July Luncheon Synopsis – Becky Dannenfelser and Andrea Hopke

Becky Dannenfelser and Andrea Hopke

“Tough Talk: How to Disarm Difficult Conversations at Work”

BeckyAndrea320x229Having a difficult conversation—about a performance review, with an abrasive co-worker, or to negotiate for more money or resources—can be among the toughest things a leader can do. In fact, when faced with these types of conversations, most will delay or refuse the interaction altogether. Presenters, Becky Dannenfelser and Andrea Hopke, shared great insight into disarming difficult conversations.

A difficult conversation is anything you feel you will have a hard time talking about. Considering the role of corporate culture—specifically how upper management handles (or doesn’t handle) conflict—is critical to disarming difficult conversations. Does management encourage a cut-throat environment or a collaborative one? How do your actions (or lack of action) impact the culture?

Difficult situations can lead to disputes, which can escalate to:

  • Blame
  • Complaining or criticism
  • A lack of accountability
  • Hidden agendas
  • Silos

A culture of engagement must start with trust. Next, you must know your audience in order to communicate effectively. Among these audiences—those “up” as in superiors, “across” as in colleagues, and “down” as in subordinates—women typically have difficulty with:

  • Up – negotiating salary or work limits and discussing performance reviews
  • Across – dealing with politics and competitiveness and managing friends
  • Down – giving performance feedback without hurting feelings

Challenging topics:

  • Performance Reviews – Leaving no clear plan of action is not helpful, and 87% of reviews don’t conclude with an action plan. Tip: start with yourself and identify recurrent themes in your own review. Develop a specific 90-day plan of action. Share that with your boss to get buy-in and to foster accountability, as well as a spirit of improvement. Consider how you might implement this with those who report to you.
  • Gender Issues – Women excel at negotiating for others, but are typically terrible at negotiating for themselves, and have a hard time negotiating with other women.
    • Negotiating limits (workload, roles, responsibilities), time off, salary, or changes in performance elements.
      • Cost of poor negotiating is pegged at $1 to $1.5 million over a career
      • Know what you are worth (use salary.com salary wizard to get the facts)
      • Use the conversation as an opportunity to educate, inform, and share
      • PREPARE
      • PRACTICE – you have to say the words out loud to get your physical body (voice, breath, shaking) under control

Why women avoid these conversations:

  • Fear (retaliation, looking stupid, bad past experience, emotional “betrayal”)
    • Tip: write out the emotions, name them, share them, and be open before the conversation.
  • Win/lose mentality
  • Lack skills about how to conduct and sustain the conversation
  • Dysfunctional Teams – In order to be effective, a team needs trust, conflict resolution, commitment, accountability, and results.
    • Accountability issues – Tip: Clarify everyone’s roles, expectations, and timeframes.
    • Make a public commitment to what others can count on from you.
    • Consider what you are tolerating. Confront it.
    • Prepare – define the situation and the direction you want the conversation to go. What is your intention? What outcome do you want?

Feminine Traits – It’s okay to use these traits during the conversation, but don’t get too caught up in “their story” (“I completely understand that you have a new baby who is up at night AND I need you to come to work on time.”).

Those who effectively disarm difficult conversations:

  • Listen actively
  • Are diplomatic
  • Demonstrate caring about impact
  • Collaborate
  • Are empathetic
  • Ask neutralizing questions
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Keep the goal in mind during the conversation
  • Get buy-in from others

Click here for a copy of the speaker-provided worksheet, Preparing for Difficult Conversations at Work.


Synopsis by Tana Gildea, CFP®, CPA, Certified College Planning Specialist, financial planner, author, and partner with Compass Financial, LLC.
ProWIN Meeting on July 15, 2015
Hyatt Atlanta Perimeter, Atlanta, Georgia

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