I recently read a hilarious article by Alexandra Petri about how women would rephrase historic quotes originally said by famous men. At first these had me laughing as I scrolled through the article while sipping coffee and avoiding my email inbox at work.
I had somehow stumbled upon this article and started to read the quotes without fully reading and digesting the context of the article. It was a satirical article that illustrated how a man’s bold statement would have been rephrased by a women in a meeting at work.
After four or five of these quotes, I stopped chuckling and instead started frowning. The final quote struck me silent.
It was the following:
“I will be heard.” – random Famous Man
Woman in a Meeting: “Sorry to interrupt. No, go on, Dave. Finish what you had to say.”
After reading that line, I sat for a minute and reflected back on my own behaviors and communication style at work. I even pulled up emails that I had sent to fellow coworkers to actually read them with that mindset.
I humbly admit that I am quite successful at my job, well liked around the office, and tend to be someone who people listen to. I thought that was attributed to my super awesome marketing skills and my stunning personality but maybe it was because I was the ‘easiest’ person to work with? Maybe I was the coworker that didn’t cause waves by boldly stating my opinion or maybe I never disagreed with the plan once someone else had established it. Was I the kind of coworker that people liked because I was passive? Did I state my opinions or did I refuse to voice my own thoughts? In my written communication, was I direct to address a point or did I dance around the topic to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings?
After reflecting on my ‘office’ self and attitude, I remembered a specific incident when I stood up for myself against an older male coworker with quite the strong personality.
He holds a C-Suite position in my company while I am the youngest Account Director. He has about ten years to my senior and spares no feelings when communicating. We were working closely on a highly intensive software project under the pressure of a very difficult client. There was an instance in the project when I had to deliver difficult news from the client to my coworker. And I absolutely dreaded it. I knew he would be very unhappy and extremely vocal about his opinion.
After breaking the news, my coworker reacted exactly as expected and started yelling at me, the messenger. As he made an unfair statement against the client, I spoke up to help rationalize the client’s actions. After I stated my opinion, my coworker exploded with an inappropriate statement aimed at my personal character. As I stood there attempting to figure out how to even respond, another male coworker immediately stepped up to defend me and state how uncalled for the comment was.
But I didn’t even know what to say. He had crossed a professional and personal line and my first reaction was to awkwardly laugh and brush it off and remove myself from the situation. But I did not say how offended I was or defend myself. I just left.
I hardly slept that night because I couldn’t stop thinking about what I wish I had said or done. So in the morning, after steeling my resolve, I confronted the coworker. I stated how offended I was, how I didn’t appreciate the comment, and how if he wanted to continue working with me on the project, that it or a situation like that could not occur again. I didn’t get emotional, I didn’t back off of my point, and I stated exactly how I would have preferred the situation be handled. And to my surprise, my coworker acknowledged that he had been out of line and apologized for how he reacted. After the confrontation, I walked out with my head held high, knowing that I had stood true to my values in an uncomfortable situation.
As I reflected back on this time, I felt secure in knowing that I stayed true to my self.
But so often, women in the workplace do fall into stereotypical gender traps. In written communication, we fear people misinterpreting our directness with anger. In meetings, we defer to those who more boldly state opinions. In salary negotiations, we may not feel comfortable speaking up about pay inequality. We fear being labeled as ‘bitchy’, an ice queen, or too feminine.
I challenge you to take a look at your ‘office’ self. Are you comfortable with who you are? If not, I encourage you to evaluate your communication style and how you present yourself in a workplace scenario. It’s not always comfortable or easy, but when being true to your values and self, its always worth it.