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Don't Throw Tomatoes During Difficult Conversations!

How do you help members deal with sensitive financial issues?

April 09, 2012
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My neighbor had an unpleasant circumstance last summer that necessitated a difficult conversation.

He’d been carefully tending and eagerly anticipating a nice little suburban tomato crop. As the tomatoes reddened, another neighbor (not I!) decided things were ripe for the picking and took advantage of the fruits of his labor, removing nearly all of the tomatoes facing the lot line.

We all have moments in our lives that require difficult conversations with family, friends, co-workers, members, or unruly neighbors. These conversations often occur on the spur of the moment, without reflection on the best possible delivery tactics.

This may create a range of responses, from hostility to hysteria, and much drama can ensue.

Lora Kloth is a research librarian at CUNA.
Lora Bray is research librarian at CUNA.

Tomatoes may fly.

However, difficult conversations are still important. We shouldn’t avoid them due to unknown or feared reactions. Perhaps the best course of action is to consider tactful delivery methods and learn from our own experiences as well as observations of others who must impart such news.

Research findings this week kick off with a saucy examination of difficult conversations we all avoid, especially with respect to the handling of finances. The Ameriprise “Money Across Generations II Study” reveals that families today are as uncomfortable talking about finances, healthcare, and retirement as they are talking about family issues, religion, and politics.”

Further, “71% of retirees don’t discuss their personal finances with family regularly,” and, “53% of their grandchildren wish they had more conversations about money matters.”

Our tomatoes—and others’ hopes—can be easily crushed, the latter by fraud and crime. “The Online Romance Scam: A Serious Cybercrime,” describes a relatively new form of fraud in which criminals pretend to initiate a relationship through online dating sites and then defraud their victims of large sums of money.

According to a study conducted in Great Britain, “an estimated 230,000 British citizens may have fallen victim to this crime.”

The conclusion: “There needs to be some rethinking about providing avenues for victims to report the crime or at least making them more comfortable when doing so.”

Apparently, this is a difficult conversation for victims to initiate.

According to third-quarter statistics from the FBI, “...there were 1,081 robberies, 11 burglaries, two larcenies, and one extortion of a financial institution reported between July 1, 2011 and September 30, 2011.”

Interestingly, the report says “not all bank crimes are reported to the FBI, and therefore the report is not a complete statistical compilation…” Some don’t care to discuss the issue?

Do your members have honest conversations with you as their financial service provider? Do they have unspoken needs that may be embarrassing to confront? Can you be more approachable and make those difficult conversations easier?

What can we learn from others?

You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to…What lessons can we learn about collaboration in other industries? Are there takeaways for CUs? Check out “Risks and Rewards of Public-Private Partnerships for Highways” by The Reason Foundation.

“Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) … are contracts between public and private entities for the provision of facilities… Well-written PPP agreements specify the allocation of risk, which should create incentives for the private provider to deliver more efficiently … than would be the case if the project were undertaken by a state-controlled entity.”

Partnerships and open communication are important considerations in addressing problems and creating incentives in win-win situations.

“Ketchup” to what’s happening on the employment scene with a look at the “Monthly Labor Review” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for March 2012.

Articles within include:

  • U.S. Labor Market Shows Gradual Improvement in 2011;
  • Payroll Employment in 2011: A Visual Essay and;
  • Job Search of the Unemployed by Duration of Unemployment.

Also, BLS provides an “Occupational Employment and Wages Summary” which shows “national employment and wage information for all occupations.” It observes that “Retail salespersons and cashiers were the occupations with the highest employment in 2011… These two occupations combined made up nearly 6 percent of total U.S. employment…”

Are your select employee groups covered in these analyses and what can you derive to assist in their financial service needs?

Credit unions may be able to harvest loans in unlikely places, judging by the Urban Institute’s “High-Cost Loans Among the Unbanked.”

This report examines refund anticipation loans and refund anticipation checks, which compared to other filing options “are costly and…much more likely to be used by those in the lowest income quintiles.”

Does your credit union take advantage of opportunities presented at tax time to reach out to the unbanked?

Finally, one last juicy topic: “Just How Big Is the Too Big to Fail Problem?”, which examines the impact of recent changes in banking regulation since the financial crisis, and suggests it’s uncertain if the changes will truly eliminate the risk of too big to fail:

“According to the authors, the new resolution authority designed to allow troubled big banks to fail will, apart from other issues, be incomplete and perhaps unworkable until there is more progress on the international coordination of bankruptcy regimes.”

“It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,” said American writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard. Perhaps if my neighbors had been devouring tomatoes during their difficult conversation the result would have been more celebratory.

Any way you slice it, though, tough talks don’t have to resort to talking tough. May your tomato-y talks be fruitful indeed!

LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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