Crucial Conversations QA

Silently Suffering

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,
Work at the office has been piling up! Like a lot of companies in this economy, we are asked to take on more responsibility as a result of other people being laid off. I am now working over 60 hours a week, and I don’t have time for my family. How can I communicate my situation to reduce my workload and not risk losing my job too? I fear that I will be perceived as “not a team player” or a “weak performer.” How do I avoid the sucker’s choice?

Silently Suffering

A Dear Suffering,

I often ask groups “What are some significant issues that you are dealing with poorly or avoiding altogether?” The number one response to this question is a resounding “I have too much on my plate, and I don’t know how to bring it up without sounding like I am whining or I’m not a team player.”

This problem has two parts–too much work and no way to bring the subject up. However, years of experience have taught me that if you don’t talk it out, you act it out. Your stress levels rise along with your blood pressure, you develop a bad view of those around you (including the so-called villains at the top), your sense of corporate loyalty decreases, you lose focus at home on personal matters, you have less time for exercise and personal development, and you become increasingly reliant on comfort foods, complaining, and other stress-relieving activities to make sense of your life.

Help yourself get through the clever stories that you may be using to justify your own silence or violence by asking the following questions:

– “Am I pretending not to notice my role in this situation?” The role that most people don’t admit to is being passive or silent. Not speaking up is part of the problem. It is a huge problem. So whatever stories you’re telling yourself about why you can’t speak up need to be examined closely.

– “Why would reasonable, rational, decent human beings do this?” Clever, pervasive stories about all management not listening or only being in it for the dollar may have some truth as applied to some individuals. These stories are almost never accurate when applied to management in general. In fact, most managers want to hear what will help the organization in terms of quality, cost, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction.

– “What should I do right now to move toward what I really want?” What you want is a good thing–work/life balance. You care a lot about productivity, quality, being a team player, and so on. And you care about you personal well-being as well as your family. Prepare now, and then speak up.

Finally, prepare what you’ll do and say to “Make It Safe.” Get an appointment in a setting that is private. Create and practice a permission statement with contrasting, such as “I’d like to talk about an issue that deals with productivity and satisfaction. What I don’t want is this conversation to be seen only as my issue. I’d like to talk about ways that we can discuss resources, job stress, and work/life balance, by looking at it from a company perspective and the employee perspective. Would that be okay?”

Create and practice STATE-ing your path. Lead with the facts–with observations. “During the last three months, since the restructuring, I’m working 60 hours a week, and I’m feeling my work/life balance is stressed. I also feel like it’s hard to talk about without seeming like I’m not a team player. I’m wondering how you see this issue.”

Find a friend or colleague and really practice. The scripts I’ve suggested may be way off target for your challenges. After you’ve prepared, find a friend and practice. He or she can make suggestions for improvements. He or she can react in various ways and you can practice your responses. With a little practice, you’ll be more able and confident to step up to this crucial conversation.

And remember, when you do step up, if it gets too tense or emotional, keep the conditions safe by saying something such as “I didn’t want this to get emotional. I took a risk to bring up a tough topic. I was trying to find ways to deal with a problem that is bigger than me and it’s not going well. I’d like to stop here and think some more about it. Would that be okay?” You can always repeat your purpose and ask for a delay. “Delaying” isn’t “avoiding” if you think about, prepare some more, and make another attempt. Avoiding and withdrawing occur when you give up and let silence win.

So go get ‘em. And best wishes.


Crucial Conversations QA

Should I Fake It?

Joseph Grenny 

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

You talk a lot about “Making It Safe” by helping people know you respect them. What if you don’t? My manager is manipulative and deceitful, and I despise her. So, how do you respect people you don’t respect?

Should I Fake It?

A Dear Fake It,

Should you fake it? No. Dialogue is about “the free flow of meaning.” This includes your genuine feelings, perceptions, and experiences. No faking allowed. Fortunately, when this seems impossible, help is available.

Take a deep breath because what I’m about to say may cause you to hyperventilate.

SOMETIMES WE RESENT MOST THE THINGS WE RESEMBLE MOST. That’s right, sometimes we feel an extra dose of loathing for those who do things that we ourselves also do–but haven’t quite owned up to. You’ve probably felt this before when you’ve found yourself having an inexplicably strong negative emotional reaction to another person almost from the outset of meeting them.

Let’s say that this person is constantly drawing attention to herself. And where it would usually just make you smirk, for some reason in this person it drives you bonkers. You feel an extra helping of revulsion and impatience when this person does what she does.

Often, resentment is evidence that somehow you see yourself this same way–and just haven’t owned up to it.

How does all this apply to your boss? Put delicately, if your boss’s manipulative and deceitful behavior is causing you an overwhelming and insurmountable amount of disgust, it may be a sign that in some area of your life you are manipulative and deceitful and haven’t wanted to deal with it. When you deal with this, something interesting will happen. Your feelings toward your boss will soften. They won’t go away. You will still be bothered by her behavior. But you won’t be consumed with it because now you will see her as a person kind of like you. At this point, you’re only seeing her as different from yourself to protect yourself–so that you heap additional negative feelings on her to distract you from something you haven’t addressed in yourself.

Let me share a quick example of how this works. I learned this idea in part from a woman who was intensely disgusted with a male colleague who would stare at her in suggestive ways. After this had gone on for months, she finally decided to have the crucial conversation with him. Unfortunately, she was so incensed at him that she knew there was no way this conversation could go well. She spent some time examining her feelings toward him and found herself curious at why they were so intense.

So she asked herself an interesting question. “How am I just like him?” Almost immediately she was confronted with a very uncomfortable awakening. She had developed a persistent habit herself of checking people out. She was also fairly free with her close friends at commenting in bawdy terms on what she noticed in these scamming moments. When she owned up to her own practices, and realized in a pretty significant way she resembled her colleague, her feelings toward him softened. While she still wanted his behavior to stop, she felt more civil toward him, and, therefore, more capable of communicating a modicum of respect in the conversation.

If you can get past this, then consider whether you can approach your boss at least thinking about respect. We call this “potential respect.” Just let the person know that you don’t want things to feel the way they do now and that you really want to have a respectful and enjoyable relationship. That very desire can communicate a regard for the person that allows you to open up the conversation.

You might say to your boss, “Susan, I’m sure you’ve felt less than supported by me at times in the past. I think our relationship isn’t as comfortable and effective as either of us wants it to be. I really want to be one-hundred percent supportive of you and feel whole-hearted in how I work for you. And I don’t right now. I wonder if I could talk to you about some concerns I have. I believe if we could discuss and resolve this it could help me to give one-hundred percent the way I’d like to–and help me to feel better about you as well. Would that be okay?”

Do you see it? Any attempt to be both honest and respectful is sure to come out better than one that is neither. If you can come to see how you resemble your boss, you will resent her a little less. And if you resent her a little less, you may be able to communicate a desire to respect her in a way that makes her feel safe. From there, you can have a much better crucial conversation about what’s getting in the way.

Good luck!