Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Unemployed House Guests

Ron McMillan is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Ron McMillan is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

Crucial ConversationsQ Dear Crucial Skills,

My husband and I are friends with a couple who is experiencing financial difficulty related to a job loss. When they confided in us that they would be moving out of their rented home and looking for a small one-bedroom apartment, we told them they could live rent-free in our home for six months.

Since then, we have seen their poor money management and given them budgeting software, but they continue to spend without focus. I recently asked if they were caught up and able to start saving, but they were evasive and only said “almost.” My husband is reluctant to tell them how to manage their money but I feel like unless they get their act together, they will not be able to get out of debt. They desperately need financial counseling. What do I do?

Feeling Stuck

A Dear Stuck,

I applaud you and your husband for your caring outreach to a couple in need. They’re lucky to have such kind and good friends. It appears the struggle with their finances is continuing in spite of your kindness and willingness to help.

Some of the most painful relationship problems I have personally wrestled with are those where a friend or loved one is unwilling to make the changes needed to keep from hurting or destroying themselves.

When we see loved ones struggling with severe problems, whether it’s a vile drug addiction or rudderless wandering after dropping out of college, we eventually have to recognize that we can’t force our opinions, actions, or experiences on others. They are free to live their life as they choose.

That being the case, you do need to make a critical decision whether to disengage from your friend’s problem and hope they take corrective action soon, or to initiate an effort to help them solve their problem. You should not allow the current living situation to continue. To allow them to continue to stay rent free beyond the agreed upon six months would only empower their weakness and contribute to their problem.

I encourage you to have a crucial conversation that might go something like this, “Friends, we invited you to live rent free in our home for six months and I want to remind you that there are three months remaining to make other arrangements.” This statement clarifies your expectations and will help to make sure they don’t assume the deadline will be extended.

Next, offer to be a resource with an invitation, “We have given you budgeting software and would be happy to help you set it up or to give you any advice and suggestions. We would also be willing to suggest a financial advisor who could consult with you regarding your situation.”

If they take you up on your invitation to help, be clear about what you’re willing to do. At this point, you must balance your desire to be of assistance with the dangers of enabling their problem with money management to continue. Decide in advance what your limits are. Are you willing to give them money? Are you willing to loan them money? Are you willing to extend their stay? Once you have determined your course of action, make your offer to help part of your problem-solving conversation.

If they don’t accept your invitation to help, move to action by deciding who does what by when. “If you change your mind, let us know. Also, could we meet the first of next month? At that time, can you tell us what your plans are going forward?” This will create clear accountability and firm up mutual expectations.

The key to effective problem-solving is to make sure you follow up. Holding them accountable to your agreement becomes the mechanism to help them solve their problem while also making sure their problem doesn’t become your problem.

When we are dealing with friends and family, we often want to help in the worst way. Sadly, we often choose the worst way to help. We protect others from the natural consequences of their actions. For example, we offer money when their money management skills are the problem. These enabling actions only ensure that their problems will continue.

Helping in productive ways and holding others accountable to agreements is the best foundation for needed life changes. Have the courage to be a friend and not an accomplice.

All the best,

If you’ve overcome financial failure, we’d like to hear from you. Please share your experience with us in this three-minute survey.

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

4 thoughts on “Unemployed House Guests”

  1. Patty

    I am VERY cautious about inviting friends to live with us. We once let my friend stay with us in our only guest bedroom for a couple of weeks while she figured out living arrangements. She moved in, settled in, and made no effort to neither move nor offer us rent or help with bills (she did treat herself to trips to Vegas and San Francisco). I pretty much had to ride her “piggy back” to get out looking for a place. Total time: 2 months! It strained our friendship – it’s been about 17 years and I still feel miffed about it. I rarely talk to her. The sad thing is she probably doesn’t realize it… or care.

  2. Cheryl Forbes

    Thank you so much for this advice! Do you have any advice for families dealing with fragile parents that can’t manage on their own? My dad has had a mild stroke and mom is suffering from Alzheimers. My brother has taken them into his home as the expense of care for them is horrible. I am at a loss as to how to help and it is taking a toll on our family. My dad is a World War II Marine and “doesn’t need help with mom”. This is not an unusual situation, just one that needs guidance. When do families make the nursing home decision? They do get part time help. Thank you, Cheryl

  3. Tamara Holmes

    This really a inspirational story thanks for sharing it with us and i think it will inspire all those people who are really worried about their debts..Thanks for it.

  4. Anita

    In these unprecedented financial times, there is help available and often it is without cost to the consumer. Feeling Stuck and others with debt problems or in need of help with budgeting might consider referring their house guests to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in their area. This network of over 100 accredited agencies offer many different types of financial counseling and education programs. All CCCS agencies are members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling which was formed over 50 years ago.

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