Dispensing Money Advice (or not) to “Help Resistant” Family and Friends
The holiday season is known for joyous celebrations of extended family members who may not see each other often. At least they are supposed to be joyous celebrations. Unfortunately, these holiday get-togethers are often catalysts for the emergence of dysfunctional behaviors which plague some families. There is something about the emotions and stresses associated with the Christmas season that can bring out both the best and worst of certain people in our lives.
Perhaps after a little adult beverage lubrication, family (and friends) will sometimes whine and complain to you about how lousy things are in their financial lives. You the listener are then caught in a potential trap: Do you ignore the complaints and appear to be insensitive? Or do you hand out financial advice knowing that it will be resisted or ignored?
I have written before about family finance meltdowns and responding to loan requests from family members. But what happens when you are confronted by a complaining family member or friend who could benefit from some real financial advice but is resistant to receiving it?
This brings me to something that I read this week at Oprah.com. Yes, you read that correctly. Mr. (Know-It-All) ToughMoneyLove found something informative in the Oprah domain. The article is “Dealing with Complainers who Resist your Help.” I don’t know anything about the credentials of the author but the article made a lot of sense to me.
To summarize, the author outlined three possible “loving it, leaving it, leading it” techniques for dealing with the frustrations induced by someone who loves to complain but hates actually getting advice in response to the complaints. I’ve adapted those concepts to the more specific area of giving financial advice to a whiny but “help resistant” family member or friend. See what you think.
1. The “Loving it” Response. This is what I would call the diplomatic “cop-out” technique. Let’s assume that a family member or friend is, say, complaining about being broke all of the time. Maybe you know this person quite well and from that you are certain that she is “broke all of the time” because she is a compulsive clothes shopper with a smokin’ hot credit card. You also know from past experience that this person is highly resistant to having that explained to them. So, your “loving it” response is along the lines of “wow that’s a problem but I’m sure you will know how to fix it.” Then you quickly move on to another topic without dispensing any advice at all. The complainer can’t justifiably be upset with this response because, after all, you expressed sympathy for her money problem followed immediately by a clear affirmation of the complainer’s ability to solve the problem on her own. Case closed.
2. The “Leaving it” Response. Also known as the “guy” response, I have to confess that I have used this technique without even realizing it. If this help resistant family member wants to tell you all about his ginormous credit card bills or escalating mortgage interest rate, you respond with something like: “Yeah, you’re in real trouble there. Say – I think the game is on TV now so I’ll catch up with you later.” Then you leave the conversation. You won’t get any sympathy points using this technique but it’s all about getting out of there ASAP and this works. Depending on how close you are to the friend or family member, you might throw in a little hug or pat on the back before you scoot. That might take some of the sting out of the whole episode. Not the huggy type? At least toss out a “Merry Christmas” before you walk away.
3. The “Leading it” (Constructive) Response. This technique is used when you believe that (a) your friend or family member has a correctible money problem and (b) there is still hope that he or she may actually be receptive to financial advice to address the problem. The key is finding out what kind of feedback the friend or family member is really looking for. So, you must “lead” that person towards revealing that need to you before you actually give any feedback.
Let’s assume that your family member is complaining to you about his car, it’s old, not running well, and he is thinking about replacing it with something new but money is tight. You are eager to explain to him that he should be looking not at new cars but at more affordable late model used cars. Your brain is telling you to blurt out something like “look moron, if money is tight it would be crazy for you to compound the problem by adding another car payment to your cash flow.” Not even Dr. Phil would like that blunt honesty. So resist the temptation. It’s time to bring out your more sensitive side. (I know – it would be hard for me too.)
Applying the “leading it” method, you gently tell this person that you feel bad for their situation and want to support them if possible. Then you “lead” that person by asking them what kind of help you can provide: “Do you want just my understanding of your problem? Advice on ways to pay for another car? Information on what kinds of cars would make sense for you? Tell me how I can help you with this problem?” Now the ball is back in their court and you are in good shape. Your help-resistant family member or friend might then say “well I need to do some more evaluating on my own but thanks for the offer.” Or perhaps you will have made a breakthrough and the come back will be “Sure – I would like to hear your ideas on how to replace my aging car with something more reliable.” Bingo! That’s when you can feel comfortable dispensing that “buy a used car” advice because you have led that person to telling you what they want/need to hear.
Note that these techniques are designed to generally protect your relationship with your friend or family member while minimizing your own frustration level that would be created by giving advice that would be resisted.
So thanks to Oprah.com for giving us these ideas. Maybe you will have an opportunity to apply them at an upcoming family event. If so, let Mr. ToughMoneyLove know how it goes.