To all who speak and write about financial matters,
In my years of helping
clients make financial decisions, I've often had to work with clients dealing
with strong emotions. Often these emotions came from internal sources, money
scripts and beliefs that create fear or euphoria or some other emotion. Almost
as often, these emotions are driven by something the client read in a
newspaper, magazine, or website or heard on the radio or TV.
These media reports
often rely on emotionally charged language to convey ideas and opinions. 2012
has been a banner year for emotionally charged language in media reporting,
much of it driven by the Presidential election. Now it continues as we discuss
the sequestriation set to occur at the end of the year.
FISCAL CLIFF! It's a
big, bombastic phrase. It creates an easily identifiable visual cue to describe
the sequestration process. Most harmfully, it creates tremendous emotion.
Fear, anger, outrage, anxiety are few of the emotions that come up frequently.
And these powerful emotions have a way of harming good financial decision-making.
Emotions can short-circuit our ability to think long-term, instead compelling
us to make decisions based on that big, ugly boogeyman (real or imagined) right
in front of us. Financial decisions based on short-term thinking have this odd habit
of not being very good.
Remember that one? The financial media loved it circa 2005 to describe the
wonderful way the U.S. economy was going to gently slow down and settle in to a
never-ending cycle of full employment and moderate growth. Again, an
emotionally charged phrase, but this time designed to elicit positive emotions.
I suspect more than a few poor financial decision were made while impacted by
those positive, flowery emotions.
I could toss examples
out all day, but the story doesn't change. Real people make real
financial decisions with your words in their minds. They draw emotions from the
way you write about financial matters. Your sensationalism can lead to their
poor financial decisions.
I implore you to
consider the impact you have and to think about presenting these critical
issues in emotionally neutral language. Your readers and viewers have enough
personal financial beliefs to draw their own emotions from. They need your help
to understand the facts, to understand what lies ahead and to get good
decision-making is hard enough when dealing with our own biases and behavioral
foibles. Being bombarded with emotionally charged language only magnifies this
Help people make good
financial decisions. Help us (financial planners) help people make good
financial decisions. Take the challenge to fulfill your vital role in
a functioning democracy in a manner that helps, not harms, people's ability to
With deep appreciation,