Women can tap natural born strengths to build credibility at work
I am a big fan of health spas and have been to my fair share of them. Like any business or service, some are great and some miss the mark. So when I walked into the lovely Ocean Pearl Spa at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort outside of San Diego, I sensed the experience would be one of the greats. I just didn’t know that Athena Hutchison, the esthetician assigned to my time slot would have so much to teach professionals, especially womenabout communicating. A proud, pretty Jamaican woman with a cheek-to-cheek smile and enough energy to power a nuclear plant, Athena oozed contagious enthusiasm that I wanted to bottle up and take home.
Yet too often, women are afraid to let their infectious sensitive selves shine through in the workplace fearing they will be perceived as weak or lacking credibility. Studies have suggested women don’t advance as often as men because they don’t act like men. The fact that men and women communicate differently probably isn’t new to you. Nor is it any great revelation that men use conversation to negotiate power andstatus whereas females talk to bond and cultivate relationships. What is new is the tactics I suggest we women employ. Instead of focusing our energy on mimicking the communication characteristics of our male colleagues, why don’t we start tapping into our natural born female strengths to better connect and set ourselves apart?
Today’s workplace is craving authenticity, honesty, personality and team work—traits that are often synonymous with women. We’re natural problem solvers, multi-taskers, collaborators and consensus builders. I see it in meeting rooms all the time. Unlike many men who frequently interrupt so their opinions can be heard, women carefully poll the players at the table to seek input in order to do what’s best for the group. Some research suggests that hurts us. I challenge you to use it to your advantage.
From my observations as a television news reporter for two decades and a communications coach for the past 15 years, women aretypically more concerned and empathetic when a colleague has a personal problem and more likely than male counterparts to urge them to take time off and put family first. That makes us compassionate, approachable and people focused.Leaders who put others first are frequently those others want to follow.
Women crave intimacy and want to understand people better so we continually ask questions to draw them out. My husband always tells me I ask a lot of questions because I was a reporter. The truth is I ask questions because I’m female. So how do we use our nurturing gender style to our advantage but avoid being perceived as weak when we get personal or bitchy when we’re assertive?
Speak up not out
Every time you walk into a meeting, talk to your boss or address an audience, you are making an impression. But there’s a difference between speaking up and speaking out. When you strive to be a regular contributor at the table without talking too much, getting angry orinterrupting too often, you provide value. To prepare, jot down two or three points you want to deliver in advance of a meeting or important conversation and look for opportunities to speak up.
State your beliefs
Articulate your ideas even if others don’t agree and do so without apologizing or making excuses for your opinions. Point to facts and solution oriented examples that support what you’re saying to help naysayers and others see your point of view. While the feminine side of you may desire a lot of input to build consensus, do not pressure yourself to gain everyone’s approval.
Use strong words
Gender study research claim women’s language is more hesitant and self deprecating than men’s. Replace disclaimers and tentative phrases such as “It seems I get results” or “I hope to have the plan next week”, “I think”, and “I guess” with more definite language such as “I firmly believe” , “the facts are as follows”, “I’m committed” and “I would like the plans on my desk Monday”.
Pace and pause
Don’t feel a need to fill the silence. By pausing and giving listeners a beat to digest what you’ve said, you will position yourself as thoughtful, comfortable and more confident in your delivery.
Be your own cheerleader
Self promotion is not bragging. It’s taking ownership and credit for your hard work. While it’s important to give credit to others when credit is due, it’s not necessary to overly compliment. As women, we are naturally expressive and typically look people in the eye (depending on culture) when we speak. We should use that strength when negotiating or speaking up.
If you want something, ask for it
When Carnegie Mellon University economics professor Linda C. Babcock explored findings on gender and salary last summer, she found that men asked for money at eight times the rate of women and concluded that women are poor at negotiating their salaries and raises. If you want something, ask for it and don’t back into the conversation. State what you want right up front and then back it up with your reasons.
If you’re a successful woman, you’ve likely clashed with a male colleague who was threatened by you. Perhaps he put you down or condescendingly inferred you wouldn’t understand something because you’re female. Maybe you were outraged but didn’t say anything which frustrated you even more. When I was a news anchor for a television station in Milwaukee, I had a male boss who wouldn’t permit me to deliver the stock report because he claimed male readers were more credible when it came to business news. I was fuming but didn’t yell or argue. I did stand tall, purposely moving into his space, looking him directly in the eye and raising my voice just a tad to sound more authoritative when I politely argued and cited examples of multiple female newscasters who were delivering business news on TV. I didn’t win the argument but from that point forward, he saw me as a self confident woman who wasn’t afraid to speak up.
Karen Friedman is the author of “Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners” (Praeger 2010) and the co-author of “Speaking of Success: World Class Experts Share Their Secrets”. President of Karen FriedmanEnterprises, Inc. www.karenfriedman.com