This is an eye-opening guest post from Corrie Shanahan, the author of Do it, Mean it, Be it. The Keys to Achieve Success, Happiness and Everything You Deserve at Work and in Life (Career Press).
I was speaking recently at a large financial institution that operates in Latin America. The topic was personal branding. We were discussing how to build visibility and progress in an organization that is growing rapidly.
One young woman who worked in a finance group with mostly older, male colleagues asked how she could get better at speaking up in meetings. She said she often felt intimidated by her colleagues and when she did try to say something, was often drowned out.
I said the secret was to care less.
Women are often their own worst enemies when it comes to workplace advancement. They tend to worry a lot about what people think of them, what they might say about them, and how they might hurt other people’s feelings. You need to stop doing that!
We spend far too much time in our own heads, thinking about the consequences and implications of our actions and words, and not enough time actually doing or saying what needs to be done or said.
How often have you noticed a male colleague who is less bright or less hardworking than you get ahead? How do they do that? The secret is that they simply haven’t thought too much about what they are doing. They just get on and do it.
All the things that drive us crazy in relationships with men: how they can’t multitask, don’t notice mess around the house, don’t assume it’s their job to take care of tedious tasks; these are the things that stand them in great stead in the workplace.
I worked with a female senior partner in a law firm who was frustrated that the young male lawyers were being promoted faster than the women. She said the women kept taking on the necessary but tedious tasks of scheduling client meetings, setting up calls and managing next steps in the cases to which they were assigned.
The men ignored all that stuff and were spending their time in the offices of senior partners brainstorming strategy on the same cases. Who do you think got more credit when it came to performance review time?
Women tend to worry about things falling through the cracks. “If I don’t take care of this, it won’t happen”. So what? Let someone else notice and step into the breach.
Here are three things to immediately stop doing in meetings:
- Stop offering to do things unless the task is strategic and substantive
- Never offer to take notes and share the minutes of the meeting. If you’re asked to, simply say “I’d rather not” or “I think it’s X’s turn”.
- Don’t agree to coordinate people’s availability and schedule the next meeting
And three things to start doing:
- Always sit at the table. There is often a space free next to the most senior colleague present, take it
- Speak up, even if you have nothing new to say. Offer an angle that hasn’t been covered
- Volunteer to brief a senior colleague. Do that in person if possible
Why Do You Ask?
Women are often very self-conscious about face time at work. Working mothers in particular get anxious about whether people think they are leaving “early”. They often become quite paranoid about colleagues asking if they are leaving for the day. Stop assuming this is a dig and treat it in a matter of fact manner. “Yes, why do you ask?”
Stop saying why you’re leaving and just go. Worried about what people think leads women to offer explanations for everything from going to dental appointments to leaving the office on time. Don’t offer any explanation. Just do what you need to do. Meet any question with a question.
I work as an executive coach with some very senior women and I am always amazed at the rate at which they apologize saying things like “Sorry if I am repeating myself” and “Sorry to bother you”. They also self deprecate at a rate unseen in their male peers using phrases like “I may be wrong” or “That’s just my opinion”.
Apologizing endlessly and unnecessarily undermines your influence and authority. It’s like an own goal in soccer. Stop doing that.
Stop Asking for Feedback!
Why do you need all that feedback? Only ask feedback from people whom you respect and may have a useful perspective. People very often give feedback for their own benefit, not yours. Be selective!
When you write a memo, don’t ask people to let you know if they have any feedback or questions. If they have, they should speak up. No need to open the floodgates unnecessarily.
Develop a Thicker Skin
Returning to the young woman at the Latin American bank who found it difficult to challenge her male colleagues. She began practicing speaking up, and when interrupted saying that she hadn’t finished yet. It was hard at first. Her colleagues were a little startled and amused by her new behavior.
However, she kept at it and eventually realized that a lot of her concerns had been in her own head. Her colleagues didn’t find her rude as she had feared. They hadn’t thought they were rude in talking over one another. Once she developed a thicker skin and cared less what they were thinking, she started to enjoy the back and forth and found she was gaining more influence and people listened more carefully to what she said.
Try caring a little less and doing a little more. You’ll start to see results pretty quickly.
Corrie Shanahan is the author of Do it, Mean it, Be it. The Keys to Achieve Success, Happiness and Everything You Deserve at Work and in Life (Career Press). She is an expert in helping organizations and individuals rapidly improve performance and productivity. Her clients include leaders at Mars Inc., Discovery Communications, UNICEF, Deloitte, the World Bank and IMF.