Hannah: Today, I have a Dayana Kupisk on the podcast with us. Dayana is the author of The Practical Guide to Making Wise Financial Decisions and she’s also an employee development consultant and coach with a research focus on practical wisdom in the workplace, and I think this is particularly of interest to financial planners both in how we engage with clients and also how we develop as financial planners from practical wisdom. Thanks for joining us today, Dayana.
Dayana: Absolutely happy to be on here.
Hannah: Can you tell us more background, you wrote this, The Practical Guide to Making Wise Financial Decisions. Can you tell us what caused you to write that and give us more of a context of that book?
Dayana: Absolutely. At the time that this workbook was coming together, I was wrapping up my doctoral research in practical wisdom in the workplace and so I had been conducting all of these interviews and running all these analysis to kind of get a better understanding of how employees who are faced with complex decisions sort of reason through and think about these problems that they’re experiencing, and so from that data I developed this PARTS model of practical wisdom that summarizes these approaches that employees were taking in dealing with uncertainty and complexity.
Dayana: The guide sort of stemmed from this research and I was interested in applying it to the efforts of the money relationships and equality initiative that’s based at the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin. The mission of that initiative is to really provide research backed support and information and resources to individuals and couples on the topics of financial management, making financial decisions and how those decisions and practices can be more equitable and positive. My goal with the workbook was really to create a hands on tool that individuals could use to help ask difficult questions, think about what was important to them as they navigated a financial challenge that they were facing.
Dayana: The book sort of starts out by giving some background on the topic of practical wisdom and then asks readers to think about a financial challenge that they’re currently struggling with and then go through these various exercises to help think about the problem from different vantage points and hopefully in an effort to support readers in gaining some clarity reflection and can think about what their priorities are as they navigate the financial challenge that they’re struggling with.
Dayana: It’s really individualized. I think readers can bring their own perspectives and experiences and motivations to working through the book and then of course, as I said it’s part of this bigger initiative and so there’s lots of other resources as well that are sort of linked to the initiative that’s at the university as well.
Hannah: I’m curious, we’ll get into some of the details of this workbook and kind of how people process some of this uncertainty that you’re talking about, but I’m curious from… when you started finishing this project, was there anything that just really surprised you or stood out to you?
Dayana: I think, and this was great research perspective, but it’s always surprised me I think how much overlap there is in the ways that people think about and approach challenges in their life. From a research perspective that’s great because I had a lot of sort of concise like categories and the things that I could put in these little buckets that I could then talk about and apply, so that definitely made the research and analysis piece easier but I think something that is really central to practical wisdom is being able to kind of use experiences that you’ve had and that others have had and to seek support and outside resources to help guide you in times of uncertainty.
Dayana: I think that for me it’s always been sort of nice to feel like no matter what the challenge that I’m confronted with, there’s likely things that I can learn from the people around me and from the experiences that I’ve had and so that I think is great and so the more that we can have… especially in the workplace as the workplace becomes more interconnected and people are working outside of the bounds of an office or cubicle and I think being able to share those experiences and knowledge becomes really important as we try to navigate a lot of situations that might be super novel to us. We can likely find people that can support us in that process.
Hannah: It’s interesting, you said that how people approach challenges. Can you tell me like how do people from your perspective, in that research perspective really approach challenges?
Dayana: Yes, so the… and I can get a little nerdy here, but based on the interviews that I’ve done and sort of consolidating and synthesizing all that information, my develop the PARTS model of practical wisdom and so this reflects those broad themes and so the PARTS is an acronym and so the first piece of that refers to pragmatics of life and so this really speaks to people’s ability to think about what’s important to them, what kind of guiding belief systems they have and then pull on this sort of life knowledge, so things that they’ve learned from their own experiences or the experiences of others.
Dayana: The second piece is being in tune… so it’s affect regulation and so thinking about kind of what are the feelings that you’re experiencing around the problem that you’re encountering and what are the strategies that you have to manage those feelings and so those may look different for different people, right, but having tools in your pocket to manage very intense feelings that might come up as you’re confronted with an uncertain or complicated situation can really help you navigate that as well… so for example, people will talk about having mantras or going for a run if that kind of helps them kind of get centered.
Dayana: Having those strategies to both identify the feelings that you’re having and then also manage them when they’re intense so that they don’t cloud judgment or reactions and then also relying on your own intuition, so especially when we talk about the workplace. People are experts in their fields and so even if you don’t know necessarily what the right answer is going to be, feeling like you trust your gut and intuition and so not just reacting kind of off the cuff but really saying you know I feel like this could be a different way to try things so why don’t I pursue that.
Dayana: The third piece of the PARTS model references being reflective, so being able to pause when a situation is really stressful, taking time to self reflect on your own skills and capacities and what’s important to you and then also reflecting on what information is going to help you navigate a challenge. Is there other information that you need to seek out about the problem? Are there biases that you know that you have that could get in the way of you being effective at meeting that challenge?
Dayana: The next piece, and this again is, we’ve already talked about this a little bit, but being comfortable with uncertainty. Complex problems are often complex because there is no right answer and that’s when we kind of find ourselves needing wisdom and so being able to have a framework and a purpose that can guide you and so, again, having those values, having a purpose, having a mission that can kind of be the light that guides you in that uncertainty can really help even in the midst of things being unclear and then finally a systems thinking is that last piece and it kind of brings all those other elements together, so it speaks to people’s ability to sort of synthesize the way that they’re feeling about the problem, the reflections that they’ve had about their capacities to deal with it and then being able to bring all that information together but think about it from a systems perspective.
Dayana: Taking the perspective of other people that are involved in the problem, being able to think about if a solution that they’re going to take, what kind of impact is that going to have on themselves, on the other people involved, on the organization that they work for, on the world as a whole, right, if you want to do good in the world how does the way that you respond to this problem impact all of those bigger kind of systems that we’re all interacting with all the time. Those are really broad and so people have different ways that they go about applying all those different elements but those are kind of the broad strokes.
Hannah: Okay, so I don’t think in these terms… like I don’t go through, oh, there’s five different steps to approach this challenge. Do people… but do people just kind of naturally like… is that just how our brains work in approaching this, like we just kind of are naturally doing this and processing this way?
Dayana: Yeah, so the model is definitely it’s… I think model gives it a lot of like… It’s this process and there’s all these steps and elements but really in practice when I listen to the interviews and do these interviews, people really jump around, so not everybody uses all of these elements all the time. It’s not linear, so people go back and forth between these different parts and people don’t use them at all or use some of them but not others and then there’s also a question of kind of depth and quality, right, so perhaps I can take the perspective of my client, but I’m not really thinking about the perspective of my teammates or my boss or my family if I’m having these problems at work, but then I’m coming home kind of stressed and worried, right, and so there’s, I think within all of these elements, there’s a lot of flexibility around what it looks like in practice for individuals and then also not every problem necessarily warrants all of these steps.
Dayana: Some problems might be… it’s just you and one other person, so there aren’t a lot of perspectives to take or perhaps the impact of a solution isn’t going to reach the organization or the community and so there’s less to consider there. I think on one hand that complicates it because it makes it much harder to say, “Well, check these boxes and you’ll have your right answer.” But I think what is really nice about this is it does give a lot of room for solutions to be sort of tailored and relevant to the individuals that are involved in the specific problem and so part of that gathering of relevant information that I mentioned has to do with thinking about what are the specifics of my problem that make it unique that I need to pay attention to as I sort of navigate this.
Dayana: I tend to really shy away from these prescribed solutions and I think practical wisdom offers us a lens to be reflective and thoughtful and intentional without sort of telling us there is a right answer because that might look different depending on the context of the problem and the individuals involved.
Hannah: You’ve mentioned this term practical wisdom a couple of times now and I know this is something that you focus on quite a bit. How would you define practical wisdom?
Dayana: Yes, this has been a wonderful and very large piece of kind of where the research that I was trying to really nail down the definition and so I will preface this by giving sort of the very academicy kind of, we don’t know for sure and there’s variations and it’s not all encompassing and so with that said, the definition that I use when I conduct my research and think about these topics and their application is thinking about practical wisdom as an ability to take thoughtful, intentional and pro-social action in response to difficult or uncertain ambiguous situations, and so there’s two pieces of this that I think are really important is one that it’s intentional so there’s… you’re doing work to try to respond in the best way possible but that also it’s specific to situations that are challenging for you.
Dayana: As I mentioned not every situation might call for wisdom. If you’re going to the coffee shop deciding what latte to get is a straightforward answer for you. You don’t have to do all this work and so part of it is I think recognizing when a situation calls for some of this intentionality and then that being said, I think that there are across the literature and the research, there are just some general themes that people have sort of agreed on, all relate to wisdom to some extent, so the self reflection piece being able to think about the impact of your actions on others, being able to be open and willing to learn, take other perspectives, so there are some common sort of themes and that I hope my definition kind of encompasses as well.
Hannah: Well, as I heard you give that definition I wrote down and perhaps I’m simplifying it too much. It’s the ability to take practical steps in complex situations or uncertainty and I look at what we do with clients and I’m like well, that’s what we do because and using… in this like complex situations where there’s no right answer. I think about, I recently had a meeting with a client who was looking at retiring and it’s… what’s the right answer? When does he retire? Should he continue working, should he not? Like there’s so many factors that go into that that it’s not a simple black and white answer of what he should do.
Hannah: I also think of I mean… to you use myself as an example, being the younger professional, how much do you save in a retirement account versus investing a business or saving your 529 plan for your kids? Like it’s… they’re complicated decisions that don’t have necessarily simple answers and no matter how much we want to simplify it as financial planners there’s just complexity to that. Looking at that perspective, how does a financial planner navigate that?
Dayana: I think, and if I can maybe flip it back to you first, are there things that when we’ve been confronted with some of these clients that are maybe in some of these more complex ambiguous situations, are there things that stick out to you that are your go to sort of pieces of information or how you kind of weigh things when you’re working with them?
Hannah: Like questions that I asked them?
Hannah: Yeah, so I mean, I do a lot of like values exercises, different things like that, asking a lot of open ended questions. I always tell my clients I’m the financial expert, but you’re the expert on your life and I can give you information but you’re the expert on your life and only together can we come up with the right solutions. A lot of what I do is I feel like you just give my clients, I show them the options that they have. It’s their decision to make, so I don’t know. I’m curious and perhaps we go to your workbook, maybe that’s where.
Dayana: Give them my workbook. No, so I think right off the bat, I think the fact that you are working in a context where someone is coming to you for help kind of really sets the stage well for applying some of the things that are supposed to promote wisdom in our decision making. A lot of kind of the basis of practical wisdom has to do with learning from experience of being open to change, being kind of engaged in this perspective taking and so you are likely seeing clients that are already at least open to that because they’re coming to you for help, so I think that is already kind of a great place to start.
Dayana: I think the values exercises that you mentioned are also really, really important. Part of being able to put some of these strategies into practice involves knowing yourself, so doing some of that reflection on what’s important to you and what your values are, having the knowledge of what are your deal breakers, what do you want out of your decisions, and so the more the people can have a guiding purpose and I think the easier some of these decisions become.
Dayana: There’s a lot of overlap I think with the literature on purpose as well as practical wisdom and so purpose is sort of seen as being able to give people direction and meaning and it can support wisdom because it gives you kind of this guiding light and so both purpose and wisdom are related to wellbeing and this just speaks to this when… even if we’re not certain that the decision is the right one or the best one, if we feel like we are making these decisions with the values that are important to us in mind those are likely not going to change. We can feel good about kind of being driven by those things that matter to us, and then I think also being able to work with a lot of clients I think gives you a really important resource and tool that can support you in helping clients gain perspective and experiences of other people.
Dayana: We are likely not going to have all of the experiences with financial decisions that we need to be able to say, well three years ago when that happened to me I learned this and now I know better. We have our own finite experiences and perspectives but what I can see a financial planner bringing is really examples, obviously not sharing personal information from other clients, but examples of things that you have seen work for other people or not work, and all of that just sort of adds to this collective experience, knowledge that clients can use I think.
Dayana: One of the strategies that comes up very commonly in the practical wisdom literature is using exemplars, so people that we would consider to be very wise as examples or sort of lessons in how we can think about or approach problems and so teaching about these exemplars and then talking through what are the qualities about these exemplars that we value, that we like and how can we apply that to our own life as well as perspective taking, so there’s some really great research out there that shows that people actually are able to reach wiser solutions if they reason through problems in the third person.
Dayana: I might not talk to myself in the third person when I’m thinking about a problem or reflecting on a problem, but as someone that’s working with a client perhaps I asked if you were advising your friend on this problem, what might you tell them just to kind of get the brain kind of thinking outside of our normal linear patterns. We are creatures of habit and so I think when we have strategies and thought processes that we’re used to, and so part of this is sort of shaking it up and helping people see that there might be other frames or perspectives that they can take on as they think through the problem themselves.
Hannah: Yeah. You know, it’s so interesting. I just think back to… we go through training for financial planners and it’s very… number’s heavy, very focused on the technical side of things that really help in clients navigate this. I mean that’s certainly not as black and white as some of the projections would make us think they are. As you created your workbook and different things like that, what are some of the exercises that you included in there to help people come to decisions on complex problems?
Dayana: Absolutely. I think I almost always have some form of values exercise. There’s been a lot of research just on the effectiveness of that for helping to gain some of that self reflection and clarity and I’ve also started to include some exercises that help people tune into how they’re feeling about a situation, so really allowing people to sort of sit, feel what’s going on in their mind, in their body and to I think identifying that really helps because sometimes it’s easy to just be like, I’m very stressed or I’m very worried about this, but what is it that is stressful about this situation? Is it because you value security, and so you’re worried that whatever problems presented itself is going to interfere with that, so are you worried that… are you fearful of what might happen? There’s all these different feelings and so I think being able to identify that and identify how those feelings manifest.
Dayana: Speaking from personal experience, I’ve noticed that if I’m really sad, I’ll like reach for my favorite comfort foods, but if I’m very stressed I tend to kind of let go of some of the self care things that are really important to me and just focus on the problem and so even being able to identify like if I’m having these behaviors, it’s probably because I’m feeling this way and so how can I keep those in check because a lot of times our stress responses can actually get in the way of us being productive and working through the problems… when I get stressed, if I stop taking care of myself and I’m skipping meals and all of this stuff that’s going to make me hungry and tired and all this other stuff that’s going to interfere with my ability to actually be in tune to the problem and productive in trying to solve it.
Hannah: This is such a… I love talking about these things, so you know, how people feel about a situation by just identifying that, does that just frees up some of their brain space or kind of what-
Dayana: Yeah, I think it can help create a direction, so if I… and we all have different ways of dealing with different feelings, and so if we can identify what it is that we’re feeling I think it makes it more tangible, right, it’s no longer just something that’s really freaking me out, that I’m going to… I don’t know when the next time I’m just going to break down crying because I have all this pent up, but it really… and that can still happen and we need to feel our feelings and all of that stuff and this is my social work background coming out here, but I think it makes it tangible and it gives us something to work with, and it helps us self reflect.
Dayana: If I know that I tend to have these responses when I’m stressed and I know that they’re maladaptive I can be in tune, I can be ready for it and I can make sure that I’m upping my running schedule so that I’m getting that physical exercise that I need and that… I meal prep so that if I’m stressed I don’t have an excuse not to skip a meal because it’s already there for me, so I can tackle these other issues so that I have more space to be very intentional about how I deal with the problem.
Hannah: One of the questions that I hear that and it’s… financial planners, we’re not therapists, we’re not counselors, is this a huge process or can it just be somebody simply just naming something in a meeting like, you seem really stressed about this, or how does this actually play out like in meetings? Like does it have to be a big counseling session?
Dayana: Oh yeah.
Hannah: To be effective.
Dayana: Yeah, I definitely don’t, and again I don’t, we can all be… that would be too much… I think even just a simple question of like, or even it sounds like you’re very scared about this. Even I think being able to have a language around it first of all is really helpful but it also sort of communicates that it’s okay, that it’s a common enough feeling that you’re able to recognize it and that it’s okay and that this is just part of the process, so I think, yeah, even very simple questions like that can just spark something for people.
Dayana: The other exercise that I was going to talk about that I think kind of relates to is asking people… so in the workbook actually I have a page where there’s these three different picture frames and so I ask people to either write out or draw whatever method works best for them. At least three different ways that they can think about the problem. If I’m thinking about whether to retire or not is it… am I looking through the lens of is it a money problem? Do I have enough money to retire? Do I need to keep working? And if so, am I trying to hit a certain point? Am I looking at it as a time problem? Do I have things that I want to be spending my time doing that continuing to work is going to interfere with? Is it a problem of a family, do I value my family a lot but then this is interfering with my ability to spend quality time with them or whatever it might be.
Dayana: I think even being able to… say, you know, how are you looking at this problem and which of these things is most important to you? It doesn’t have to be a very lengthy exercise but just helping people frame what is the actual problem. The question is should I retire or not? But what is it that’s making it difficult for you to make that decision and how can we address that?
Hannah: As people kind of work through some of these elements, this decision making process… If we’re using a lot of these tools in practice, what does the process look like for people actually making some of these decisions in these complex environments?
Dayana: It’s tough to say. For example, when I do interviews, I would say that at the time when I talk to people, about half would say that their problems actually resolved. I think ideally, I’m a big fan of having time to process and I think people have different speeds at which they do that, but I think if you have some of these conversations, if you do some of this shaking up of the reasoning and the thinking processes so that people can see it from different ways, ideally there would be some time to where they can actually like go and sit with all of this new stuff that they’ve thought about and kind of feel it out, part of it is trusting your intuition. Like you said, the clients are the experts in their own life.
Dayana: I sort of see any sort of application of this stuff as just another tool that you’re giving them, another way to think about the problem and so… for some people I could see it being really clear like you just ask them what’s the frame that you’re looking at this through? And they say, “You know, oh, well, it’s spending time with my family.” And then that makes it clear for them. I think there would probably be other people that need to take some more time and so yeah, I think it would vary.
Hannah: What’s so fascinating to me about the work that you’ve done is this idea of working within complexity and uncertainty and you have gone to a lot of conferences just like FPA Retreat, which is like the advanced financial planning conference and they’re really trying to push the edge on what does financial planning look like in practice and one of the things… we’ve had this question for several years of what if financial planners are trying to make things certain, like can we give projections to a client… we’re trying to make it black and white for them, like if you do this then this happens but it’s this idea of maybe instead of certainty that we’re supposed to provide our clients, it’s really uncertainty.
Hannah: One of the questions that we had at one of the retreats recently was what if uncertainty was our canvas as financial planners, that’s our value to our clients, is helping them navigate uncertainty rather than helping them be certain and so I’m curious kind of what your thoughts are on all that.
Dayana: You know, we can’t avoid uncertainty on any… I just got done with a move between apartments and even just the sheer amount… like I had the best plan, I had everything coordinated, I had like checked in with all the moving pieces, the couple days leading up to it and absolutely everything went off the rails. Now obviously this is like much less significant than when people are making some of these really big important financial decisions that I think it just speaks to the fact that we just… all we can do is the work so that when these challenges or uncertainties come up we kind of have the tools in our back pocket and so I think like you mentioned this focus on values and purpose and trusting your gut and not just… again, not just being reactive but actually saying I’ve had these experiences, or I have this knowledge, or I have this information that equips me to trust my own judgment is really important.
Dayana: I think all of these different ways of thinking about the problem in different ways, getting different perspectives, seeking help, all of that sort of just prepares people, gives them more tools and more information with which they can navigate that uncertainty because that’s the goal and that’s really… I think it’s interesting because I think that’s really what brought me to this line of research initially. I was working in a social service program for youth and every day you could never know what was going to happen. There were a lot of kids that we were working with and everybody has different needs and perspectives and I kind of came to this line of work because I was interested in how can we be the most effective service providers and we definitely cannot have all the right answers because we don’t know what’s going on with our clients deep down, but we can ask the questions, give them those tools and equip them with skills so that when they need them they have those resources to navigate those challenges and trust their instinct and their judgment.
Hannah: If somebody is listening to this and they’re like, okay, like I bought into the idea that I need practical wisdom to be a great financial planner. How do you get practical wisdom? Any way to fast track this or is this just something that comes with years of experience?
Dayana: I think having it in intention to want to build that I think can be really important. There is this idea that we gain wisdom through experience and so on one hand you can’t really fast track that, you can’t predict what experiences you’re going to have or… experiences happen when they happen but I think what’s really important is being intentional about your experiences, so really doing the reflection of the situations and being intentional about what can I learn from this. There are plenty of people I’m sure that have had a wealth of experiences but if they haven’t taken the time to really think about what it means for them or what they’ve learned from it, then that’s not really going to drive practical wisdom.
Dayana: I think the intentionality is really important, doing the self reflection and thinking about what have my different experiences taught me and I think as you work with clients that can be really great too because you have your own experiences but you also have all the experiences that you’ve seen other clients go through and so again, I think you offer a really great resource for individuals who maybe haven’t had the experiences that they need to be practically wise in some of their decisions maybe like initially but by… kind of expanding the way that they think about it through the conversations that they have with you and the experiences that you’re able to share with them they can sort of build on that even if they themselves haven’t had those experiences.
Hannah: One of the things that I’m curious about you… I know when we were talking before, you were talking about building up practical wisdom in the workplace and kind of in that dynamic, so I’m curious if you could talk a little bit more about that.
Dayana: Yeah, so I think when it comes to the workplace being able to understand what your goals and purpose are as an employee is really important, so are you… and there is no right purpose, like this is going to look different for everybody but knowing… when I come to work this is the impact that I want to have. I think that that self knowledge is really key because it can create the foundation for making decisions when they need to be made and knowing kind of like what’s guiding you and what’s important to you is really important, and so for I think in the workplace, I think that there’s different elements to this, right, what is the purpose to the work that you’re doing, but then also what is your purpose as an employee? What do you hope to contribute to the organization? What do you hope to contribute to the world or to your field?
Dayana: Having, I think that as a driving force is really important and this again lends itself to sort of the systems thinking so it’s not just about me, but it’s how the things that I’m good at, the things that I’m important to, how does that connect with the environments that I’m interacting with, the clients that I’m serving, so being able to have a very clear… and I was listening to one of the earlier episodes that you did and I believe it was with Jocelyn.
Hannah: Ah, Jocelyn Wright.
Dayana: Yeah and I just loved that whole conversation because I think it really spoke to… it started out with thinking about like what is your own personal mission in the work that you’re doing, and I think that that is also a great exercise. Companies have missions why not have that for us as individuals as well? What is it that I’m striving towards? I think that that’s great. I think having a language around reflection and managing feelings and recognizing your own limitations and biases is really important because it can prevent hopefully us taking actions that are shortsighted, so if we know where our blind spots are, and also knowing of the people that you work with what those strengths and limitations are because that can help know if I know that I’m working with a client that is in a particularly difficult financial situation that’s like triggering for me or that I don’t really know, perhaps the person that I’m working next to has had that experience.
Dayana: I can go to them and see what they think, what their perspective is, so I think that that is really helpful too and just having a more collective and I think when you talk about going to the conferences and things like that, I think that that really helps them being able to, again learn from other people that are in your field, so having it be normalized to talk about these challenges and when we’ve succeeded and when we’ve made good decisions but also when we’ve made bad decisions that we’ve learned from, and so sharing those experiences to kind of grow this collective wisdom I think can be really powerful and organizations I think lend themselves well to that because you’re inherently… unless you’re doing independent work as a consultant, you’re usually working with other people who sort of have these shared experiences and you can relate to that and you can learn from each other.
Hannah: Well, is there anything else that you want to add or any other things that we haven’t really touched on that you want to be sure our listeners here?
Dayana: I think we got to everything. Again, I just think that the context in which financial planning sort of happens really lends itself well to a lot of the foundations for practical wisdom and so really just challenging people to be really honest and reflective and to think more broadly about problems and I think that that can really just help kind of shine a light on what aspects of a problem need to be focused on and what are those values that can drive those decisions.
Hannah: I love it. Where can people find you if they want to know more about your research or kind of what you’re doing?
Dayana: I have a website that… and so its www.dayanakupisk.com. That’s D-A-Y-A-N-A-K-U-P-I-S-K, so that’s got all my background and information and it’s connected to my LinkedIn, so I’m happy to connect and then people can write me an email on there as well. I’m really happy to connect with folks online or by phone and then I’ve been currently working on extending some of this application beyond the workbook to employee development trainings and some coaching and consulting. I am really excited and happy to take any questions or inquiries about any of that stuff, so if there’s folks out there that want to work on bringing some of this practical wisdom stuff to their work, I’d love to chat.
Hannah: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
Dayana: Thanks so much for having me.