Charlsie Niemiec asks all of her friends how much money they make.
Two years ago, she found out a male colleague with the same amount of experience was earning $30,000 more than her.
“I had an ‘aha’ moment,” says Niemiec, a 29-year-old freelancer who previously worked in marketing. “If no one is going to be my ally in my workplace, I need to go talk to my girlfriends and find out what they’re making.”
So she decided she would ask each of her friends how much they made. And she’d treat it as a two-way conversation, sharing her own salary, too.
The old rules of money talk — pretend you have money if you don’t, pretend you have none if you do, and never discuss it openly — don’t suit the Millennial generation.
“In this post-Lilly Ledbetter [Fair Pay Act] awareness, it’s in some ways useful to be talking about how much you make in the workplace,” says Daniel Post Senning, an etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute.
So friends are wondering: when it is appropriate to talk about salary? And when does it instead ruin a friendship?
We asked experts to share some tips on talking about money — without souring a friendship.
Start with a simple question
Post Senning recommends broaching the topic honestly: simply asking, “Would you be open to talking about salary with me?”
Niemiec first made the move on gchat, asking a friend all the money questions that had previously paralyzed her.
“I said ‘I need to know the honest truth: how much do you make, what are your benefits and can you send your job description?’ and she was like ‘yeah, of course,'” Niemiec says. “And [I found out] we basically do the same job and I had more experience, but her salary was much more.”
Don’t dance around the subject
Don’t try and lure your friend into a conversation about money with obtuse questions like “Two vacations in two months, lucky you!” or “Wow, big promotion. I just don’t know how you do it!”
Instead, be direct, and offer to share your own numbers first.
“You take the lead by volunteering information, not by asking a probing question,” Post Senning says. “It might be something that they think is impolite, or it might not be. You could open the door without asking specifics or volunteering information that is private.”
Remember: it’s a two-way conversation
You can ask your friend about her monthly budget, but then don’t balk when she asks you the same thing. The questions will seem less pushy if you make it clear you’re willing to talk about anything.
“I tell this to all my former interns, colleagues and girlfriends — come to me and ask how much I charge my clients, how much I make, xyz, whatever you need to know,” Niemiec says. “I will talk about it.”
Expect some friction
Niemiec admits some friends haven’t appreciated her new “rule.”
While most were receptive and happy to share, others told her that they don’t want her or her other friends discussing money so openly when they’re all hanging out.
“If someone doesn’t want to tell me what they make, I’m fine with that,” she says. “I will share with them where I’m at in my career, to keep the door open.”