Why It Is So Hard to Talk About Money

by | Dec 16, 2018 | *Financial Awakenings, Healthy Money Relationships, Money Psychology, Weekly Column

Do you have difficulty talking to people about money? Specifically, about their money or yours?

Here’s a quick test that will give you an amazingly accurate answer to that question: Ask the next five people you see how much they make and what they are worth, then share with them the same information about yourself. If you can do that with ease, you probably don’t have difficulty talking to people about money.

Of all those to whom I have suggested this test, hardly anyone has reported back that it was easy. Actually, most people encounter intense emotions just imagining doing the test. Very few complete or even attempt it.

That includes financial professionals. Many people will admit they find it difficult to talk about money, but few financial professionals will. After all, their profession is all about money, so how could they have trouble talking about it? Yet they do, when the money is theirs.

Research finds that most people have such difficulty talking about their money that they will pay to keep their salary a secret. According to an October 16, 2018, article by Jacob Passy in Market Watch, researchers at Harvard Business School and UCLA found that 80% of those surveyed would be willing to pay money to stop coworkers from receiving an email containing their salary information.

“Employees may be afraid to ask coworkers about their salaries because that may force them to reveal their own salaries, which they dislike,” the researchers said.

Why, regardless of our profession, do we dislike telling people what we make or how much we are worth?

To find out, try this quick exercise. Imagine asking the next five people you see to reveal their earnings and net worth and sharing your earnings and net worth with them. Then write down all the one-word feelings you can identify that this brings up. Next, write down the thoughts, beliefs, or reasons that come to mind that would keep you from asking or answering these financial questions. Don’t censor your responses, and keep writing until you have nothing else popping up.

You should now have a really good list of why you dislike talking about what you or other people earn and are worth financially.

Some of the common feelings are terror, panic, embarrassment, shame, guilt, shock, surprise, and anxiety.

Some of the thoughts are:

1. If I ask that, people will reject me and think I am a nutcase.
2. If people find out what I am worth, they will shame and reject me.
3. It’s too vulnerable to share financial information, I would rather talk about my sex life.
4. I am afraid of being hurt, rejected, and shamed if I ask someone about their finances
5. If people find out I don’t have much money, they’ll lose respect for me and take advantage of me.
6. If people find out I have a lot of money, they’ll lose respect for me and take advantage of me.
7. If they make more or are worth more than me, I will feel small and insignificant.
8. If they make less or are worth less than me, I will feel guilty and unworthy of having more.
9. People don’t like people who make more money or are worth more money than them.
10. A person’s net worth is equal to their self-worth.

Given the emotional weight of money as a topic, at your company Christmas party you may want to stick to talking about politics or religion. If you do want to spice things up and ask “The Money Question,” I would be interested to know about your experience.

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