Family Economic Mobility Toolkit

Following the Family’s Lead in FEM Conversations

It is important to recognize that families are the experts on their children and their situation. Follow their lead, and look for ways to partner together on their family economic mobility goals.

Conversation Techniques

The ideas below offer techniques for following the family’s lead in family economic mobility conversations. Consider these ideas as you work with individual families, and make adjustments as needed to fit each family’s situation.

1. Be a guide from the side.

Use open-ended questions that help the family tap into their own inner guidance and answers. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” answer. Open-ended questions encourage a family to describe "what, when, why, or how." They invite the family to be curious about themselves. For a question to be truly open-ended, you have to ask it from a place where you don’t presume to know the answer.

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You can use questions such as:

  • “Can you share more about that?”
  • “When you think of your relationship with money, what are some words or images that come up for you? How do you currently feel about your relationship with money? Would you like to feel the same or differently in the future?”
  • “What barriers have stopped you from working on this in the past?”
  • “You said you are having trouble paying student loans or other debts. What would make it more realistic for you to keep up with these payments?”

2. Ask permission and explain why.

When sharing ideas, bringing up new topics, or introducing resources ask permission. By asking permission, you let the family know they are in the driver’s seat. Without asking permission, you may be actually following your own agenda, not the families.

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You can use questions such as:

  • “Can I share a thought with you?”
  • “I have a resource that might be helpful; would you like to know more about it?”
  • “I have an idea that might help; do you want me to share it?”
  • “Thank you for sharing that information about your savings. It really helps me begin to understand your financial situation. Would it be OK if I asked some more questions to get a better sense of your financial situation?”

3. Listen carefully and use silence.

Use active listening when seeking to understand the family. Reflect the information the family shares with you back to them to make sure you are both on the same page. Reflecting back the essence of what you heard from the family ensures the family feels heard, increases clarity, helps you ask more aligned or “right-on” questions, and keeps the focus on the family and their agenda.

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Reflecting back after listening might look like:

  • “What I think you’re saying is that you're worried about your finances. Do I have that right?”
  • “So, you went on the interview and it sounds like it was a difficult experience for you. Am I reflecting that accurately?“
  • “I’m hearing you say that you can cover your bills and basic needs every month, but you don’t have enough funds to pursue your other goals. Does that sound right to you?”
  • “It sounds like you have big dreams for your children and yourself but feel discouraged because of your current financial situation. Is that correct?”

During a meeting, there may be times when a family does not immediately respond to a question or engage in the conversation. It is important for you to pause and be comfortable with the silence. People may take time to process information and think before responding.

4. Follow up.

Following up with a family after a conversation is important to building trust and strengthening your relationship. Any time you discuss family economic mobility goals with a family, decide on the next steps together. Think about when you and the family will meet again, name action steps to take between now and your next meeting, and determine what you may need from each other between now and then.

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Questions for next steps might look like:

  • “What can you work on between now and our next meeting to get you closer to accomplishing your goals?”
  • “What is your plan to get your next steps completed?”
  • “What can I do to support you between meetings?”
  • “When would be a good time for me to follow up on this with you?”
  • “Would it be helpful if I sent you a reminder message?”

Complete the action steps that you agreed to take with the family during the meeting, and check in with the family about the next steps they set for themselves.

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