One of scariest, hardest things at work, or in any life situation, is having an honest conversation. By “honest conversation,” I mean a situation when you need to talk about something that has been on your mind or in your heart, and you are going to ask for someone else to respond.
What stops people from having honest conversations? Fear. Always. Maybe what you need to talk about is something you have been afraid to say out loud. You could be afraid of being misunderstood, hurting someone’s feelings, getting yelled at, or being judged. At work you could even fear losing your job.
When you need to have a hard conversation, you will experience fear. But if you don’t have the conversation, two things are almost certainly guaranteed: Things will not change. And they might get even worse.
When I talk about the need for honest conversations, one topic that comes up a lot is: “Something needs to change at work for me to be happier.” There is a lot on the line with this conversation. If you talk with your boss about what you need in order to experience satisfaction at work, you may hear that what you want is not possible. Or even worse, that you are being unreasonable. You could strain your relationship with your supervisor.
But if you do not bring up your needs at work, then things will continue as usual.
This may result in decreased job satisfaction and increased stress. It could even cause depression. Also, if you don’t talk about it, you won’t know if your job situation could get better.
Wait! What happens if you do have the honest conversation?
If you talk with your supervisor about your needs at work, a lot could go right! You could brainstorm potential solutions together. This process could open up a healthy dialogue with your supervisor, and could improve collaboration. Your relationship could strengthen. Your honest conversation could benefit other employees in the organization.
What if you ask and do not receive support?
You will learn an important lesson about your employer’s ability to respond to employee needs. This could confirm that perhaps this job is not the right place for you. In fact, sometimes that is what we are afraid of confirming. It is good to get clear and know. The longer we hide from the fact that our job is not the right place for us the more we put off the work of finding a new job. If you know then you can prepare for the future.
Is it worth it?
Yes! Take action. Have the conversation. If there is a path to improving things at work, you’re taking the first step toward making things better. Your coworkers could benefit. Your relationship with your supervisor could improve. At worst you will find out critical information about whether this job is the right place for you to be.*
Plan for the conversation
Think about who you can talk to and when it is the right time to talk with them. Start by speaking with your most direct supervisor (if you go over their head you will potentially alienate them). Can this person help enact a change in the organization? If not, know who else you will talk with. Lay the groundwork for the conversation ahead of time. Let them know you want to talk about how you are doing in the job. Ask for the support you need to improve your performance and satisfaction.
Prepare. Be ready to share concrete ideas. What would you like to change? What are some realistic ways you can see that things can change? Be ready to compromise and negotiate. Be prepared for tough questions and tough choices. What are you willing to give up to make a change occur?
Yes, forgive. You may gain support and understanding to change the way you are doing or experiencing your job. That is great! But even after the change occurs, you may have residual anger toward your co-workers or even yourself. You may feel let down. You may feel frustrated by things that have occurred in the past. But if you do not work toward forgiving people in the organization, the changes you have made will not lead to feeling any better. So before you start, set an intention to forgive. Write down who you want to forgive and for what. If you pray or meditate, ask for help in forgiving those people. You can also see the person and silently say, “I am forgiving you for this.” Try doing this until you have forgiven them.
(You do not have to have an external conversation with anyone to forgive them.)
Commit to do the work and keep the conversation going
Change takes work, so be prepared to do your part. Be willing to continue the conversation about how you are doing in your job.
Have a Plan B
If the changes you are asking for are not possible, what are you going to do instead? What personal changes can help you offset your dissatisfaction with the job? Are there relationships at work that you can improve? Can you shift your ways of thinking about the work? What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this job? What is one step you can take toward a different way of engaging in the work, getting enjoyment outside of the work, or leaving your job?
Find people that you love and trust outside of your work to talk with. Tell them what you are struggling with at work. Ask them to listen as you talk through possible solutions including a Plan B. Ask them to hold you accountable to talk with people at work. Check in and report on how your conversation went, and what change is occurring.
Most work cultures do not support honest, open conversations. It is hard to be the person who speaks up for change and your own needs. But if you do not do it, things will not change.
A few honest conversations could make your job an easier place to work.
If you enjoy the work more, you will do better work. You will also be a happier person. Your family and loved ones will thank you. And you are worth it.
What else would you add to this list? What has helped you have a successful conversation and change in the workplace?
*Every once in a while someone has a supervisor who is just not supportive, period. This is rare. (Sometimes we don’t feel supported, but we haven’t opened up a dialogue.) If you know you have a supervisor who will not support you, then you have a different dilemma. If you believe your supervisor does not have your best interest in mind (or even the best interest of the organization) then they are NOT the right person to talk to. Find other management support in the organization and have a conversation about what you need to be successful in the company. Also get support and start working on a Plan B.