot of times the problem comes in when it’s about valuing myself, so my services what value do I want to put on them. If I put this value on them, will somebody else tell me that it’s not enough, or I’m not that valuable? Money can bring up fear inside yourself especially if what you’re trading is a service or a good that you’ve created. It can bring up a lot of emotions around times when you didn’t feel valued. If the exchange of money or the communication around money has to do with you and a service you provide, make sure that you’re clear about the value of that and how you will feel valued.

The most recent situation for me is an exchange with a videographer. I did some video work and upfront I tend to ask, “How much will this cost? Can you please tell me, so that we’ve agreed upon it ahead of time.” We agreed on a number ahead of time, and then in our exchanges, I noticed that he was writing things like, “I’m working really hard on your project, the project’s taking a little bit longer than I expected.” I wrote him back and said, “Thank you so much. I appreciate you. Thank you for your work.”

Now, I’m not a videographer. I’m a doctor and a communication expert; I know my field, but I don’t know his. When we ended up connecting again, there was an awkward and strange exchange between us because, he wrote an email saying that I didn’t appreciate him, and I didn’t know what it took to do the job he did. (By the way I don’t, so he’s right in that regard.) He also kind of got upset and was writing, “We just need to finish this.”

I got really curious and asked if we could pick up the phone and actually have a conversation with one another. (At a point like this, you might find, that if people feel awkward, they might say things like, “Don’t give me those fancy communication tools, don’t pull psychology on me; don’t try to trick me,” whatever it is. It’s not actually that somebody is trying to trick you; it’s actually that when you have a conversation now, you’re actually in real time with someone. They are not just sending you text, or well formulated emails, you’re actually in this exchange which can feel uncomfortable for them.) You’ll be happy to know that when we had our discussion, what came out of it was, he said, “You should have known that this was going to cost more and take longer because I told you I was working really hard on your project, and that it had taken a little bit longer than I thought.” What I know is that in my business often I may quote something and it does take me a longer than what I thought, but for me, I use that information in my next round of quoting to quote higher than I did the last time. I don’t usually go back and change the quote that I’ve already given. That’s my practice. So what I said to him is, “What I want is for you to feel fairly paid, and I’d like to have a discussion around what that is.”

We didn’t have to go back and forth in all these emails—all we needed to do was have a direct conversation. I said, “All I needed to know is, ‘Hey Neha, this is how much I quoted you. It’s taking me this much longer to do it. Would you be willing to pay me this much more money?’” That would have been a direct conversation. It was so adorable because what the videographer then said, “Oh, I guess I’m not really being very direct. I thought you should have gotten it when I said that [it was taking me longer] and you should have just offered me more money.” I wouldn’t have even attempted to do that because I don’t have a frame of reference for the world of videography.

Make sure if the discussion you’re having around money has to do with you and your services or somebody else’s services and things are starting to get a little strange, or awkward, just call it out. Pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I noticed you said this in a text, or this in an email. I noticed we agreed on this. Has something changed?” Trust yourself that you can handle the conversation. If you’re open and a good listener, you’ll be able to come to an agreement where you both feel valued. If you plan to use this person in the future for this skillset, or you plan to have this customer that you’re interfacing with in the future, make sure that you take that extra step to keep the relationship solid.

I hope some of these tips were helpful for you around money, whether you are the one putting a dollar value on what you provide to others, or whether you’re in an exchange where somebody else is providing a service to you, don’t let money ruin your relationships. Thanks everybody for listening and I’d love to hear your thoughts and your experiences of awkward money scenarios, and I’ll be happy to help you. Drop me a tweet at #askdoctorneha, or go to the comments and leave me your question.

Your Awareness Prescription

  1. Pick up the phone or meet in person to talk about money.
  2. When an agreement about money has changed, instead of getting furious, get curious about what happened.
  3. If you’re struggling in a money conversation, ask yourself, “Beyond the money, what do we each value in this exchange?”

To making your money conversation work for you,

Doctor Neha logo

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  • Scott Casella

    Hi Dr. Neha!
    Wow that is so applicable to what I’ve been dealing with lately! My boss was on an extended vacation and as a funeral director, I have to deal with families in a very difficult time. Of course, we provide services and goods to families, and this is not always easy especially when there is a sudden death. Now, I know how I would have handled the situation, after being in the field of the funeral profession for over 25 years. However, working for someone else who has a certain way of doing things can create big problems. I’d be happy to elaborate on this more, but I don’t have a Twitter account. Nonetheless, thank you for sharing! I really get a lot out of what you have to say.
    Scott Casella

    • drnehasangwan

      Thanks for sharing Scott. Would love to know what you would have done differently? Appreciate you sharing.

      • Scott Casella

        Well, for starters, I would try to incorporate a more lenient payment policy in situations where folks don’t have the money upfront to pay for funeral expenses. I have worked for small family funeral homes and for corporately owned funeral homes. The corporately owned homes often times are more expensive in their service fees, and they often times have a stringent payment policy. Ideally, I’d like to be able to sit down with the families when they’re making the arrangements and not have them have to worry about the financial aspect. When I first started out in this profession, people either paid with cash or insurance policies and it never seem to be an issue. Yes, every once in a great while you would have an unpaid bill, which meant that we would actually lose money, because we pay for third-party expenses on behalf of the family. These days, however, it’s a whole different ballgame, especially with direct cremation. You see it advertised everywhere especially in Florida and a lot of the retirement states: $995 cremations. So these days, families come in and either expect to pay that amount or even less, or worse – they want the government to pay for it all! Anyway, it’s all sort of a moot point for me because I’m going to be making a career change very soon! Anyway, I’m not sure that I answered your question, but the video was certainly quite apropos! Thanks again, Dr. Neha!

        • drnehasangwan

          You’re welcome! Good luck.

          • Scott Casella

            Thank you!

  • Juliana Park, CFP

    Thank you so much for this wonderful message, Dr. Neha. As a money expert, I appreciate that you are talking about the communication around money! I love your advice to “trust yourself that you can handle the conversation.” I recently had an experience with my web developer who had given me a substantial bill and asked to be paid within a couple of weeks. I asked if I could pay him cash/check (saving him the 3% credit card fee) over 3 months and he firmly countered no. He wanted to be paid and would even be willing to absorb the transaction cost of taking a credit card. Instead of feeling defensive, I decided to talk to him directly and although I didn’t want to, I started by thanking him for his candor and honesty. I learned that he had his own people to pay and that was a stronger value to him than saving 3%. By communicating our different values, we were able to come to a mutual understanding. I ended up paying him fully within a month on the credit card and he was able to operate his business. Most importantly, we deepened our relationship with trust and understanding.

    Thank you!
    Juliana Park, CFP

    • drnehasangwan

      Juliana~
      What an incredible story! That’s exactly the power of staying curious and listening for what someone else values in order to create a bridge. Thanks for sharing…!