Money is one of those conversation topics that you’re told not to bring up at a family dinner, or a party with friends, or drinks with coworkers.
But the fact is that money is a topic that weighs heavily on Americans’ minds.
And sometimes we just want some advice from a familiar face as opposed to a financial expert.
Daniel Post Senning from the Emily Post Institute, says that finance falls into the most personal tier of the three-tier conversational framework he teaches.
“The first [tier] is safe small talk territory, anywhere, anytime, anybody: sports, the weather, celebrities, morning traffic,” Senning explains.
“Tier two is potentially controversial; people have strong and different opinions, so you want to be careful with religion, politics, and dating or your love life,” he continues.
“Tier three is the most personal, and the mnemonic for remembering it is FF: family and finance. And that’s the area of conversation that you want to be the most careful with.”
Here’s are the steps Senning suggests taking when discussing finance in conversation with family, friends, or coworkers.
1. Determine your audience.
Senning says that people will fall into one of two categories when it comes to conversations about money. “Someone might be looking for an apartment in Manhattan, or they might have just been foreclosed on, you just don’t know,” he explains. “Point being, some people really want to talk about this stuff, some people are not going to want to talk about it at all. So one of the general rules is that you don’t start talking with much detail until someone has opened the door.”
Senning advises introducing a topic and gauging your conversation partner’s response. For example, you could start by saying that you’re in the process of looking for an apartment or a new job, and see if the person you’re talking to starts to volunteer any information.
2. Don’t reveal too much too quickly.
Although Senning says it’s better to start the conversation by talking about your own situation as opposed to asking about someone else’s, he cautions against revealing too much detail. “You always say something about your own situation before you ask the probing question of someone else,” he says. “And the caveat — and this is where it sort of turns into a little bit of a dance — is that you don’t want to reveal too much because that can be perceived as indiscreet, if you’re just walking around talking about very personal details of your financial situation.”
3. Preface any personal questions.
If your conversation partner seems open to discussing their finances, and you decide to broach a personal money question, Senning recommends prefacing the question in a way that gives the other person a way out if they don’t want to answer. “If I was going to take a chance with a question and ask somebody how much they make — and if I’ve contexted that with talking about a job search, trying to figure out what’s a reasonable salary to ask for or negotiate for — I would preface it with ‘I know this is a personal question, if you’re not comfortable answering please don’t,'” Senning explains.
Senning adds that for questions as personal as these, you’ll want to make sure you understand the relationship you have with your conversation partner. The relationship should be secure enough that both of you know you share a confidence.
4. Keep a serious tone.
If you’re discussing something as personal as finances with someone, Senning points out that you’ll want to acknowledge how personal the topic is and let them know they can trust you. He advises using a more serious tone to communicate this. “You definitely want to let someone know they can trust you with some very personal information and that you don’t take asking that lightly if they haven’t volunteered it,” he says. “Nothing is so taboo that it can never be discussed, you just need to approach it with the seriousness it deserves.”
5. Avoid posting money details on social media.
Senning advises against using social media for money conversations, since you just never know who is going to see what you post. “What’s happening online is public and you really want to be extra aware in that environment,” he explains. “Even if you’re entirely comfortable sharing that information, just be aware of how indiscreet it is and that that says something about you also. So put up a new picture of the apartment you love, but don’t tell everyone how much you paid for it or what a great deal you got on it.”