Having the conversation
It may feel daunting to raise the conversation with your workplace about taking parental leave or agreeing flexible working arrangements. A great deal may come down to your own boss’ experience with such arrangements. I was fortunate that my own boss took parental leave when his children were born, so he was a big advocate for other dads to do the same. My workplace also has a broader industry agenda in supporting equality in the workplace, so has strong policies supporting parental leave and flexible working.
This unfortunately isn't the norm for all businesses, and can even vary widely across divisions within the same organisation. In some instances, the cultural norms that have been established may be as important to understand as your organisation's policies. Try to gain insight from others into what you boss's experience was with leave if they have children or care for an elderly parent, and what the existing perception is of men who have asked to take leave. If these aren't positive stories, don't feel discouraged, instead see it as an opportunity to shape a new perception for others who will follow you in what it can look like.
Tips for having the conversation
1. Know your rights
Know your organisation's parental leave policy (if they have one) as well as your eligibility under the government's Paid Parental Leave Scheme (such as Parental Leave Pay).
2. Understand your audience
Take into account your manager's views on parental leave and anticipate what their concerns might be from a business perspective. Shape your request in a way that proactively addresses their concerns and shows you have the business's needs front and centre in your request.
3. Empathise, don't sympathise
If your manager is resistant, show empathy towards their concerns will help you identify mutually agreeable solutions. Don't feel the need to respond right away if they raise a challenge you didn't expect, understand their concerns and offer to come back with options.
4. If you're nervous, practice
Brainstorm each possible reaction to your request and plan your own responses so that you are prepared for every scenario the conversation may take. If it helps, ask a friend or colleague to help have a mock conversation with you.
5. Be mindful of timing
Make sure the timing of your request is not likely to be negatively impacted by external/unrelated factors. Don't be afraid to postpone your request to a more favourable time if needed. Have the conversation face-to-face and then follow-up with a formal request in an email as a reflection of what you discussed.
6. Be direct
Be direct in requesting what you want and why, and have a firm understanding of what you are willing to compromise and which aspects are non-negotiable. Note that many policies can become flexible if your manager is onboard, so don't assume anything is off the table if it makes it easier for your team to support your request.
The most important skill in negotiation is effective listening, not speaking. Listening means processing and understanding what the other person is saying, not simply waiting to respond. Listening and understanding is far more powerful in the art of persuasion than delivering a punchy, scripted argument.