Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Silently Suffering

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four bestselling books, 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 are asked to take on more responsibility as a result of other people being laid off. I am now working over 60 hours a week, and I don’t have time for my family. How can I communicate my situation to reduce my workload and not risk losing my job too? I fear that I will be perceived as “not a team player” or a “weak performer.” How do I avoid the sucker’s choice?

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.”

This problem has two parts–too much work and no way to bring the subject up. However, years of experience have taught me that if you don’t talk it out, you act it out. 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.

Help yourself get through the clever stories that you may be using to justify your own silence or violence 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 all management not listening or only being in it for the dollar may have some truth as applied to some individuals. 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.

– “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. And you care about you personal well-being as well as your family. Prepare now, and then speak up.

Finally, prepare what you’ll do and say to “Make It Safe.” Get an appointment 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, since the restructuring, I’m working 60 hours a week, and I’m feeling my work/life balance is stressed. I also feel like it’s hard to talk about 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. The scripts I’ve suggested may be way off target for your challenges. After you’ve prepared, find a friend and practice. He or she can make suggestions for improvements. 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, prepare some more, and make another attempt. Avoiding and withdrawing occur when you give up and let silence win.

So go get ‘em. And best wishes.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

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