Transforming Talk at Work | November 2014


Dear Janel,

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.


Reverse Engineer: Reaching Agreement Within Difficult Discussions

1. Recognize that the first suggested solution is simply that, the first.
2. In a non-threatening way, ask for more information.
3. Suggest an alternative that meets some, if not all, of the needs as you understand them.
4. Pause, and wait for the other person to reciprocate (they often will, given a moment or two). If they don’t, offer your feedback and ask them to suggest another option.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 as needed, until an acceptable agreement is reached.
6. Don’t get too attached to what you think the final agreement should look like. Together you are likely to come up with something better than either would have individually.


Digest This: Workplace Bullying in the News

Tackle Conflicts with Conversation (Harvard Business Review)
Succinct and smart, Judith Glaser reminds us that great leaders embrace, engage and lean into disagreement and conflict. Her “conversation-centered” approach is refreshing and enlightened.

7 Steps to Defuse Workplace Tension (Entrepreneur)
Practice makes progress! Use the two scenarios and guiding steps in this article to brush up on your skills and reframe the idea of “negative conflict” into a potential for “positive tension”.

How to Manage Conflict at Work (Forbes)
Conflict management from a supervisor’s point of view. With tips ranging from maintaining the moral high ground to using your Human Resources team as an ally, you’re sure to feel more prepared for all kinds of friction in the workplace.

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My Treat:

Janel on Reaching Agreement

Here’s a clip from my presentation at the GHC Conference in Phoenix where I share the two types of agreement in a difficult discussion and a story about a woman who puts the technique to use – at work and at home!



Until next time,

Janel Anderson, PhD
Workplace Communication Expert and CEO of Working Conversations

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