They Don’t Get It, Do They? #1 Hot New Releases – Women & Business

Almost overnight They Don’t Get It, Do They? reached number 31 on Kindle Women & Business best sellers after being re-released in e-book form.  It’s now number 1 on Amazon Hot New Releases for women in business.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the blog and see the cartoon I posted at Big Think, you might stop by.  If your daughter, niece, female friend or even the boys and men in your life haven’t read They Don’t Get It, Do They? it may be the best under $3.oo you’ve spent on their behalf in a while. If nothing else, it will get a discussion going.

The book took a lot of work, following communication/politics issues for women and men has taken a career, and getting the observations down in a useful manner was another challenge. Glad to be sharing the conclusions again. Clearly the job is not finished.  All the best.


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Feminists have never been ugly, mommies never had a war and no one can have it all

That’s a brief summary of the blog posted today on Big Think.  Looking forward, we need to look back as well with a critical eye — realizing that a lot of myths and pseudo-events have interfered with women’s progress and continue to do so today. Myths are more the problem than men ever were.  They perpetuate the issue discussed today at a PwC Aspire webcast I attended — the lowering of women’s confidence. We worry too much about being labelled, being wrong, making mistakes, and dwell too much on what others or we think we didn’t do well.  It reminds me of a poem I read years ago.  I’ve been searching for the source.

A woman thinks about her faults until they seem like double.  A man he just forgives himself and saves the Lord the trouble.

It’s an exaggeration.  But there’s some benefit to be taken from it.  Sometimes we’re just too hard on ourselves.  Pass that on to your daughters.


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They Don’t Get It, Do They? (Re-released on Kindle)

In 1995, I published They Don’t Get It, Do They? Closing the Communication Gap Between Women and Men after writing “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk” – a Harvard Business Review reprint bestseller. In both cases, the purpose was to explore the role everyday communication plays in advancing or slowing the progress of women at work.

Certainly women realize more than they did then that stretching communication styles and adapting to our surroundings are important to career success. But as keen observers of workplace issues point out, the last two decades have not produced the results expected. In fact, there has been a palpable stall in women’s progress on many fronts, especially in value of work and senior level promotions.

Women are exiting high tech jobs even as programs are promoting their entrance into those fields. Among fund managers, where the presence of women increases organizational success, women are also moving on.  The history behind this was also just published by Big Think.

Below are excerpts from They Don’t Get It, Do They? with explanations regarding why significant problems moving to senior levels still exist for women at work and what can be done to change that.

At the heart of the problems women face is the fact that men and women working together do not speak the same language…. Fundamental differences in the way women and men think as described by Carol Gilligan in her book A Different Voice lead to fundamental differences in the way they communicate job commitment, managerial expertise, leadership, and a host of other promotion-relevant competencies…. We worry about saying that men and women differ. But they do, if not innately, then because of socialization; and the way they communicate these experiences is therefore different as well.

Unfortunately, as Gilligan also wrote, it is difficult to say “different” without saying “better” or “worse.” Men have largely developed the standard measurements of workplace value. When women’s styles do not conform, the natural conclusion is that there is something wrong with women and that they cannot effectively lead.

Most women prefer to believe that men welcome them to the workforce. In fact, when young, in their “cute-and-little phase,” men are often willing to mentor and guide them. So young women naturally wonder, “Why all the fuss?” After all, things appear to be going quite well. That’s where women lose a lot of valuable learning time. When they become candidates for promotions previously taken by men, they’re unprepared for the precipitous decline in collegial support. As UCLA Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Shelley Taylor, shared with me, “The whole process of learning that men aren’t all that comfortable with women at senior levels is very painful for women.”

One option for women was to become more like men. When that didn’t work, women became entrepreneurs or tried to beat men at their own game. They were given labels that were uncomfortable. Some ignored or rejected them and pushed on. Doing so well means altering how you respond to put-downs and constraining categories – changing your communication style so that people think twice about trying to put you in what they consider your place.

“Communication is a complex activity…. When it comes to the big stakes game of senior management, women’s communication strategies must be both sophisticated and variable – less focused on what men want, more focused on what works both professionally and personally.”

Communication patterns between women and men have not adequately adjusted to the increasing presence of women in the workplace. Changing this condition means stepping out of the scripts we’re used to enacting, especially the dysfunctional ones. Being left out of meetings, having ideas stolen, enduring far more interruptions, are just a few of the problems women still find infuriating. The reason why they continue to exist is, in good part, fear of coming on too strong.

“The truth is that a wide range of communication strategies exists between demure and abrasive. Clinging to either end of the range is a recipe for failure. Many women worry that assertive behavior will upset men and lead to disfavor. What they have failed to consider is that they aren’t exactly in favor anyway. Letting others label your interactions, and exclude, interrupt, and devalue you is not better than upsetting a few men now and then.”

To change the overall picture for women in the workplace, it’s critical to change the day-to-day as well. That means taking a good look at how we communicate. The conversation below shows how easy it is to slip into a dysfunctional communication pattern (DCP):

Michael: You sure came on strong in that meeting.

Jessica: I was just trying to make a point.

Michael: Well, you certainly did that.

Jessica: Do you think I overdid it?

Michael: It’s not what I think that counts.

Jessica: Did Al say anything about it?

Michael: He didn’t have to. Did you see his eyes?

Jessica has abdicated control in this conversation. Each of us is at least 75% responsible for what goes on in interactions. If Jessica responds regularly this way, she is allowing other people to limit her communication and to silence her at meetings. Instead, she could change the course of the conversation.

Michael: You sure came on strong in that meeting.

Jessica: Someone had to. It’s an important project.

This reply is short and unexpected. It can be said calmly and/or directly. It conveys that Jessica is confident and that she has a persuasive, legitimate, work-related reason for her actions. She refused to participate in a script and implied label of “pushy” that lowers the value of her contributions. An added advantage: Michael is less likely to slip into that script again.

To the extent that women, in particular, recognize dysfunctional scripts and take steps to intercept them before they do damage, the way they’re perceived at work can become increasingly positive. Work is about getting jobs done. It’s not home. How we’re perceived is shaped by daily conversations. To the extent that women manage them, the likelihood of progress to senior levels is enhanced.

Fear of being labeled is still a significant obstacle for women. The truth is — you’re going to get labeled anyway, so you might as well have some input.

They Don’t Get It, Do They? was released this week on Kindle here for $2.99).

This blog was originally written for Big Think.

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Smart Courage at Work

Some years back I published a case in the Harvard Business Review, “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk.”  It became a reprint bestseller.  A young woman, working for fictitious Vision Software, drafted a memo to send to the CEO about the subtle and not-so-subtle problems leading to senior women exiting the company.  The question posed in the case was whether she should actually send the memo.  Would it be seen as helping her company or would it be political suicide?  Experts weighed in. Gloria Steinem wrote that unless Liz was in imminent danger of homelessness, she should send the memo in order not to act against her own and other women’s best interests and to give her company her best advice.  Other experts, including CEOs, concurred for other reasons that would benefit Liz and/or the company.  Everyone realized the risks involved.  And so it’s not surprising that other senior level executives advised that Liz not send the memo.  They thought the risks were too great.  Among their reasons:  she wasn’t ready, it wasn’t her responsibility, she shouldn’t go it alone, and, in one case, that a memo wasn’t the best way to convey such a message to a CEO.

The memo case, aside from being about gender issues at work, was about courage — when and how it should be applied. Courage at work is not the same as courage involved in fighting a fire or taking a hill in battle.  There’s usually time to think.  That’s what the blog I posted Thursday is about.  So, too, is an article, “Courage as a Skill” that I published in HBR.  In both cases, courage is described as involving calculated risk.  You have to ask yourself a number of questions before taking a path most of your colleagues fear to tread. This doesn’t mean that spontaneous courage shouldn’t occur at work.  But what good is it if the brave among us regularly hurl themselves into the fire of retaliation because they lack a strong foundation upon which to take courageous action?

You can read “Courage as a Skill” for a more thorough discussion of what it takes to make courageous acts succeed.  Among the suggestions are that it’s important to determine your goals — really know why you want to take the risk.  Also important is forming a power network, if possible, before acting.  Crucial, too, is weighing the risks and benefits.  Can you live with the downsides?  Then there is selecting the right time.  Are you acting on emotion of the moment? Is this a detriment?  Finally, contingency plans should be outlined so that no matter how things go, there are viable options.

These questions constitute what I call the courage calculation.  Courage is never without risk or it wouldn’t be courage.  The best you can do is go in with your eyes open ready for whatever comes your way.

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One Lean In Tip Women/Graduates Should Reconsider

There is no such thing as a negotiation or conflict strategy good for all occasions.  To the extent that people can work collaboratively, there are several benefits.  Among them is the tendency for people to stick to a solution that they’ve been involved in creating.  There’s the additional benefit of people going away from the interaction feeling a greater sense of satisfaction than had the two sides not worked together.  But, as discussed in a Big Think blog,  it’s risky to rely heavily on a particular communication or negotiation strategy as every situation is different.

That’s why when reading Lean In recommendations for graduates, I cringed at the general advice that women are expected to be collaborative and so they should use that approach to their benefit.  Tip 3:  Negotiate — Wisely! starts with a reference to an unnamed “recent” research study indicating that women in their first year out of college were paid eighty-two cents for every dollar paid to male counterparts.  The people reading this tip are college graduates or about to be ones, so they should know which study and also that it’s important to name your sources as there are a variety of findings about pay differences, including by career type.  It also enhances credibility if the source is a sound one.

But let’s put that aside for the moment.  The next paragraph rightly encourages women to consider stereotypes when they negotiate.  Absolutely.  Then we read:

We expect men to be assertive and look out for themselves, so there’s little downside when they advocate on their own behalf. In contrast, we expect women to be communal and collaborative, so when they advocate for themselves, we—both men and women—often react unfavorably.

Again, generally accurate.  Although men need to vary their strategies or they face a downside. But, it’s the advice that follows with which I have a problem after years of studying and teaching negotiation.

One strategy to combat this is to use communal language; women get better results when they emphasize a concern for organizational relationships. For example, you might say, “If I join the team, I will do my best to contribute to its success. It’s important that my salary reflects the education and skills that will enable me to do this.” Another way to demonstrate a connection to others is to ground the negotiation in gender pay issues: “Given that women are generally paid less than men, we would both be disappointed if I didn’t negotiate for myself.”

Fortunately, on this page, being communal and collaborative is described as “one strategy.” And sometimes arguments like these can be useful.  But, the advice does not mention that there will be many situations where taking this approach is just what the people you’re dealing with want — because it is seen as a weakness to them.

With people like this, it’s better to assert that your work is outstanding, present emails/letters of support and compliment for this from people they hold in high regard or whose opinions matter to them, and measurable indicators of your success.

There’s much to be said for the tips given to graduates and women in general from Lean In.  But this one needs to be revised.  You have to know with whom you’re negotiating and what is persuasive to them.  You need to do your homework, have the data to demonstrate your success, share comparative salaries received by people (usually not named) doing the same or a lesser level of work.  It’s important to know what you’ll do if you receive a “no” response.

Stay away from the word “disappointed,” as it’s about feelings and in business being disappointed happens a lot.  Feelings can be relevant, but choose carefully which ones you share.  As I wrote in They Don’t Get It, Do They? – something still true today -mentioning feelings is an invitation to the other party to talk about those instead of your issue.  The same is true of fairness.  If they don’t care about it, don’t use it to support your argument.

Key issues in salary negotiations, among others, are what you deserve, what you’ve accomplished (when possible based on written job expectations), how widely your success has been noticed, by which people at high levels, and exactly what is going to be done about it short and long term.

It’s important that women know whether they’re already too collaborative.  If so, you may make yourself look weak to a person who thinks in terms of power.  You’re also predictable and thus easily manipulated.

We all need a spectrum of strategies for negotiation and persuasion.  Every situation differs and going with the flow with too much collaboration just because it’s expected of women can be a good way to drown your career.


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“Is There Another Way To Say That?”

This is one of my favorite phrases, as my children will attest, for letting someone know that the way they’ve said something could be interpreted to their disadvantage.  Perhaps the person is in an irritable mood.  He or she snaps at you.  As I discussed in today’s Big Think blog “Surely There’s Another Way to Say That!” competent communicators search for better or best ways to say things.  They’re able to see ahead to outcomes that might obtain from reacting to an ill-formed comment.  If those outcomes are undesirable, they employ strategies to redirect the conversation.

With children, but also with adults at times, asking “Is there another way to say that?” lets them know that you might take what they said in a way that you, and perhaps they, would prefer to avoid.  This one sentence has a dual purpose.  It may lead to a kinder, more polite, effective statement or request from the child.  And, it has the added advantage of teaching that what comes out of our mouths can be managed — that there are effective ways to speak and ineffective ways.

With adults in our lives, “Surely there’s another way to say that?” used sparingly can be effective as well.  Here again, there’s a dual benefit.  The person with whom you’re speaking might pause and consider another approach.  This gives a conversation that would otherwise go awry, a new, potentially more productive route.  The second benefit is the next time before this person speaks to you, especially about a contentious issue, he may think twice.

It’s a simple strategy, but a very useful one.  Said without sarcasm, it can change the course of the conversation, your day, and over time, perhaps even a difficult relationship.

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Resisting Persuasion Is More Important By The Day

On Big Think today I posted a blog about resisting social media and online persuasion. Since much of my career has focused on persuasion, including my first book, Persuasion in Practice, I’ve always been more than intrigued by the novel ways developed to get us to do what we’d not even think to do otherwise.

Research shows that when we’re distracted, we’re even more easily persuaded.  We have difficulty formulating counterarguments when distracted.   And how can we avoid being distracted given all the messages we’re bombarded with in only seconds on the Internet?

Are you an easy target?  Are you children critical consumers and aware of how easily they can be persuaded by crafty advertisers who know far too much about them?  In this blog, there’s a technique useful in beginning to fight back against subliminal persuasion which we experience far more everyday than ever before.

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