Ladies, Watch YOur Language (At Work)
Ever wondered why your input was dismissed at work while your colleague’s was embraced for saying basically the same thing? Have you highlighted something key and important at work that was critical to the business only to have it be brushed aside? You are not alone. What you have to say is important, but how you say it makes the difference between being listened to and being heard.
There are meaningful and distinct perspectives that we use in our interpersonal communications depending on what we perceive is needed, but we also have a “lens” that reflects our gender which can impact the way we position our message. Women tend to approach issues and concerns from a place of community (everyone together) and men from a place of agency (action). This shapes the way we express ourselves, with women more likely to express work related items from a place of “I think…”, “I believe…” inviting dialogue and debate (a good thing), but doing it in a way that doesn’t effectively foster shared meaning. This is where we lose valuable common ground.
It is not that we as women are making it about ourselves. It’s that in comparison to men, we are not as consistent at explicitly referencing business impact and business outcome (the shared concerns everyone is there to address). A statement like “I think our quarterly earnings projections are too low, which will have a negative financial impact with analysts” is not as relatable to everyone as “When we project our quarterly earnings too low it impacts the way analysts perceive our company’s performance, resulting in a negative financial impact”. Both statements say the same thing, but the second one directly references the common ground everyone in the meeting shares, “the company’s performance” and doesn’t begin with an “I” statement.
Check in, how many times have you positioned an important work issue with “I” versus explicitly referencing what is important to the organization’s performance? There is no “magic wand” you can wave to make yourself more visible or effective in your work, but attending to this shift in language is highly effective. Try it and see. It takes self-awareness and practice to make this verbal shift in your communications, something you can do for yourself by being mindful of your language when you speak with others about what’s needed to help the company succeed. Another effective way to do this is to find someone who is present at the same meetings you are (and whom you trust) and have them help you to spot when you use “I” statements and when you have an opportunity to more explicitly use language to express business impact and outcomes (offer this same support in kind). With this encouragement in place it won’t take long to make the shift.
Why is this important? While modern organizations are working to be more open to diversity and intentionally inclusive, these programs are not having the anticipated impact with respect to women and leadership. In short, going through a career of not being heard is disheartening, even soul sucking, and many women are abandoning leadership career paths because of it (or staying where they are in mid-management). Yes, our organizations need to continue to step up and make all roles more accessible to a wider range of individuals then they have in the past, but while that work continues, consider making this shift at work and see if over time you are happier both with the way your work makes you feel and your career potential.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ~ Nelson Mandela
The Value OF Communicating Your Worth
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
What are you worth at work? Are you worth receiving meaningful recognition? Interesting work? A promotion? A raise? How do you know?
I heard that! That little voice inside your head that just said, “If I am worth that they will let me know” (that voice is louder than you think). The sad truth is, no they will not. “They” can be your employer or your clients; Department of Labor (2015) statistics from the US have confirmed that whether your compensation is based on a salary, or via invoicing, most women are losing about 20 cents on every dollar (compared to their male counterparts). In Canada (2015) that gap is the same or greater. The additional context of invoicing is significant; it means the wage gap isn’t just a concern in organizations. The gap is a concern we as women are contributing to and need to own because it is present even when women own the company. As a gender we need to increase our own self-awareness and see the ways in which we undermine our value in the workplace (intentionally and unintentionally), because it is making this gap very hard to close.
When was the last time you clearly and comfortably explained to someone the value of your work? Just after you graduated? Been awhile? Never? You are not alone. I’m going to put you on the spot; think of one thing you do really well and you enjoy in your work. Now, in a simple sentence explain what the value of that is for your employer (or clients, if you are an entrepreneur). Did the little voice perk up and add her -20 cents? Did she express disbelief that what you do is valuable? Did she tell you to stop boasting? Did she mention that if your work was so great others would have noticed it without being told? Tell her to zip it; she is giving you costly advice.
“No one will ever pay you what you are worth. They will only pay you what they think you are worth.” is sage advice from Pricing Consultant Casey Brown in her TEDTalk Know Your Worth And Then Ask For It. It’s hard to articulate your value when you doubt it yourself, cannot express it comfortably/authentically, or don’t really know what it is. It makes every constructive feedback conversation at work personal, because you are looking for the place where you screwed up rather than focusing on business needs and bringing forward solutions that address desired business outcomes. Here is ground zero of this battle with ourselves; the little voice has undermined us for centuries, it is time to acknowledge the ways we are more than the fear mongering she promotes. Doubts and fears are normal (everyone has them, male and female), but when you are not aware of the impact they have on your worthiness, you allow them to define your value.
Be compassionate with yourself, see your flaws but also see your value. Compassion is the cornerstone of self-respect; if you cannot be compassionate with yourself no one else will be either (and that kills self confidence). There is work you love to do and you are incredibly good at doing. What is it? Share your passion. How would you tell someone about what you do and the value it provides? Practice this, start at home and then bring it into your work. Become more aware of the lens you are using to assess your own value and the impact it has on how you express your worth at work, recognizing it’s impact on how you are perceived.
No one likes to toot their own horn, but becoming comfortable helping others to see how you have a positive impact on business outcomes will make you worth not just every penny but possibly 20 pennies more for every dollar you earn.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
“For men and women alike, this journey is a the trajectory between birth and death, a human life lived. No one escapes the adventure. We only work with it differently.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
How many times a day do you switch tasks? I’ve been keeping track of this for myself and in the 45 minutes since I sat down to write this blog I have switched tasks 8 times; 6 of them because I allowed myself to get distracted. I am sitting in my office with no one else present, so admittedly my attention could be more focused as these are “idyllic” conditions under which to complete this work AND this is work I find very satisfying. So what’s up with my distractibility? There is a lot of data around multi-tasking and context switching which can explain my behavior, but I also know some task switching is easier than others. What is happening this morning is my brain is being thrust into a task in a blunt way…it’s still trying to “let go” of the other things I was immersed in (e-mails, school lunch-making, dog walking, appointment setting, etc.). I just sat down to write without giving myself the grace or time to acknowledge that I have had a busy morning so far and I am not gently sliding into this work; some part of my brain is still trying to remember if I put carrots in kiddos lunch box and another part is re-thinking an e-mail I sent 10 minutes ago. I am plopping myself down to attend to this task because according to the clock it is the time I set aside to do this (…and GO!).
Our beautiful minds don’t work that way. Our beautiful minds were designed to support us in a deep and fulsome way when we allow ourselves to mentally set aside what it was we were doing, creating spaciousness for what it is we will do next. Sounds time consuming doesn’t it? It really isn’t. When you have control over your task switching you will find sitting comfortably for 5 deep, slow, nourishing breathes is all it takes to help you immerse yourself in what you are doing next, thus preventing your distractibility because you are more fully able to be present in what you are doing. Of course this assumes you have attended to all the time management hygiene items…no flashing screen pop-ups, or ringing phones, chatty co-workers, etc. Assuming you have sequestered yourself for an hour or two of focus time, 5 deep breathes is a very effective way to start (take more if you need to, see if you can breathe deeply for two full minutes…you won’t regret it).
However, most of us don’t work in a silent bubble of “focus time”. We can, it is always in our control to protect time for the important things we need to do with our fullest attention, but these tend to be “small islands” in the ocean of our workweek where much of our time is prescribed for us. Meetings, hallway chats, phone calls, e-mail, etc. (never mind actually working). In previous iterations of my career I used to love global travel because it guaranteed me 6 hours of uninterrupted time as I flew over the Atlantic (airplane mode offering a fabulous reprieve); my creativity and productivity flowed (until it all abruptly stopped upon landing via jetlag and Wi-Fi)! There is a cost to the near-constant switching of what we are asking ourselves to do in our day. Experts say that it takes us somewhere between 12 and 24 minutes to move off one task and into another - results vary. There are some very scary graphs out there that show you how much of you day is consumed by context switching (do the math, # of times you switch tasks in a day x 12 minutes…), making it apparent that time management is a competency that would serve each of us well. Touché! There are ways to better manage our time and everyone’s expectations within it, and this is a worthwhile endeavor… not just for our productivity (which is the point of view on offer with time management books and training) but also for our wellbeing.
Feeling overwhelmed at work? How many context switches have you experienced in the last hour (what did you work on or “touch” in the last 60 minutes)…and of those items how many were your doing (i.e. voluntary) and how many of them were outside of your control (i.e. others needing your time)? We set out each and every morning to be our very best…that is not just a way of being but also an expectation. When we are frustrated in our ability to live up to that standard we rarely look to see what may be contributing to our failure to “be our best”. We are often quick to judge ourselves as not being able to keep up or to manage, we forget things, don’t get the “full picture”…we fill in the gaps with assumptions we don’t have time to check and then experience the inevitable negative outcomes that come along with maladapted coping mechanisms. This is all perfectly human behavior (what I am saying is if this all sounds too familiar you are wonderfully normal). So is picking up the pace to keep up, rather than taking a moment to see what is actually contributing to feeling overwhelmed or pressured. There is another way. There are mindful techniques to better manage your time and your wellbeing that won’t cost you your job (or even more of your time). Ready?
These are but a few examples. The goal is not to get everything done (work is perpetual, it will literally never end). The goal is to get the right things done in the right way AND have enough energy left at the end of your day to go home and enjoy your personal life and your loved ones. No one leaves this life wishing they had worked more. “We only have moments to live.” is wisdom from Jon Kabat-Zinn. How do you want to experience the moments that are given to you?
Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash
How critical are you of yourself? It’s not something we stop and think about in the flow of our day, but it is an important question. My Mother would verbally criticize herself (especially when she wasn’t aware we children were within earshot). When there was a forgotten detail, a mishap or a mistake, my Mother would first look to herself to see if she had contributed to the concern in some way, and look outward from there. My Father looked at things more objectively (and with more curiosity), and if he determined he was the cause, you could see awareness cross his face, a lesson learned, but no self-recrimination. This is not the case in every childhood or household. Men are just as capable of being hard on themselves as women are just as capable of being objective and curious, this is not about stereotypes or gender roles, but more about what example was set for you by the adults in your life with respect to the way they treated themselves? Sometimes we unconsciously import that approach into our own lives.
Such was the reality I faced, highlighted by my own child who asked me “Mom, why do you do that?” He was questioning why I was speaking to myself in such harsh terms. It was a very good question (and like my Mother before me, I wasn’t aware I did it, nor that he was listening). In these unconscious moments, caught up in the midst of “getting things done”, we have a little window into how we feel about ourselves, a view into the ever-present standards we hold ourselves to, the expectations of self. What are yours? This is where the hang-up about perfection lives, or where the fear of not being “good enough” makes itself at home in our psyche. This is ground zero of what eats away at our self-esteem and often has us moving forward not from a neutral place, but from a deficit, a lack of belief in self.
Let’s look at this another way to help understand what this does to your self-esteem. Essentially you are perpetually running in successive races where you start from 20 paces behind the “starting line”, while everyone else starts at the line. Compounding this is that when you do well in this “race”, no one else is even aware of the magnitude of what you have achieved, and so the external validation you need to show you are improving and getting more accomplished just isn’t there, because in the eyes of the rest of the world you have just run a normal race like everyone else. Only you will know that you started behind the line; only you will know what you achieved was monumental, yet without the external recognition of your efforts you return to the belief that you simply aren’t “good enough” and return once again to 20 paces behind the starting line, waiting for the next race to begin.
What would you have to do to be able to start at the line with everyone else? Do you have to come from behind and take 1st place, demonstrating to others that you are worthy? What then? How will you respond to the self-pressure to continue to be worthy? Do you have to place 1st in every race to be able to remain at the start line, or if you miss that outcome are you required to begin all over again from 20 paces behind? This is what being self-critical does to each of us, and the enormous amount of energy it takes to keep track of where you are while running successive races where you start from behind the line is incredible. In this scenario it’s no mystery why you may be very tired before you day has even really begun. So how do you release your self from this perpetually self-destructive loop?
The first step is to realize you are in one. This loop may be present over your entire working day (starting in your morning shower and only ceasing when you fall asleep at night) or it may take place in a specific context, like when you are comparing the strength of your work to that of your peers (on their best day…and your worst) to find yourself not “measuring up”. Watch for it; see where it pops up because unless you are aware of something as it is happening you cannot do anything about it. It sounds intimidating to go looking for this, but know that once you see it the pain of knowing is quickly replaced by feelings of freedom because now you have a choice! You can choose to stop participating in the self-doubt and self-criticism and be self-compassionate. You are a good person; you got out of bed this morning to be your best self and along the way you will make mistakes, spill coffee on yourself and stick your foot in your mouth. It doesn’t mean you are not able to be your best, what it means is that you are a beautifully imperfect human being (every one of us is). You are also amazing at what you do, highly qualified, a quick learner and deeply committed to doing your best. Mistakes do not negate all your gifts, talents and abilities, however self-doubt will block you from being able to reach your fullest potential (in a moment or over your career).
Be aware of how you treat yourself - when your inner critic starts to drag you down, hit the mute button. That stuff is old news and not helpful in any way. Focus on how much you care, be empathetic with yourself and take a moment to breath. Feel into all the things that you are and know that you are enough. You are enough because you want this. You are enough because you will keep working on what’s important. You are enough because you keep showing up for this race, only this time you will take your place at the starting line and know that is where you belong.
“Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It's not like you have forever, so don't waste any of your seconds, don't throw even one of your moments away.” ~ C. JoyBell C.