The Fear of Offending

We often let things go, even to our detriment, to avoid offending someone. This fear of offending can keep you in a bad relationship, keep you from making progress in your career or keep you from making sound financial and investment decisions.

Many of us were brought up to be polite and even defer to others. Politeness and deference is good for social circumstances and getting along. It is not so good when you are hurting yourself or others by not speaking up and taking necessary actions.

If you have been too passive in a situation and know changes need to be made, develop a plan of action to proceed. Examine where your fear is coming from and analyze all your options. Ask yourself—what is the worst thing that will happen if you speak up and take charge of the situation? Practice how you will communicate and deal with potential conflict or push-back. If you are a natural people pleaser, speaking up may be more difficult for you. But once you find your voice you will be liberated and confident in your path forward.

Many families, including mine, had to deal with a parent’s inability to drive safely. Driving gives you freedom to come and go as you please and giving this up is a life changer. When we took the car away, we dealt with anger and resentment at first. We all knew this was the right decision and had to get past the pain of the initial confrontation. It is normal to be passive with your parents and difficult when you need to take charge.

A few years ago a friend witnessed her father, who had developed dementia, trade in his investment account multiple times per day. He knew how to access his account online and remembered his password. What he didn’t remember was that he had already purchased or sold the same securities many times that day.

The man’s loving daughter knew she needed to intervene and take away his access to the investment account. Her father needed all of his money to pay for long-term care and he was losing money by trading. What she couldn’t face was making him angry and hurting his pride. He had always managed his investments and now she had to take this away from him.

Eventually she found the courage to show him the multiple trades and the losses he was incurring and he agreed to stop trading. She knew he would be rational at that moment but not remember the conversation the next day. The accounts were quickly transferred to another custodian and his old accounts were closed.

Another acquaintance is avoiding hiring an investment advisor for fear of offending her husband. He has always managed their finances and now, due to a brain injury, is no longer capable. She needs to take over the management of their finances and investment accounts but is frozen in her inability to tell him he isn’t capable. The couple needs to make good decisions to ensure their financial security. Even with the seriousness of the potential risk, she hesitates to broach the subject with her husband.

You don’t need to apologize for taking care of yourself and your loved ones and doing the right thing. You are not powerless but quite the opposite. The person you are afraid to offend may be very relieved that you are stepping up and taking charge when they are no longer capable. They may feel just as badly to admit they cannot take care of things for you any longer.

This commentary originally appeared February 9 on

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