Crucial Conversations for Women in Business


Justin HaleIAAP Summit 2016 Speaker
Sessions during IAAP Summit 2016 include:

Crucial Conversations for Women in Business

A few years ago we did a study finding that the most difficult issue for women in the workplace to discuss and successfully resolve is negotiating limits on their workload—it’s also one of the main issues that cause one in five women to leave their job. It was also interesting to note that for the 845 women in business we surveyed they said that they struggle most to hold high-stakes discussions with other women rather than with men.


The four most difficult issues for women to discuss in the workplace are:

  1. Negotiating limits when asked to do more than is reasonable or possible
  2. Giving performance feedback to someone without hurting his or her feelings or damaging the relationship
  3. Asking for a raise or a change in a performance plan related to a raise
  4. Not receiving support from other women

It turns out only 13% of women are “very” or “extremely” confident in their ability to candidly and effectively bring up these issues while the rest fear how they’ll be perceived if they speak up or simply don’t work for an organization that supports candid dialogue.

What happens when a crucial conversation goes awry? Nearly half admitted a failed high- stakes discussion caused their productivity and/or engagement to drop, and one in five women said they’ve had a crucial conversation go so poorly they left their job. However, those who are skilled at stepping up to difficult issues at work experience greater satisfaction and increased productivity.

Tips to negotiate workload limits:

  • Earn the right: Asking for fairness in work limits is easier when you have a reputation as a hard worker. Before raising concerns, evaluate if you are truly doing more than your share.
  • Clarify intent: Don’t start the conversation with complaints—start by establishing mutual purpose with your boss. Begin with, “I have a concern about my workload, but I want to be clear that I care about helping our team succeed. I don’t want to request changes that will make your life harder or put our goals at risk.”
  • Focus on facts: Don’t start with broad conclusions or generalizations that put others on the defensive. Build the case for the point you want to make by sharing objective facts. For example, “I’ve observed that those who do their work get rewarded with more work.”
  • Clarify boundaries: Be clear about any hard and fast limits you have on your workload. If, for example, you have family commitments or personal time values you won’t compromise, lay those out clearly and stick with them.
  • Propose solutions: Don’t just come with complaints—come with recommendations for how to make this work for your boss. If you just dump the problem on your boss, he or she may help you solve it, but you’ll strain the relationship.
  • Invite dialogue: Finally, invite your boss or teammates to share their viewpoints. People are willing to listen to even challenging views as long as they believe you are also open to theirs.


Justin Hale has presented to audiences across a variety of industries and organizations, helping them learn and apply practical skills. Justin is one of the key subject matter experts on the VitalSmarts development team and is the VitalSmarts virtual training guru. He has led the effort in virtual development and instruction, and seventy percent of attendees rate his virtual courses as equally engaging as or more engaging than face-to-face training they’ve attended. 


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