Can We Talk?

by Daisy Dowling

You’re no beginner when it comes to communicating—you wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t know how to talk to people and get your point across, and how to listen, too. Over the years, you’ve fielded tough interview questions and still gotten the job, dealt with prickly coworkers and managed to keep the peace at work, and both delivered and received your fair share of difficult feedback. It’s no different on the home front, either. After navigating your family’s gettogethers during the holidays, you could probably teach a diplomacy class. And you know how to be kind but firm with your children, and how to really listen when they talk (or babble, if they’re small) to you. Of course, just like everybody else, you find your palms getting a little sweaty before you speak to a crowd, but for the most part, both personally and professionally, you know how to communicate.

But what about those times when the personal and professional intersect—how good are you at communicating then? As someone who wants to succeed on the job and be a loving, present, nurturing father or mother, how confident are you in having important conversations that cover both at the same time? Maybe, like so many of the working parents I’ve coached over the past several years, you’re grappling with how to:

  • Explain your working-parent schedule to a new boss or skeptical coworkers.
  • Write your annual self-review in a year when you went to major lengths to “take care of business” at home so you could keep performing at work.
  • Find the right words to tell your colleagues—none of whom have kids—that you’re expecting your second child.
  • Figure out a way to talk to your partner about all the extra hours they have been putting in recently, without it starting a major domestic skirmish.
  • Ask your child’s caregiver to stay late when you suddenly have to work overtime.
  • Renegotiate your work responsibilities, hours, or location while advocating for an (overdue and well-deserved) raise or promotion.
  • Talk to yourself about how you’re handling working parenthood instead of falling into the “I feel guilty” trap, again.

. . . or similar. If so, I’m sure your intentions are good. You want to have an effective dialogue; that’s not the issue. Yet the stakes are high, the situation fraught, and despite all of your professionalism and parental love and that presentations skills class you took a few years ago, it’s extremely hard to figure out how to say what needs to be said. There’s a very real and disconcerting risk that the conversation doesn’t go well, and you’re left sitting across from an unconvinced boss, an angry partner, or a confused child. Or worse, you’re not heard at all, or are heard but misunderstood. If you need to have a hard talk about work with your family or about your family while at work, you’re probably also worried and unsure of the right next steps.

This book will help restore your confidence and get you moving forward. Communicate Better with Everyone is your guide to taking all the communications skills and experience you already have and tweaking them to fit your career-plus-caregiving reality. In the chapters that follow, you’ll get the perspective, practical strategies, and actual wording you need to tackle the toughest working-parent conversations, authentically and effectively—without undue stress. This isn’t a communications primer or 101 course; actually, it’s the reverse. It focuses only on the trickier and more loaded working-parent interactions—the conversations that, even as a skilled negotiator and veteran parent, you don’t feel as confident about and that no communications course would get into. And it unpacks those conversations at a deeper level, right where your ambition bumps up against who you are as a loving parent.

You’re short on time, and that important conversation looms, so let’s get right down to business. Start your journey by glancing through the contents pages. As you do, the most relevant chapters will jump out. Need time off because of a difficult family situation? Turn to chapter 11, and get Denise Rousseau’s great advice on how to frame your dialogue as a problem-solving exercise. If you’ve been beating yourself up over all the shortcomings you see in yourself as a parent, dig into chapter 15 and learn to talk to yourself in a different way. If you’re on the fence and wondering whether or not to even have that difficult conversation you’ve been freaking out about or if it’s better to just let it go, let Deborah Grayson Riegel’s excellent guidance in chapter 8 help you decide. Let this book be your coach: to help you gain direction, build better skills, see new approaches, and come away with more confidence. While the advice you’ll find here is usable for every working parent, it’s your life, and family, and career, and relationships, and you’ll decide what to take away and what to act on.

As you begin to read through the practical advice you find in this book, I believe you’ll find the real benefit of getting some guidance and a fresh take on your working-parent communications—as one of my recent clients did. Rob was a new father whose first child had been born mid-pandemic. Working remotely, in an industry not known for candor around caregiving issues, and still within the first year of a pressured new job, he agonized over when and how to bring up his caregiving needs with his colleagues. During our session, we unpacked his apprehensions and covered various ways to talk about his schedule, all while coming across as a committed, “on it” professional. After an hour of rapid back-and-forth, Rob paused. “If I’m not as worried about how to talk about career and parenting,” he told me, “I can spend more of my time worrying about my actual work, and the baby.” That’s exactly it: The more comfortable and confident you are talking about working parenthood, the more you’ll be able to focus on the things that really matter.

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