Asking for What You Need at Work: A Guide for Challenging Conversations

Dr. Errin Weisman, the author of this blog, is a physician currently practicing as an ER doctor. She coaches fellow female physicians struggling to create balanced lives as doctors. You can learn more about her work HERE

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You’re feeling burned out.

Tired, frazzled, empty. Unable to give any more -- to your patients, your colleagues, your family, or yourself.

Something’s got to give, or you’re going to give out. Because this isn’t working.

You’ve done the brave work of looking inside yourself for the answer -- for what you need in order to keep going. But the answers that have come back feel scary.

You know exactly what you need. You need to go down to part-time, have a lighter patient load, or take fewer on-call shifts. You need to fire your MA, confront a partner about inappropriate behavior or hire a scribe. You need to be paid the same amount as your male colleagues, you need compensation for extra work you're doing for the company, or change your contact.

First off, let’s stop and celebrate you! It’s a challenge to stand up and say, this isn’t working for me. We’re going to walk through this together.

Now it’s time to prepare to ask for what you need -- in a way that gives you the best possible chance of getting it. Let’s do this!

 

1. Pre-Work: Get Clear on What You Need

Know your non-negotiables. These are the things that you absolutely must have or must change in order to stay in this position. You will not compromise on these. Really spend some time honing in on what these are. They need to be as specific as possible.

Also, understand WHY these are not negotiable to you. Being able to communicate why you need these changes will help those you’re asking to be able to comprehend the full purpose, and therefore be more likely to make it happen. Again, making harsh demands will get you nowhere fast so go into this open, but solid on your non-negotiables.

Propose your areas of compromise. These are elements you want to start doing or stop doing,  but you’d be willing to make adaptations to your plan. They might include flex hours, leaving the office a little early and finishing work from home, extra vacation time, etc.

Throw in your nice-to-haves. What little perks or extras would make your job even more pleasant? Add in a few of these at the outset, knowing that you can drop them as part of the negotiation.

Tip that I live by: If you don't ask, you will never receive.

Include all these areas and don't tell the other side of the table which is in what category. They don't need to know your levels of priorities: you are the one who needs to be clear on these.

 

2. Pre-Work: Analyze the situation from all angles.

Use the Six Thinking hats protocol to prepare. Not everyone in the meeting is going to see things the way you do. This exercise will help you tease out different angles and prepare to speak to people with different points of view.

Practice. Practice stating your case. Practice in front of a mirror and then with me during a “mentor call,” with your spouse or a trusted friend or colleague.

 

3. Pre-Work: Get the right people in the right room.

Request a meeting with the right person or people. Indicate that you have some concerns you’d like to discuss.

Meet on neutral ground. I recommend not meeting in the hospital board room or the executive office. Schedule the meeting in a conference room where the balance of power is neutral between you and the other parties involved.

Set the agenda. Make the topic on the table clear before you enter the room. Make it clear that you’ll be running the meeting.
 

4. At the Start: Show Up

Arrive early. Sit at the head of the table. Occupy the power position, because meetings are all about power.

Show up with authority. Be mindful of your body language -- lean forward to show you’re engaged; square your shoulders; take up space.


5. During the Meeting: Leverage Your Power

Know your power. You’re a physician. You are the heart of any enterprise in which you work. Administrators need you to make money for them! Remember that you’re in a position of power.

Don’t give your power away. You can hold the power or share the power, but don’t give your power away. If the power is taken away from you, the meeting is not going in your direction.


6. During the Meeting: Shift the Energy

Pause. When we’re nervous, we often talk more. State your case, calmly and forcefully, and then pause.

Plan for how you’ll respond if you get caught off guard. If you learn new information that affects your case or throws you off, say, “Give me time to review this and let’s get back together and talk again.”

Respond with a question. If someone asks you a question you aren’t prepared for, respond with a question to get more information. If you’re giving notice and your boss asks you if you can stay longer, you can ask, “Why is it you’re wanting me to stay longer?”

Have an exit strategy. If the meeting goes south and you begin to feel emotional or out-of-control, indicate that you need to step out to contact an advisor. You can then call me or a trusted friend or colleague for help.

 

7. After the Meeting: Stand Firm and Follow Up

Make sure the next steps are clear. Everyone should know who is doing what and in what timeframe. It may be worthwhile to send an email after the meeting thanking everyone for their participation and reiterating next steps.

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