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Women have been socialised to have an agreeable character. Now, as this is a likeable character trait and one that every team welcomes, it does put you at a disadvantage when it comes to promotions or getting allocated to those sexy projects. This desire to keep everything ticking along smoothly or conflict avoidance has a lot to do with the way that we’ve been raised. This socialisation is not some kind of parenting failure, because society at large is contributing to these beliefs and values – not just us as women, but also that society at large.
This is something that you will see in many cultures. It’s great if you have one person on the team who is keen to keep things calm and under control. But we need to have different types of personalities, and those that avoid conflict or strive for harmony are values and popular usually, but not likely to be the first choice for management roles.
You’re not likely to be identified as leadership potential.
Now, we all know that many people get promoted into management because they are good at what they do, but not necessarily good at managing people. Let’s face it, not everyone is good at that. Promoting people purely based on my knowledge and experience in isolation can be a disastrous decision. But the truth is, if nobody else is putting themselves forward, then the choice might be limited.
We need to be a bit braver when we are confronted with conflicts. Starting, of course, with the little ripples not the tsunami, but only when we speak up in a conflict situation can we help the decision makers who are deciding who gets promoted or a pay rise with the opportunity to see how we perform in that situation. We need to be able to demonstrate our expertise in that situation, in that scenario.
Now you know that stage in a conflict when everything bubbles to the surface and it all gets loud and chaotic. Well, that’s just part of conflict resolution. It’s a necessary part of the process. And yet, this can feel awkward, hostile and often rather intimidating. Especially, when voices increase in volume, when words become more personal and body language can become rather threatening.
I get it. I’m not a fan of conflict either, but the key is to see this as an opportunity to change things round. Clear the air and create some new expectations, boundaries and clarity on values. To be heard we need to speak up, also in conflict situations. We need to step up and take control. This is a time not to shrink into the background, hoping to go unnoticed, but instead to make a suggestion, offer an alternative, or provide a new perspective.
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The best management decisions are made by having a broader range of options. But the reality is, if women say little or nothing, the only options on the table are those made by alpha males. It limits the options. So, to be taken seriously, we need to be able to speak up spontaneously. And this is something that is difficult enough in your own language, but even tougher in a foreign language.
Spontaneous speaking is something that we practise in Toastmaster meetings, and in First Berlin, we actually practice it twice. First, we speak off the cuff in the game at the beginning of the meeting. And once we have listened and learned from the speeches, we get another opportunity to speak up spontaneously during what we call ‘table topics’. So why is it so important, you might ask?
Well, speaking up about your zone genius on the spur of the moment is as much about your communication skills or delivery as it is about your knowledge. If you are caught off guard and struggle to find the words and feeling yourself getting really hot, like practically to boiling point, as a sea of faces looks at you, it will be difficult to look and sound like the expert that you really are. Sadly, cruelly – you won’t be taken as seriously. Now, that might not be very fair, I agree, you’re absolutely right, but unfortunately, where trust-building is key, confidence needs to come first. And I think that’s where the phrase comes ‘Fake it till you make it’.
Now, various men have shared with me over the years that having a female boss is so much easier simply because the lines of communication are open. There’s this sense of togetherness and a feeling of being accepted without the judgement that they often feel from their male peers. Testosterone-driven creatures can become quite obsessed about their career and are willing to put in a hell of a lot of hours for a taste of success and a chance of promotion or a pay rise. Now, to the family this will be sold as being a means to an end ‘I’m doing this for you, the family’, but we all know that we are simply wired differently. That’s okay. And for most men, the women take up the slack, whether they work full time or not. We have ourselves to blame here, to be honest.
Women, on the other hand, soon realise that, for the long term, balance is the key. Even single women are doing more than their fair share of the housework if they’re sharing a flat with somebody, for example. There needs to be enough time and energy for both and sacrificing sleep only works in short bursts. As mothers, we strive for life work balance for the sake of our children. Our relationship with our children is paramount. Not just today, tomorrow, next week, but this is very much a work-in-progress project. We are nurturing a relationship with our children now. We are teaching them, supporting them, being there for them and that requires stamina, time and space to be deliberate about that.
I’m blessed to have married a guy who has become a more wonderful dad than I ever expected, who is extremely hands on, even when he’s exhausted. And he’s not the only one out there. But all in all, the dads see their parenting role as secondary.
Take a look around you and you will notice that men tend to push their own ambition onto their children and see them as a reflection of their own success. With more attention and worries focused on the children’s performance at school, conversations revolve around grades, exams and what’s going on at school, than bonding with them, teaching them and laughing with them.
I’m told by CEOs that women tend to hire more rounded, functioning, compatible teams because beyond the short-term performance, they also see the benefits of behaviours that are needed for the team to function well, often compensating for their own weaknesses in the process.
Take, for example, a female manager who is an idea bundle, loves getting projects off the ground, but the detail-orientated parts of the job tend to get rushed or ignored and that’s why you need someone else in the team to fill that gap. That’s when you have to get comfortable sacrificing the turnaround for a job well done, for example, with precision and accuracy, rather than having it done quickly.
They say that the devil is in the details, but for some of us, it’s easier said than done. So having someone on the team who will take over all of that, ticking the boxes and getting things done just right is logical, pragmatic and makes sense.
You see, there really is a role for everyone. The trick is being able to identify how each member of the team will raise the overall performance. And women, it seems, tend to prefer a more holistic approach. They look not just at the professional side, but also the personal side of things. Women learn sooner that working 60 to 80 hours a week is possible, but in the long term, it’s not only exhausting, it puts your relationships with everybody else under pressure.
Plus, it’s often counterproductive, right? There’s nothing more mind blowingly dull than having to repeat something because you were trying to do it when you were tired and made mistakes. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have been in that position.
As women with a home and a family, we simply don’t have the time or energy to be doing that. This discipline to get to bed at a certain time, to give us enough sleep, for example, is all part of a finely tuned balancing act.
Since communication is critical in being taken seriously, what should you focus on first? Well, as a female, a newbie, or as an introvert, nobody expects you to become some kind of chest-beating, loud, obnoxious jerk – the chances are you already have one of those.
But seriously, to be able to look in the mirror with some degree of pride, we need to find a communication style that pushes us out of our comfort zone slightly, but still feels authentic. That takes practice and you might not feel comfortable practising something like this at work.
Remember, the introverts are often a powerhouse of knowledge, so we have to make sure that these guys and girls are getting the opportunity to speak up in a way that doesn’t make them feel ridiculous or the centre of attention.
So, focus on practicing how to express yourself at the drop of a hat at home in front of the mirror or in the car on the way to work, wherever you are on your own. Test yourself. How would you explain something? How would you tell them about the workarounds or alternatives? What about the implications or impact on the budget or schedule? These are the things that you can practise in the safety of your own home, car or mind.
My top tip is to anticipate (predict) what could come up in conversation. You know what’s going on in your organisation, so just adapt and be ready to speak up when you’re spoken to. Better still: Offer some information and be ready to help the decision-makers with information, alternatives and suggestions. Remember, by being positive rather than negative, you’re much more likely to win over the hearts of those decision-makers. Be clear about your opinion. Have some ideas in mind and have any information ready that will back up your point. The best way to capture their attention is to use analogies. An analogy is an explanation wrapped up in a life situation to demonstrate the point. I got this example from WordHippo, which is one of my favourite wordy resources.
Think of the analogy of an electric wire carrying more electricity than its diameter can safely carry. By using an analogy, you demonstrate clearly that you are thinking deeply about this. An analogy might well come to you automatically when you are trying to explain the point to a colleague, client or supplier.
So be sure to make a mental note of those analogies. They’re a great way to get your point across in a clear and creative way. If you are in a more formal setting and you want to use your analogy, once it has been tried and tested a few times, you can even use a visual or a prop to reinforce the point.
If you can explain something new and complex to a seven-year-old in a way that makes sense to them, you are bang on track. The trick is to keep the example simple and life relevant – life relevant for your audience, that is – and not too long. Keep it short and simple.
Another communication skill that we all need to succeed in life and in our careers is persuasion.
Now I like to think that I can be very persuasive with my hubby, and most of us could whined at least one of our parents around our little finger, right?
It’s relatively easy if you live with someone. You know that pain point, you know what to say to win them over. It’s all about observation and timing, maybe a little bit of charm?
That might be trickier to use at work. But thankfully, there are some other techniques which I’ll be sharing this month in a webinar, actually, a persuasion webinar for working mums to secure themselves a sizzling support system, unique to their family, is on Wednesday, the 25th of February, and you can sign up at englishspeakingexperts.com because being able to motivate people is the key to leadership. That means listening, empowering and supporting the team with their needs at the core of your message.
If you love a great success story from someone on your team, you do your best to prepare them, don’t you? You make time for them. You generally are more observant of their needs, their mood and their performance. Your feedback will be practical and easy to understand, but most importantly, easy to implement as well. They must be able to put that feedback into practice. Challenges are what bring us closer to success. And in my experience, that requires some kind of accountability. That’s exactly why I give you a communication challenge each week.
Stepping outside your comfort zone is easier in a crowd of like-minded people who, like you, want more flow and less fluster.
Because yes, our kids do need us now, but now is also the time we need to carve our career if we want to have more than just a job.
We want to be good at what we do, but we also deserve the credit for that, especially as a role model for our children. We make a lot of sacrifices for our kids and family, but the balancing act of juggling work and home is so worthwhile if you can get the recipe just right. And it has to be your recipe.
To make a difference, more women need to step up into management. If we are to change the look and feel of management boards, that’s what we have to do. With new work and an open-mindedness around flexible working patterns and a squeeze on talent, as the ageing demographics take hold, now is the time to provide management boards with more options, more perspectives, more ideas to secure more innovation, more diversity, and more equality in the workplace, which just like remote working, is long overdue.
We owe it to our kids, especially our daughters, but also our sons, who will grow up to become hands on dads for our grandchildren. The good news is it’s very possible as self-employed women proved time and time again all over the world.
With determination, precise planning and commitment from the whole family or a support network, you can create a life-family-balance that feels rewarding and right without the guilt.
I will be starting a trial of my ‘Back-To-Business’ course in February. If you are interested or know someone who could be, then get them to contact me. We’ll be focusing on a healthy mindset, intentional communication and sizzling support systems. The course, like this podcast, will be in English because the power of the crowd is inspiring, but the power of the international female crowd is mind blowing.
Coco’s Communication Challenge for you this week is to observe your own communication and the communication of others, specifically in spontaneous situations:
‘What do people do differently to you’, and
‘What could you try out?’.
The good news is, if you want to practise with us at First Berlin Toastmasters, an ONLINE speaking club, then this Wednesday on the 18th we meet at 18:30 in Zoom. We speak up spontaneously in a friendly, fun and supportive environment and we’re behind you every step of the way.
To summarise, there are three events coming up for you:
17th January at 2.30pm CET is the LinkedIn Audio Event about exports with Kathryn Read.
On Wednesday, 18th January, I’ll be giving a speech about pitching at First Berlin Toastmasters and you can speak up spontaneously in the game and table topics and thirdly:
Next week, on 25th January, there will be a free webinar about persuasion.
Until then, be the very best communicator that you can be!
You’ve been listening to Corinne Wilhelm on the Experts! Speak English! podcast and to help make this podcast more visible for other changemakers just like you, I’d love you to spend a few moments of your time to give me a review or rating on iTunes or Spotify.
Take care now and have a fabulous week!
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