Women tend to follow conversational rituals like talking about “we” when we actually mean “I” and to top it off we apologize when it is not our fault. Not only does how we speak and act make us less authoritative but we can also unintentionally undermine our abilities because we simply don’t want to be perceived as assertive or aggressive. Talking about this with other women and supporting each other is crucial. Although more women are now in leadership positions, we expect that our voice is being heard but studies show that not much has changed. However, in order to develop strategies, we need to start with ourselves and become more aware of our female subconscious habits.
Preparing yourself for presentations and being punctual to meetings is a given. However, if you look closely at what happens before meetings and when you work with individuals with management positions, you will notice that men tend to be in or near the meeting room earlier than women. Also, you will notice that men tend to converse more across business units/departments regardless of their expertise and work relationships with each other. Moreover, I have noticed that both in male-dominated industries and female-dominated industries that men tend to voice their opinions earlier in discussions and ask questions frequently in meetings.
Thus female warriors make the extra effort, built relationships and speak up early so that you too are seen and heard. During meetings, it can be as simple as summarizing the key points out loud because this opens up the conversation to comprehension and feedback. Remember if you are a manager your goal is to develop your business and team, ask and support your female team members, you will be surprised how different decisions turn out if you gather diverse opinions and show support.
Another female conversational habit, we do in private and public, is we apologize for actions and situations that we are not in charge of and even look for excuses for external factors beyond our control. In fact, we apologize more than men. Too often I have seen men in a rush in public and running into women, where the women then said “Sorry, I should have looked where I was heading.” while clearly the men should have apologized. The goal here is to identify such situations and to learn that being direct is fine, it’s okay to say “Watch your step.”. Break the habit of apologizing; instead of saying “Sorry, I am not 100% sure but I can help”, say “I have done this before, I can help you”.
Also, you should start expressing that you completed a project by yourself. Too often I have watched women, regardless of their career level, expressing their gratitude towards the team, when in fact they were clearly driving the results by themselves. To point out though, I highly believe and encourage to include the team and express gratitude, if it was indeed a group effort. Having worked the majority of my corporate career in a man-dominated industry, I have heard and seen men communicating to their bosses or other departments that they did entire projects by themselves, when actually it was a clear team effort. Luckily, the higher you go up the ladder, the less you will experience this, as both genders will be more confident. Nevertheless, question yourself next time about who was in charge, who completed the project and who drove the results.
Dealing with interrupters
We all have dealt with interruptions in discussions but I am also sure that you had a personal conversation where you were interrupted, were ignored or didn’t know how to draw the conversation back to you after an interruption. For situations like this I advise conversation hooks:
- “Hold on, I realize what you are saying. Do you mind if I share my take on that before?”
- “I wasn’t able to finish my point, I hope it is okay if I wrap up what I wanted to communicate, it deserves some attention.”
- ”I’d like to hear all your opinions, including yours beforehand it is important to hear me out.”
Being direct and acknowledging that you heard the other person is crucial. Moreover, if you feel like you are interrupted by the same person repeatedly, talk with them privately ask if there was a misunderstanding i.e. “I have been interrupted multiple times and I don’t know what I did wrong but I would love to learn what we can change next time.” Remember though that there could be other reasons, it could simply be the cultural norm or the person’s character. Look for an opportunity to talk privately, chances are high he simply isn’t aware of it. This advice, of course, can also be used for dealing with interruptions between our own gender.
While it will take time to combat your habits, remember before women stand as equals, we must first be bold enough to stand up for ourselves.