A Financial Expert On How To Talk About Unemployment Right Now

mbg Financial Contributor By Brianna Firestone
mbg Financial Contributor
Brianna Firestone is a Financial Education Instructor certified by the National Financial Educators Council, and the founder of The School of Betty. Her expert advice has been featured in Money.com, Real Simple, and Business Insider. Firestone received her bachelor's in theatre from Stephens College and lives in Denver, Colorado.
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You aren't alone if you are experiencing some odd feelings around unemployment. Whether it is you who has had to take advantage of the program or someone close to you, claiming unemployment has either felt like a relief or has been laden with some feels. Because we don't talk freely about our money, navigating conversations around unemployment can feel equally awkward, but they don't have to.  

Let's reframe how we think about unemployment. 

Unemployment is a program that is built to lend help when individuals are in need; there's just one big problem with that; most of us aren't good at asking for help and avoid it at all costs. In our modern world, asking for help means we are waving the white flag and reluctantly taking off our Superhuman cape. 

Consider unemployment as natural as paying taxes or putting money into a flex account. It's there to lend support when you need it. We don't feel embarrassed receiving a tax refund, so this should be no different. Asking for help has nothing to do with your success as a human.  


So, how do we maneuver conversations around unemployment when they pop up? 

First, we have to normalize the conversation. As humans, we often fear having tough conversations, not because of the actual topic but because we are anticipating the other person's reaction. If you've ever experienced a conversation where the response was not what you were expecting (good or bad), it completely changes the vibe. Think of this when you are talking about your unemployment or someone is sharing that they are on unemployment. Your reaction greatly matters. You can help someone feel more comfortable when you receive the information without a strong reaction. If you are the one sharing that you are unemployed, recognize the other person's reaction, thoughts, and feelings are not yours to take on. 

If you are someone in this pandemic who hasn't experienced big shifts and aren't concerned about your job or money security, you might find yourself tiptoeing around conversations with others that are going through hardship for fear of saying something wrong. That might be sprinkled with a bit of guilt for your good fortune. First, know your awareness goes a long way. Being mindful and sensitive to whom you are speaking and their situation is key. If you find yourself in a conversation and are being asked questions regarding your situation, you don't have to lie. Be honest and acknowledge your gratitude. It changes the dynamic of a conversation when we know someone has awareness of their circumstances. That little gesture alone will allow for more natural conversation that is open and honest. 

Here are 3 tips to help you navigate tough money conversations. 

Even in a pandemic, our natural reaction will be to avoid any topic around money, but those conversations are hard to ignore because of the state of economics we are currently living through. As with all things that are uncomfortable, they become comfortable as you get more practice. Just as managing your money is a skill that you can improve, you can also improve your communication skills around hard conversations. Here's how:

  1. Listen. At the foundation of any conversation, but especially a hard one, listening is going to be your most valued tool. Holding space for someone and listening as they communicate their stress is a gift that many don't receive. Resist the urge to think of what you will say in response and focus on hearing the other person's words.  
  2. Let them know you heard them. As humans, we love to hear our names, and we love to know that we were heard. It is powerful to know someone gets what you are going through. And you can do that by letting someone know you heard them. The best way to do this? Simply repeat what you heard like, "I hear you are stressed" or "It seems you are sad"—that's it. Potent stuff. 
  3. Resist problem-solving. We hate to see others around us struggling. It's uncomfortable, and we don't like to feel uncomfortable! Our natural reaction will be to try to solve the problem. It comes from a good place but can often not be received well, especially if someone is still stressed out and processing a situation. Not sure what the person you are having a conversation with needs? Ask! "Would you like for me to help you find solutions, or is listening what is best?" This simple phrase can help ease most conversations forward. 

The takeaway.

Right now, many are experiencing circumstances that are new to them, unknown, and financially challenging. It's the first time for many individuals needing to go on unemployment or even losing a job. As with all conversations, and especially with your money, you have the power to normalize the discussion by how you show up and how you react. Keeping those two things in mind will help you move through these tricky topics. 

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