<![CDATA[Remember—we are dealing with very old, deeply buried patterns of behavior, and some of these behaviors will thoughtlessly pop out of us sometimes, even when we have made a commitment to stop. For this reason, we all need to be open to feedback about our actions. Hopefully, every woman you work with is open as well. Sometimes, however, someone may not be at a time in her life, or at a moment in her day, when she is able to be open to feedback about something she has done. We will consider actions to take both when the person is open and when she is not open to working on her relationship with you in the face of your experience of indirect aggression. Indirect aggression, intentionally hurtful and denied, is subtle and can take many forms. It can take the form of gossip that is judgmental. It can also be a remark or tone of voice that seems sarcastic or nonverbal body language that seems to communicate an intention to exclude or judge or dismiss. When you experience any of these behaviors directed at you, it is important to give feedback to the offending party as soon as possible about the impact of her behavior on you. Denial is part of indirect aggression, so the aggressor might not admit, either to you or to herself, that she has done anything to you. And it’s always possible that you misread or misunderstood the interaction. Nonetheless, for the sake of having a good relationship with you going forward, she may be open to hearing your feedback and taking it in, and you should give her the feedback for the sake of improving the relationship. Even without an admission of guilt or an apology from her, receiving your feedback may help her resolve to refrain from behaving that way in the future, so it is always worth asking for a feedback meeting. Sometimes the indirect aggression can have such a hurtful impact that stronger measures are needed to repair the relationship. In that case, the relational resilience tool, described in chapter 4, would be more appropriate than simple feedback because it involves an outside party and a more structured process. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>
Assessment Methods to Improve Organizational Culture
<![CDATA[Three common assessment methods can be used to collect data from the community of women, and eventually from the broader employee population, to begin to describe the organization’s culture: questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups. Questionnaires can give a big picture of employee attitudes and beliefs, descriptions of and satisfaction with organizational norms and values, and management practices and policies related to systems of accountability, reward, and decision making. Interviews can give more in-depth information about these same areas, and focus groups can generate a conversation among groups of women that both raises their awareness and provides a rich description of the conditions that help or hinder our relationships. Using any two or all three of these methods can provide the data with which to build a good case for studying and changing policies and practices in the organization. Usually, no one in the organization has the whole picture of how the policies and practices, which tend to evolve in a piecemeal fashion over many years, are interacting to affect groups of people differently. These policies and practices almost always reflect the masculine workplace values I described in chapter 1. For example, in the context of a focus group in a client organization, women were able to share their stories about being reprimanded and denied promotions because they managed their projects using feminine workplace values of collaboration and team focus. They were told they needed to demonstrate more leadership decisiveness by not “wasting time” consulting their teams. These stories became the data that helped make a case for engaging the whole organization in a dialogue around the need to examine the assumptions behind the masculine workplace values that got rewarded in order to change these policies and practices. In an example of a discriminatory policy mess, a focus group in another client organization brought together the stories of individual women, who did not previously know each other. It became clear that policies against part-time work and against working from home had a differential impact on new mothers. (New fathers were afraid to consider even asking to work from home.) The policy said that since part-time employment was not allowed, new mothers could work from home part-time but were expected to work the rest of the time in the office to put in full-time hours—but they could get paid only for the time they were in the office since working from home did not count as official work time. So they worked full-time but only got part-time pay. The policymakers quickly realized, when they saw the results from the focus groups, that this was not a good policy, and was also probably not legal. The implications of this combination of policies had not been visible to them before the women’s stories were collected in focus groups. With the use of these data-collection methods, perceptions of unfair policies and practices can be brought to the surface and combined to make the case for change in a way that one voice or one story cannot. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>
How To Be Helpful without Burning Out at Work
<![CDATA[A new coaching client recently complained to me that she was burning out. As a supervisor, Tammy was exhausted all the time from her demanding job. She worried about her overstretched team and often took on extra work herself rather than ask them to do more. She documented the work her team was doing and presented her boss with a resource allocation analysis to make the case that her staff was overworked, and he made some changes. But a short while later she reported to me that nothing had changed for her and she was still exhausted and overwhelmed. When I asked her if she had included herself and her time in the resource allocation analysis, she was stunned to realize that she had not listed her own time as a resource. In other words, she had not put herself, her time, or her own needs in the picture. In a recent article in the New York Times, Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg talk about how selflessness and helping behavior are expected from women in the workplace, both as supervisors and as colleagues. Scholar Joyce Fletcher explains that many women place a high value on helping others and being a team player. Others also expect us to be helpful, nurturing, and generous with our time and talents. Yet Grant and Sandberg cite several studies showing that when women help others by being informal mentors, volunteering to organize office parties or charity events, and offering to support colleagues, they benefit less from it than men do. And “if a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is ‘busy’; a woman is ‘selfish.’” These different expectations set up another double bind for women—we are expected to do extra helpful things that men are not expected to do, which may cause us to miss career opportunities. And if we don’t help, we are disliked and receive lower performance ratings. Grant and Sandberg also report that an analysis of 183 studies, spanning 15 countries and dozens of industries, shows that women are significantly more likely to feel emotionally exhausted. They note that “in their quest to care for others, women often sacrifice themselves. For every 1,000 people at work, 80 more women than men burn out.” Here are three ways women and men can prevent burnout for women:
- Track and reward helping behavior. Most organizations track and reward individual accomplishments but do not require or reward communal helping behavior. Expecting both women and men to be helpful to the team by assigning communal tasks rather than relying on volunteers and rewarding or valuing helping behavior from both women and men will help to correct the imbalance that often exists.
- Prioritize our own needs as women. Remember Tammy? She forgot to make her own needs as important as the needs of her staff. She will actually be more helpful to them if she takes care of herself and does not burn out. In his recent book, Give and Take, Grant explains that to achieve high performance with low burnout, people need to prioritize their own needs along with the needs of others.
- Men can speak up more to support women and share the load. In a previous article, I shared research showing that men tend to dominate meetings and interrupt women. Instead, men can speak up to draw attention to women’s contributions and can do their share of the team support work and mentoring.
How Relational Courage Saved a Friendship
<![CDATA[Here is a story of how relational courage worked to save a friendship. Two women friends, Molly and Julie, came to me for help because after years of being close colleagues and personal friends, a misunderstanding had occurred and they were both deeply hurt by the behaviors of the other during a series of events. They had tried to talk about it themselves, but they were not able to make progress and were feeling quite stuck. They reached out for help with the hope of being able to stay friends, but a lot of distance had developed between them by the time they called me. They both reported feeling fearful of attending the session because what they might say or hear could create additional injury and because the session might fail to save the relationship and they would have to face the fact that it was over. It took relational courage for both of them to even show up. I proposed a structure and process for the session, a tool that is described in detail in the next section of this chapter that allowed each woman to listen really deeply to the other, to feel heard by the other, and to acknowledge her part in creating the other’s hurt. Each person learned something new about the impact of her behavior on the other. Each had a chance to say “I get it. I’m sorry” in her own way and in her own time. We were able to create something that RCT scholars call “mutual empathy.” It worked to heal the relationship. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>
What Makes Teams Smart? (Hint: Women)
<![CDATA[New research reported in the New York Times shows that one of the most important characteristics of effective, or smart, teams is that they include a lot of women—not just equal numbers, but actually more women than men as team members. This is more proof that organizations need more women at all levels and in all functions because most decisions of consequence, in every type of organization, are made by teams or groups. The authors of this new study, Anita Woolley, Thomas W. Malone, and Christopher Chabris, report being surprised to find that the smartest teams had three characteristics in common:
- The members contributed equally and were not dominated by one or two members.
- The members individually scored high on a test that showed skill at reading complex emotional states in the eyes of others. Even in virtual teams, where people could not see each other’s faces, the researchers reported that smart team members scored high in theory of mind, or “the ability to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know, and believe.”
- The teams with more women outperformed teams with more men.
Cultural Differences and Conflict Avoidance
<![CDATA[One important cultural difference in the study participants around the issue of conflict avoidance was observed between white American and black American women. Scholars note that because of differences in experience historically, many African American women are not conflict avoidant and value directness. During the time of slavery in the United States, white women were treated as too frail and dainty to undertake physical labor, while black women were treated as beasts of burden and subjected to the same demeaning labor and hardships as black men. Patricia Hill Collins, a black feminist scholar, explains that African American women learned to place a “high value on personal expressiveness” and directness as a survival mechanism. These differences in direct versus indirect confrontation styles can mean that African American women often feel that white American women are dishonest or uninterested in meaningful engagement with them because the white women are reserved and subdued in both what they say and how they say it. The cultures of these two groups have been shaped by very different historical forces; consequently, members of these two groups are particularly vulnerable to misunderstandings with each other. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>
<![CDATA[One way of understanding the purpose of triangulation, also found in all indirect cultures, is that it is a passive style of dealing with conflict. When asked how they felt about dealing with conflict, the women in this study, particularly white American and Hispanic women, expressed a discomfort with direct confrontation. Here are some ways they described their discomfort:
- “It’s hard for me. I’m not good at confrontation.” (Paula, nurse)
- “I don’t like confrontation. I allowed a coworker to intimidate me.” (Laurie, manager in the travel industry)
- “I’m a wimp! I would let conflict slide and then come around, behind the scenes, and do that passive-aggressive thing. That’s not good.” (Sheri, technology manager)
- “It’s difficult because you don’t want to make somebody angry.” (Claire, nurse)
Transknitting in Practice
<![CDATA[An example of how transknitting works as a way of connecting occurred one day at home. My partner, Mike, came home from work bewildered. His daughter had heard from his ex-wife that he had been ill and called to inquire about how he was feeling. The bewildering part was that Mike and his ex-wife, Patty, have been divorced for twenty-five years and have not been on speaking terms during that time. “How does she know I’m sick?” he demanded to know. I suggested that the only way his ex-wife could have known he had been ill was that his other daughter must have told her. “Why are they talking about me?” he asked. “Don’t I have a say about who talks about me? And besides, why does Patty care whether or not I’m sick after all this time?” “You don’t have a say, she doesn’t care, and,” I answered, “this isn’t about you.” “What do you mean ‘it’s not about me’?” he said. “I’m the one they’re talking about.” “They are transknitting,” I replied. “You are not the point. They are using information about you to do their mother-daughter relationship work. This is really not about you.” They were talking about Mike to connect, just as my mother and I talked about people we both knew to connect. There was no negative intention toward Mike. His daughters and their mother were engaging in one of the positive types of talk. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>
Sharing Gossip and Transknitting
<![CDATA[Sharing gossip is one of our friendship rules, and we often expect to talk about other people with each other in friendship interactions. One of the biggest surprises from this study came from a role-play developed and performed by one of the last research groups—a group of managers in state-level government. While gossip was a frequently mentioned topic in many of the group discussions and interviews during this research, this role-play, and the discussion afterward by the group, opened up a whole new way of thinking about gossip for me. Here’s how it went:
As the scene opens, Janice, the supervisor, is sitting alone at her desk. Her employee, Cynthia, approaches her.
Cynthia is quite agitated as she explains to Janice, “I really need to talk to you about something. I have to ask you,” she says in a pleading tone, “please don’t tell anyone in the office. My husband just left me, and it was a surprise. I can barely deal with it. I’m barely functioning here,” she says, choking back tears. “On top of that,” she goes on, with her shoulders and head slowly drooping forward, “I just got back from the doctor and I have to have a hysterectomy!”
“Oh my goodness,” exclaims Janice with a look of concern on her face as she reaches over to pat Cynthia on the arm. “I’m so sorry to hear this.”
Cynthia goes on to explain about her need for privacy. “I really need to keep this quiet.” She looks Janice in the eyes pleadingly. “I don’t want people coming up to me. I can’t deal with it emotionally right now. It’s just too much. Is that all right?”
“I understand completely,” Janice says.
We next see Janice as she enters the lunchroom with a worried frown creasing her forehead. She is trying to maintain her resolve to keep quiet as she approaches two women waiting for her at a table for lunch. “Uhh!” is the sound of her resolve escaping as she loses the battle. “I just had a—you can’t say anything!” The two women agree. “Cynthia’s having a hard time, and I just want to, you know—this has to be confidential. But we really need to support her and to help her. She’s having problems in her marriage, and female problems, too. I can’t go into the details. I trust you two to keep this under wraps. I’m just saying something because we just really want to support her.”
The two women agree, “Yes, of course!”
After a quick lunch, Janice gets up to leave. After she leaves, one of her lunch partners, Andrea, gets up and goes over to another table with two women having lunch and sits down.
Practically whispering, she asks, “Did you hear about Cynthia?”
“No, what?” they say, leaning in with curiosity, glad to be sharing what is apparently a secret.
“Yeah, she’s got some female problems and some marital issues. You have to keep it quiet, though. Don’t tell anybody where you heard this from. All right? You know, we just want to be there for her and make sure to support her.”
The two women mumble their agreement, and they all get up and go their separate ways. One of them, Sandra, sees Cynthia in the hall and goes over to her. “Oh my gosh, Cynthia, I just heard,” says Sandra, as all the color drains from Cynthia’s face and her mouth sags open in surprise. “I’m so sorry about everything that’s going on! I’ve had two miscarriages myself, so I know what it’s like. And, you know, my husband and I were separated for a time.” Cynthia is mortified as it hits her that everyone knows, and she hides her face in her hands. “We were able, through counseling, to work it out, though, so don’t give up,” says Sandra.
“Gotta run!” She hurries off, noticing that her supportive comments have not been well received and feeling a little bit hurt about it.
Cynthia groans. The role-play ends.As I watched the role-play, I thought, “Yuck! Another role-play about gossip!” But when I asked the group to discuss what they had seen, an argument broke out about whether or not this role-play was about gossip. I was baffled. I could not understand what the argument was about, but the group quickly changed the subject and went on to discuss the other three role-plays that had been performed. I left the session still confused about that argument. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>
Next Steps for Keeping Relationships Healthy
<![CDATA[The following exercises will help you develop skills for keeping a relationship healthy when misunderstandings happen or to prevent misunderstandings by keeping role differences clear.
- Practice the skill of mutual empathy. Identify a relationship, either inside or outside of work, where you have recently experienced some tension that was not discussed.
- Write down what you experienced (describe the behaviors you noticed) and what you felt (for example, surprise or discomfort).
- Ask the other person for a time to get together to talk something over. Tell her you are concerned that a misunderstanding might have happened. Tell her what you experienced and felt, and ask her what she experienced and felt.
- Listen deeply to each other and ask questions for understanding. Do not interrupt each other. Really listen.
- Practice naming and negotiating. If a misunderstanding was developing in step 1 above, then name the friendship rules that may have been operating for you, and ask the other person how they compare to hers. Try to agree on new ones that will work better to meet the needs you both have.
- Practice role hats. The next time you are going to a meeting with a woman who has a role different from yours (with either a level or a functional difference), ask a colleague to help you clarify the roles before the meeting. Write down the role hat you think you will wear and the one the other woman will wear in the upcoming meeting. Debrief with your colleague after the meeting. What did you notice about your expectations for the interaction? Continue this practice before the next few meetings to sharpen your skills.