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What are some of the most difficult discussions for working women?

My co-authors of Crucial Conversations and I recently partnered with Little PINK Book on a poll of 845 women in business and found the top most difficult issues for women to discuss in the workplace are: Giving performance feedback to someone without hurting his or her feelings or damaging the relationship. Asking for a raise or a change in a performance plan related to a raise. Not receiving support from other women. And negotiating limits when asked to do more than is reasonable or possible.

What's your advice for negotiating workload limits?

The study found that, in addition to being the most difficult issue for women in the workplace, negotiating workload limits is also one of the main issues that cause one in five women to leave their job. Some tips:

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 viewpoint. People are willing to listen to even challenging views as long as they believe you are also open to theirs.

How can women not cower when the stakes are high?

By developing skills. Most people think that those who handle crucial conversations well just have more courage or confidence. That's not true. They tend to have more confidence because they have more competence. They have developed scripts and skills for dealing with dicey situations. They know they have the ability to say things in a way that won't cause offense.

Crucial conversations skills are about being 100 percent candid with people while also being 100 percent respectful.

Most of us think we have to choose between one or the other. Those who don't cower, but instead speak up, are those who spend time learning how to be both candid and respectful.

What's your advice for mastering high-stakes discussions?

According to my past research, the ability to hold difficult conversations is a serious challenge for both genders, as 95 percent of employees struggle to bring up concerns with colleagues.

First, reverse your thinking. Those who are best at crucial conversations think about the risks of not speaking up. They realize if they don't share their unique views, they will have to live with the poor decisions that will be made as a result of holding back their informed opinions.

Also, change your emotions. Separate people from the problem. Try to see others as reasonable, rational and decent human beings — even if they hold a view that you strongly oppose. Help others feel safe.

Try starting your next high-stakes conversation by assuring the other person of your positive intentions and your respect for them. When others feel respected and trust your motives, they let their guard down and begin to listen — even if the topic is unpleasant. And, invite dialogue.

After you create a safe environment, confidently share your views and invite the other person to do so as well. If you are open to hearing others' points of view, they'll be more open to yours.

Dawn House Joseph Grenny, author