In this unprecedented pandemic, we are each learning new means of survival and resilience. The challenges we are facing come from a variety of fronts: physical, emotional, familial, financial, and more. When our daily lives are interrupted, even for a short time, the consequences can be difficult; when the interruption continues for significant amounts of time, the consequences can be devastating.

I spoke with a woman this week who had been laid off from her job in the restaurant industry. She’s 55 years old and wondering what to do now that she has to start over and rebuild her life. Right now, she’s simply in survival mode making sure she has enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. Many of us can relate in some way to this story that resonates with millions right now.

Each of us has to decide how to get through the next days, weeks, or perhaps months given the uncertainty. Often, we don’t do this alone and need to communicate with our spouse, partner, or another loved one about the fears, anxieties, and worries we have surrounding our current financial state and future. Although I can’t give you the right words to say in this conversation nor can I provide you with the solutions you need for your specific situation, I can give you some good communication principles to use when talking about hard things. Here are my top five tips on how to have hard money conversations:

1. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN

Stephen Covey said it best: “Seek first to understand, then be understood”. That pretty much sums up step #1. Listen first before ever jumping on to respond. It’s critical that you truly listen to the other person and seek to hear how they feel about the situation before jumping in to solve the problem or offer your own solution. Many of us often think we are listening, but what we are really doing in our heads is already thinking of our response or how to correct the person talking to us. Everyone wants to be heard, even truly heard. Sometimes, when I get going too fast, my little girl will take my face in her little hands and say, “Mom, I have something to tell you”. This is my cue to stop what I am doing and really listen to what she is saying, not just the words, but the emotion and feelings that go along with it.

2. Sit or Stand Next to Each Other, Not At One Another

Couple holding hands looking at sunsetThis one sounds simple, but it makes a world of difference. When my husband and I have hard conversations, we’ve set some ground rules. We talk when both of us are awake (and not tired), and we make sure and sit next to each other if we are on the couch or at a table. Our favorite way to talk about hard things though is to go on a walk. We often hold hands and look forward together trying to really listen to one another. This body position allows both of us to open up and neither individual feels attacked or accused. Instead, we are walking forward together trying to find a solution to our current situation. I can’t recommend this technique enough. It really helps even the playing field for both partners and allows us to feel (and be) more connected as we work through things together.

3. Ask open-ended questions

This one seems obvious, but asking good open-ended questions takes practice and sometimes a lot of work. Instead of starting a sentence with “Do”, try using more open-ended words such as what, how, and why. These are some of my favorite open-ended starts: “What do you think about…” or “How do you feel about…”. One quick tip on this, though, is when you’ve asked your question, be silent and listen wholeheartedly to the response. Sometimes we get so busy in our heads crafting our response or the next question that we forget to really listen to the answer.

4. Don’t use “you” in a statement; use “I” instead

I’ll be honest; this one is tough for me. When communicating about hard things, it’s difficult to not place blame elsewhere, often on my spouse. Instead of using the word “you” though, try using phrases like: “I feel…” or “I’d like …”. Remember, no one likes to be told what to do or be accused or blamed for something that happens; instead, consider the idea together and work on the conclusion together. Go ahead and give this a try. See if you can take “you” out of your vocabulary.

5. Be calm in your demeanor

Last, but not least, is the tone of voice you use when communicating. I don’t know about you (see there I go again), but I’ve sure heard my fair share of “watch your tone of voice” from my parents as a teenager. I’m sure many of you with teenagers can relate. It’s an easy trap to fall into to say the right words, but portray something completely different with our tone. Instead, work on being calm and not condemning.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Maya Angelou, which says:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It’s so important to make your spouse/partner/loved one feel how important they are to you, regardless of the hard times you are going through. I hope these 5 communication tips help you through this difficult time and for the many seasons ahead.