Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Regaining Work/Life Balance


Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, 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 have had to lay people off and as a result, my coworkers and I have been asekd to take on more responsibility. I am now working more than 60 hours a week, and I don’t have time for my family. How can I approach management with my concerns without risking my own job? I fear I will be perceived as “not a team player” or a “weak performer.”

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.”

You described your problem in two parts: 1) too much work; and 2) no way to surface the issue. I’m most concerned about your second problem, the inability to speak up with management. Years of experience have taught me that if you don’t talk it out, you act it out. As time wears on, 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.

To avoid this downward spiral, you need to identify and overcome the clever stories that you may be using to justify your own silence or violence. This can be accomplished 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 management not listening or only being concerned with finances may have some truth as applied to some individuals. However, 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. They are not as villainous as you may think they are.

“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. In addition, you care about your personal well-being as well as your family. First get a firm understanding of what it is that you really want and then prepare to speak up in favor of this goal.

Finally, prepare what you’ll do and say to Make It Safe. Get an appointment with your manager 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, I’ve worked 60 hours a week, and as a result my work/life balance has suffered. I also feel like it’s hard to talk about the stress I feel 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. After you’ve prepared, find a friend and practice. He or she can make suggestions for improvements to your script and approach. 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 the conversation, prepare some more, and make another attempt. Avoiding and withdrawing occur when you give up and let silence win.

Best wishes in this important conversation.

Develop Your Crucial Skills

Image for

What's Your Style Under Stress?

Discover your dialogue strengths and weaknesses with this short assessment.

Take Assessment

Image for

Subscribe Now

Subscribe to the newsletter and get our best insights and tips every Wednesday.


Image for

Ask a Question

From stubborn habits to difficult people to monumental changes, we can help.

Ask a Question

Leave a Reply

Get your copies
The ideas and insights expressed on Crucial Skills hail from five New York Times bestsellers.


Take advantage of our free, award-winning newsletter—delivered straight to your inbox