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