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|Not Even In The Land Of Unicorns & Rainbows!|
|Personal Finance - Conflicts|
|Written by Dave Hilton|
When you see certain combinations you just know- in most cases- it's just not going to turn out well: Klingons & Tribbles, Jedi & Sith, the Tau'ri & the Goa'uld, Doctor Who & Daleks, Autobots & Decepticons, He-Man & Skeletor and, a little closer to home- Relationships & Money! Get two people together for long enough & there's bound to be conflict at some point. It's just human nature. Conflict drives change- sometimes good, sometimes not so good. However, it takes time. When you've anchored yourself to a position or decision(s) and you're confronted- most people will either avoid the subject or defend to the bitter end.
That's why when I come across articles like Clint & Katy Davis's on the PerkStreet blog I just want to scream "KAAAAHHHHHNNN!"...no wait- that's what I scream when I'm pretending to be Captain Kirk...I mean, I want to sit these two "Financial Coaches" down and have a conversation to better understand their advice. I want to disclose here that I do work as a Conflict Engagement Specialist (one of my income streams) and earned my Master's Degree in Dispute Resolution, so I look at these types of conflicts in a unique way. I think most couples would have a difficult time following their suggestions...even in the Whimsical Land of Unicorns & Rainbows!
Let's start with their #1 tip- "Talk to Your Spouse or Partner". Under this point they say "fights and arguments don't count" and that you need to discuss your finances...really? EVERY discussion- whether it's pleasant or unpleasant- counts! Not to get too "academic", but these interactions all feed into what's known as the Dynamics of Trust. In fact, if you're involved in a disagreement you're more likely to only remember the negative parts of a discussion. I agree with them that you need to schedule a meeting to discuss it with your partner. But don't be surprised if both of you come to the meeting highly defensive. When you schedule meetings to discuss difficult issues- you prepare yourself by coming up with defenses to your actions and objections to the other person's actions. It's like a paintball game. You start the game to have FUN...but once it starts all you want to do is WIN!
The Davis's suggest that you don't "nag" or "whine", use the words "never" or "always" or "belittle" them when they share. Although I agree with most of this- I would also suggest you talk mostly about how certain decisions or actions made by your partner make you feel instead of focusing on why those actions or decisions were bad, wrong or stupid. Your partner can defend their own actions and decisions, but they can't really argue about how YOU FEEL or how it AFFECTS YOU. They also suggest that you be "proactive" instead of reacting to something. This advice is good in theory, but it does not take into consideration our tendency to act irrationally about money or the way you handle conflict. NEVER start a question with"why"...it immediately causes the other person to put up their personal force field!
I could (and probably will at some point) write several multi-part posts about Personal Conflict Styles. Conflict Style Assessment- along with Generational Conflict, Workplace Conflict & Divorce Mediation- is one of my professional specializations. Unfortunately, most people still believe there are only two types of personalities- the classic TYPE A or TYPE B concept. Even those people who have taken personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator mistakenly believe they use the same types at all times. But the reality is- there are at least five different Personal Conflict Styles. You might use one during low or medium range conflict and a completely different one in times of high stress and conflict. You could also use a combination of these styles at any given point. Depending on whether you use the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument or the Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory (the two most popular assessment tools) these conflict styles are- Competing/Directing, Collaborating/Cooperating, Compromising, Accommodating/Harmonizing and Avoiding. Some of these styles work well together and some are not a good match at all. Knowing what YOUR style is as well as the style of your partner makes difficult conversations, like finances, a lot easier. It also helps if, after you learn your preferred style(s), you can learn to identify trigger points and adjust your style when necessary. It's not easy but, and I can say this from personal experience, it's well worth the effort!
Why did I just go off on a rant about Personal Conflict Styles? You'll see momentarily, I promise. The Davis's continue their article by urging you to "be honest and upfront" with each other (usually really easy for a Competing/Directing person- but not at all for Accommodating/Harmonizing or Avoiding personality types) and to try to keep things "positive and relaxed" because "You're a team, and...should always be working together" (not easy for the Competing/Directing and Avoiding people, but easier for the Accommodating/Harmonizing, Collaborating/Cooperating and Compromising individuals). Have Clint & Katy ever actually worked in a team environment? In most teams I've seen, conflict (and conflict avoidance) is oozing out of every corner office and cubicle.
Tip #2 is to "Create Financial Rules or Guidelines" as a couple. They think you should shy away from "ordering" your partner to "handle the money in a certain way" (this is what a Competing/Directing person does by instinct) and, instead, be flexible and cooperative (if you're both Collaborative/Cooperating, Compromising or Accommodating/Harmonizing this might work. Avoiding people will come up with any excuse they can to not even have the conversation in the first place).
Tip #3 is to "Put Your Relationship First". Okay, what does "relationship" mean to you? Ask 10 people and you'll likely get 7 or 8 different answers, at least. Although the basic concept of a "relationship" is the same- the roles of each person can vary greatly. Don't assume that your definition and your partner's definition is the same...especially when it comes to money. Their suggestion is NOT to keep your finances separate. Seriously? This is a "Chicken or the Egg", "God or Big Bang", "Kirk or Picard" question! There is no right answer! When someone asks me how I feel about "keeping finances separate" my Spidey-Sense goes off! In my mind I see Admiral Ackbar saying, "It's A Trap!", and so all I can say is- it depends.
The Davis's also suggest you shouldn't "try to manipulate and control" your partner (I'd really like to see the reaction they get if they say this to one of their coaching clients who's a strong Competing/Directing person) and you shouldn't let "financial disagreements" end up being "financial fights" because "they're not the same". Again...really? They ARE the same...forms of conflict. The only difference is the severity. They're on two different points on the Conflict Continuum. Disagreements can quickly escalate to fights with just a few words, actions (or inaction/avoidance) or even a blatant non-verbal cue- like a facial expression or gesture.
Although I understand the Davis's say they are trying to help people, I can't help but wonder if they're hoping people will read the article, try to use the three tips and ultimately fail? Because if they fail, perhaps they'll seek out the personal financial coaching services provided by Clint & Katy. Good for potential client generation...sure. But bad for the relationships of the people who don't have all of the information they need to succeed tackling such an emotionally charged subject on their own. There's also the potential those who fail will think fixing their finances is impossible and give up before they really get started. It's a fine line...a very fine line, indeed.
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