A few weeks ago, I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to speak at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference. For those of you who missed the media uproar, this is the same event where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggested that women who don’t ask for raises will earn “good karma.” Call it coincidence, but the workshop I led at the conference (immediately following Nadella’s gaffe) focused on navigating your way through difficult discussions. A timely topic, to say the least.
The issue of salary inequity between men and women will certainly trigger difficult discussions on a grand scale. I’d like to go on the record now, and suggest that this is not a bad thing. Any difficult discussion can be an opportunity to stimulate productive conversation around sensitive subjects. And, as in Nadella’s example, agreement may not come in the very first (or second) conversation. So the real question is: what does it take to advance a challenging dialogue toward positive resolution?
Traversing difficult conversations effectively often involves give and take. Lead with the phrase, “Help me understand your thinking behind that,” to immediately shed greater light on motivations, opinions and attitudes that may be at play. Even when addressing senior leaders, it is appropriate to ask thought-provoking questions. For example, “Mr. Nadella, what would it look like if all employees were actually compensated entirely based on the value they bring to the organization?” Equipped with new information and clarity, you will be better able to present alternatives, seek compromise and – eventually – reach mutual agreement.
The next time you find yourself in the midst of a difficult discussion, use the following steps to reverse engineer a constructive resolution.