Michelle is a financial advisor and the founder of MichelleAB, a lifestyle platform that enables change-makers to achieve financial freedom.
Social interactions in the workplace can be a minefield of taboo topics. While some topics are simply off-limits, many of these walls have come down. But there’s still one topic that often remains in the taboo category: money.
And for some leaders, the fact that money remains a taboo topic can get in the way of team success or even organizational success. Organizations are made up of people, and people’s money stories can impact your bottom line.
So, why is it so hard for us to talk about money? Well, I’ve found it’s not talking about money that’s hard — it’s talking about our feelings about money that’s hard, which can help explain why even those with financial advisors can be afraid to talk about it. So, how can we make it easier? Strong leaders can help their teams by understanding the following big ideas.
Why is it so hard to talk about money?
Our feelings about money are often complex, to say the least. Whether you grew up among the “haves” or the “have nots,” you may have money baggage that you’ve been carrying around your whole life.
These money beliefs can sit at the core of our identity. And yet, no one teaches us how to have a conversation about them. But unless we learn how to interrogate our own money beliefs by excavating below surface level, they can impact many things, including our success at work.
Let’s consider an example. Suppose you’re leading a team of salespeople and you have recently promoted one highly skilled and experienced salesperson into a new role. This person has every attribute they need to be successful in the role, and yet they’re not closing big deals.
The problem might be a money mindset issue. If this salesperson has a money script playing on a loop in their head that says, “Rich people are arrogant and entitled,” they may have a hard time selling to whomever they perceive as rich.
Leaders sometimes overlook mindset challenges when evaluating business performance, and employees may miss their own limiting money beliefs because they aren’t conditioned to talk about money.
So how can you help yourself and your team get more comfortable talking about money? It’s a delicate balancing act. But I believe that the process of negotiation begins from within.
The process of negotiation begins from within.
To start seeing money as a tool, it’s important to learn to negotiate with your own feelings about money. Unfortunately, too many leaders don’t start here. Because we’re often programmed to see our net worth as our self-worth, financial incentives, like salary, plus a commission-based bonus, seem to be the only tool in the manager’s toolbox.
But if an employee’s job performance is being dragged down because of mindset issues such as feeling like they “aren’t enough,” then financial incentives may not motivate them. Instead, leaders should have open conversations about individuals’ preferred mode of incentive (and I suggest reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive for more on this). Consider making this part of the interview process when hiring new employees.
Leaders can also start conversations about developing an abundance mindset, rather than falling prey to a scarcity mindset around money. This can help your employees develop both personally and professionally.
Admitting we need help thinking about money, clarifying our thoughts and managing ourselves in and out of the idea of opening up is the hardest part of talking about money.
But leaders can encourage their employees to start with these three steps:
1. Discuss early and often: Explain your company’s compensation, raise and bonus structure clearly. When money conversations are a regular part of check-ins with employees, they’re less likely to be surprised or have a bad reaction to a decision about promotions or raises.
2. Communicate the employee’s value: While a bonus or a raise can be validating, it’s important to also take the opportunity to express how much you value their contributions to the company.
3. Expect emotion: Talking about money can make people emotional, so prepare yourself for a strong reaction. Acknowledge the employee’s feelings and listen to their reasoning, but stand firm if needed.
Finally, keep repeating this process. In the end, talking with your team about money will be easy. You’ll know how.