According to a new study, women are still hurting their own careers when it comes to having crucial conversations at the workplace. The online poll of 845 women in business, conducted by Joseph Grenny and Cynthia Good, CEO and founding editor of the top women’s business website, Little PINK Book, found that the most difficult issues for women to discuss in the workplace are: Negotiating limits when asked to do more than is reasonable or possible, giving performance feedback to someone without hurting his or her feelings or damaging the relationship, asking for a raise or a change in a performance plan related to a raise and not receiving support from other women.
According to the study, only 13% of women are “very” or “extremely” confident in their ability to candidly and effectively bring up these issues while the rest fear how they’ll be perceived if they speak up or simply don’t work for an organization that supports candid dialogue. This inability to speak because of fear is detrimental. ”Most of us fail to make the connection between our ability to speak up and our personal influence,” Grenny said. “And yet our research clearly shows that women who are skilled at stepping up to difficult issues at work experience greater satisfaction and increased productivity.”
“Women don’t ask,” said Priya G. Trauber, an executive director at Morgan Stanley, who spoke at the recent Wharton Women in Business Alumnae Conference 2011. ”We don’t ask people to cultivate us and we don’t make ourselves available to be cultivated.” Trauber’s views come from her work as an executive director at Morgan Stanley, where she is responsible for the bank’s strategy to attract, retain and develop women throughout all areas of the company. “We have to recognize what our male counterparts have known for years — that relationships matter, asking matters, and you have to make people see you.”
Women really need to work on being more bold, said Lisa Gates, founder, trainer and coach of She Negotiates, an institution that helps women with essential negotiation skills that positively impact every area of their life and work. “We keep quiet, we don’t speak up. That is our first biggest mistake,” she said. Look for opportunities to show off your accomplishments to your manager. “Women have to learn how to sing their own praises. The female thing we do is use words like ‘pretty good’, ‘sortuv’, ‘kinduv’. Men naturally brag and it looks good on them,” she said. “When we do it, we judge ourselves and we judge others.” Gates suggested if you just did a big project then go talk to your boss and tell him or her about it. “You need to say ‘I’d like to have this conversation – just open it up.”
Here are some tips on getting over this fear of having a difficult conversation:
- “If you don’t figure out how to get your voice heard in some capacity, by either forcing yourself to ask a question, making a comment or just saying, ‘Yes, I got it,’ then everyone is going to forget that you were on the conference call,” said Joanna Chang, who works at an executive search firm in San Francisco.
- Speaking up doesn’t need to be obnoxious or aggressive. Mary Tung, a deputy director of corporate international business development for the Asia Pacific region at Lockheed Martin, said that even people who are reserved can play an important role by finding a voice. She learned that if she couldn’t add to the conversation during a meeting, she would take notes and keep track of all the main points being discussed. “Then, at the end, I would interject and say, ‘Can I recap? Can I summarize?’ You would be surprised how many people don’t have that consolidated list. All of a sudden you have just added significant value to that meeting.”
- Clarify intent. Don’t start the conversation with complaints — start by establishing mutual purpose with your boss. Begin with, “I have a concern about my workload, but I want to be clear that I care about helping our team succeed. I don’t want to request changes that will make your life harder or put our goals at risk.”
- Present the facts. Don’t start with broad conclusions or generalizations that put others on the defensive. Build the case for the point you want to make by sharing objective facts. For example, “I’ve observed that those who do their work get rewarded with more work.”
- Propose actual solutions. Don’t just come with complaints — come with recommendations for how to make this work for your boss. If you just dump the problem on your boss, he or she may help you solve it, but you’ll strain the relationship.