Friday, February 26, 2010

Currency Exchange

I'm in Yellow Springs OH this weekend, working with The Vale, a Quaker-based community celebrating its golden anniversary this year. Money was among the topics that the group asked me to address this weekend, because the group has been getting stuck whenever an issue surfaces suggesting significant community expenditures. Many of the members struggle financially, and there tends to be knee-jerk reaction among the Have-nots that the Haves are not really appreciating that there's no more wiggle room in the Have-nots' personal budgets.

As this topic has familiarity to me, I opened the first plenary with an outline of the myriad ways in which typical groups have to navigate a range of
serious differences among the membership when it comes to issues involving healthy chunks of change. In cooperative groups there's a naive tendency to assume that everyone will view money in a similar way, and I worked hard to show the community that it's normal to experience a rather wide range of basic financial realities through which money matters are viewed. Here are seven different lenses:

o Contributions to building the community (this isn't solely about money—it's about energy and life force as well).

o Net assets.

o Liquid assets (for some folks, much of their net worth is tied up in property or other assets that aren't easily translated into cash and this can profoundly affect how someone hears requests for additional investment).

o Income.

o Income potential (there can be a subtle, yet powerful difference between what you're earning now and what you expect to be able to earn in the near future—especially if your earning potential is on the decline).

o Household budgets (there can be substantial differences in standard of living and costs related personal expenses such as health care or support of minors).

o Risk tolerance and how someone defines financial security (this one typically goes back to family of origin).

When you digest that there are at least these seven different lenses through which people hear and see money issues, the surprising thing may be that the conversations ever go well. It's easy to see how people can feel misunderstood or not adequately taken into account, and I cautioned the group about the value of making sure at the outset that you've demonstrated to the other person's satisfaction that you've understood their viewpoint about money before launching into your pitch.

A lot of money conversations go poorly because the players lack the appreciation (or patience) needed to establish a solid baseline for how everyone is viewing the information. Once a solid container is created, the problem solving itself often turns out to be small change. Give it a try.


Quentin said...

Wow that is very good. It clarifies a lot of problems for me.

Anonymous said...

If you don't have the $$ nothing can change that - that is esp. .true where taxes and ever rising costs are blasting away the budgets of retired folks on fixed incomes that are barely meeting basic needs.

For the community are there other options like barter or community currencies?