Workplace Relationship Dynamics

New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/): One day, during a routine coaching session, a female client who is a sales rep complained bitterly about an experience she had just had with a woman customer. She was deeply hurt and upset and felt personally betrayed. She explained that her customer, someone she had worked with for a long time, had decided to change vendors and was no longer employing her company—or her. And the worst part of it was that my client found out about the change from someone else—not from her customer. When she told me the story and said, “Who does she think she is? I thought she was my friend,” she also said, “I would have expected this from a man but not from a woman!” I thought, “Really? She’s a customer. Doesn’t this happen in business all the time?” I wondered where this expectation of personal loyalty from women, but not from men, came from. Then I realized that this sense of disappointment and personal betrayal in the workplace context was familiar—that I had heard versions of this disappointment from my women clients many times before. I got curious about where these expectations were coming from and how the workplace context might contribute to the experience of disappointment—and the seeds of my research were sown. What my research has found is that women carry their egalitarian friendship rules, or relational expectations (also known as “relational images”), into the workplace, where they clash with the hierarchical norms that dominate most workplace cultures. This clash sets us up to be disappointed by each other in ways that can feel personal and can daman age our relationships. This finding gives us an angle on understanding the source and causes of women’s disappointment with each other. It provides a lens that opens up a new way of seeing women’s relational dynamics at work and sheds light on a new pathway to understanding and change.]]>

"New Rules for Women" Blog

Welcome to the launch of my new blog, “New Rules for Women.”  I hope this blog will stimulate conversations about the issues and challenges that women face in the workplace. It can also be a place where we celebrate our strengths and exchange ideas for how to build upon them.  I hope that both women and men will engage in these conversations as a way to understand each other better and learn to support each other more.  We need to work together to bring about the many changes needed in our work environments to make them more inclusive of all of us and make our organizations more productive.   I look forward to hearing from you.]]>

Women’s Friendship Rules at Work

New Rules for Women, shows that women often have different relationship expectations of their female colleagues than of their male colleagues. I call these expectations women’s friendship rules. We begin to develop friendship rules at a very young age. My granddaughter, by the time she was 4, was talking about the rules for being a friend. In middle school, girls ages 9 to 13 are thinking, “Who is my friend, who is not my friend, and what do I have to do to get invited to the party?” By the time we are adults, our friendship rules have become embedded as a set of filters, but, for the most part, we are not conscious of them. We don’t just show up in the workplace as a blank slate. We carry with us all the things we have learned, including this set of filters I call friendship rules. Men have friendship rules, too, but because of differences in gender socialization, theirs are not the same as ours. It is through the filters of our friendship expectations that we interpret the behaviors of other women at work and decide whether or not we trust or like them, along with a range of other expectations that can create misunderstandings. My research validates that a core of very common women’s friendship rules exists. Not everyone has the same ones: there will be variations for each of us. The most commonly reported women’s friend rules include

  • Exhibiting unswerving loyalty
  • Showing trustworthiness
  • Keeping confidences
  • Listening well
  • Sharing gossip and airing problems
  • Displaying self-disclosure
  • Practicing equality and acceptance, while seldom disapproving
  • Not discussing the friendship rules
The last one, the taboo on discussing friendship rules, is the one that gets us into the most trouble in our relationships. Cultural differences and other factors make it unlikely that all women share the exact same friendship expectations. However, the taboo against discussion means that mismatched assumptions may not be discovered until damage has been done to a relationship. How conscious are you of your friendship rules? I suggest you talk with some women friends, either at home or at work, and try to identify and name the friendship rules you share and the ones you don’t. Once you are aware of your own and have some practice describing them to someone else, you will be better prepared to talk about friendship rules at work with women colleagues to prevent misunderstandings. Let’s face it—we need all the support we can get at work. Naming and discussing our relational expectations with our women colleagues can go a long way toward strengthening our ability to help each other thrive and prosper at work.    ]]>