Can We Talk? Book Summary - Can We Talk? Book explained in key points
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Can We Talk? summary

Roberta Chinsky Matuson

Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work

4.5 (472 ratings)
23 mins
Table of Contents

    Can We Talk?
    Summary of 7 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 7

    Confidence is the key to productive communication.

    Do you want the bad news or the good news first?

    Let’s start with the bad news. There’s no handbook for navigating difficult workplace conversations, no manual on how to ask your boss to stop micromanaging, and no step-by-step guide on how to tell Gary from accounts that he has onion breath.

    The good news, however, is that if you understand the seven principles of effective workplace communication, these difficult conversations will start to become a whole lot easier.

    So, let’s start with the first of our seven principles: confidence.

    Confidence is key to navigating difficult workplace situations productively.

    To begin with, you need confidence to initiate conversations. Marketing manager Rishi lacked the confidence to pull his boss aside and ask for a raise, even though he’d taken on more responsibility since his team downsized. Instead, he fell into a common trap. He had the conversation in his head. Over and over and over. Each time, Rishi imagined his boss giving more and more reasons to refuse his raise. Until eventually, he talked himself out of approaching his boss at all. The problem? You can’t anticipate someone else’s reaction. If Rishi’d had the confidence to request a raise, his boss may well have approved it.

    Without confidence, you can ignore your gut instincts and derail working relationships in the process. That’s exactly what happened to Danielle, whose boss pulled her up on a shoddy report. Danielle knew the report wasn’t her best work and her gut instinct was to offer her boss an unreserved apology. But self-doubt kicked in and Danielle reached for excuses. She blamed another department for giving her the wrong numbers. She implied her boss hadn’t allocated her enough time to finish the report. Danielle knew her boss wanted her to own her actions but she didn’t have enough confidence to do that. As a result, her relationship with her boss deteriorated.

    But, when you are able to inspire confidence in others, you instantly reframe your tricky requests into reasonable asks. Louise had just started a new role when she was obliged to ask for time off to deal with a personal matter. She assured her boss she’d make up the work later. Her boss approved the leave instantly. Why? Well, Louise had already made several deposits into the bank of trust, by working late to meet a deadline and covering for a sick coworker. If Louise hadn’t proven herself a hard worker, her commitment to making up missed work might have just sounded like an empty promise.

    In short, confidence is the key to initiating conversations, allowing your best instincts to dictate your dialogue, and priming others to respond favorably to your requests. So . . . should people lacking in self-confidence just give up on difficult conversations now?

    Not at all. Confidence isn’t an innate quality but a muscle that can be trained. The Buddha says, “What we think, we become.” So think yourself confident! Start your day with an affirmation, a phrase that clarifies your ambitions and intentions into a positive statement. You can come up with your own, or try these on for size: I can do what I set my mind to. I’m strong and capable. I can rise to any challenge. Once you’re thinking confidently, challenge yourself to initiate difficult dialogues – but, where possible, try and start small. Tackle the least intimidating issues on your to-do list, then work up to bigger problems.

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    What is Can We Talk? about?

    Can We Talk? (2021) outlines the seven communication principles essential for successfully navigating difficult conversations in the workplace, be it asking for a promotion, delivering negative feedback, or resolving a professional conflict.

    Who should read Can We Talk??

    • People who struggle to assert themselves at work
    • Employees who avoid having difficult conversations with their managers
    • Managers who wish they could communicate better with their teams

    About the Author

    Roberta Chinsky Matuson is a consultant, executive coach, and keynote speaker with over 25 years of experience. She’s worked with CEOs and C-Suites at Fortune 500 companies like LinkedIn and Microsoft and specializes in talent acquisition and retention.

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