I recently found myself involved in an online discussion with some colleagues regarding the use of the term “ballsy.” Let me set the stage: one colleague posted a link to an article and suggested that the content of it was “ballsy” considering the platform used. A female colleague agreed. Another male colleague pointed out that the use of the term “ballsy” could be perpetuating a sexist stereotype. A discussion ensued as to whether or not that term was bothersome to women, and if it, in fact, perpetuated a sexist stereotype.
My contribution to the discussion was that I’ve known women who in fact had bigger said anatomy than some men….figuratively speaking, of course. To me, the term has never bothered me, I’ve often used it myself, and it never really occurred to me that it could be perceived as sexist. My friend and colleague Rayanne Thorn, said the following:
I guess I’m pretty “cocky” AND “ballsy” when I need to be.
…it doesn’t bother me.
I’m more bothered by the cat calls when I walk my dog or a Service Manager at my car dealership telling me, “perhaps your husband should bring the car in.”
Maybe women have to be cocky and ballsy in order to garner respect from certain men.
This discussion got me thinking about a few issues surrounding the terminology.
Ballsy or Gutsy?
Is the term “ballsy” inherently sexist? As women, should the term bother us? Should we insist on instead being referred to as gutsy? Or fearless? Or daring? Do those words convey the same meaning, or is there a nuance to ballsy that we should embrace if we are, in fact, referred to as such?
Is it demeaning for a women to be called ballsy in that it implies that we are somehow trying to attain the standard of a man that we would not normally reach? That such a level of daring in inherent to men and not women?
The Real Issue?
Or is the real issue what Rayanne referenced; that women in some instances NEED to be cocky, ballsy, or whichever word you may choose to command respect from some men. That there are still men in the world that objectify women, continue to see us as a lesser sex in regards to certain issues, or refuse to see us as equals.
I don’t believe that’s the case with most men. The men I choose to surround myself with, those whom I call friends, my family members….they are respectful and appreciative of successful and accomplished women. I have been fortunate to have lived and worked in such environments where I haven’t felt implications of gender inequality. But clearly there are still some who, intentional or not, make it necessary for women to embrace their cocky, ballsy, or gutsy side. Does the ability to be ballsy put us on more of a level playing field with these types of men and do we need to embrace being so in such circumstances?
The Gender Equality Debate
The debate about gender equality in the workplace continues to rage on. Women are under-represented in C-level roles. Gender pay gaps still exist. Women have to conform to men’s way of “playing the game” in order to gain respect, or struggle with “old boys networks” in some companies and industries. Does the use of words such as ballsy or cocky perpetuate these issues, or should we embrace the ability to be so when we need to? Are we too focused on the words used, rather than the approach required in some instances and the mindset that makes it a necessity? What’s the real issue here?
As I mentioned earlier, the term has never bothered me. I admire and respect the strong, successful women around me who have the guts to stand up for what they believe. I hope that the men I associate with both personally and professionally respect me for my accomplishments. Generally, I haven’t needed to be ballsy in many situations. But if I had to, it wouldn’t bother me to be called out as such.
What do you think? Are you bothered by such terminology or do you embrace it?
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent acquisition and development in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.
Despite remarkable progress in the workplace and society over the past few decades, women still seem to have more trouble being assertive, overall, than do their male counterparts. For instance, women tend to be more apologetic than men are, even when the situation doesn’t necessarily warrant an apology. Some women seem to be constantly apologizing, and even their nonverbal communication leaves the impression that they are apologizing for taking up space. Some women are so apologetic that, when called on it, they apologize yet again. That’s an extreme example, but the tendency to be overly apologetic is a problem that many women need to correct.
Not convinced? Then here – without apology – are 5 reasons a woman should curb that apology impulse in the office, particularly if she’s in a position of authority or has ambitions in that direction.
1. Being constantly apologetic makes you appear submissive. Continually and unnecessarily apologizing is submissive behavior. Even if you have a subordinate role in the workplace, you don’t have to be submissive. You’re less likely to be taken seriously, either by superiors or subordinates, if you’re continually saying you’re sorry for everything you do or say.
2. Being overly apologetic can erode your self-confidence. This goes hand in hand with number 1 above. Constantly apologizing can not only lessen others’ regard for you, it can also make you doubt yourself and your own capabilities. And if you’re aiming for a position of authority, being too apologetic can sabotage your efforts at advancement, as it reinforces your submissive behavior and thought patterns.
3. Being overly apologetic clouds the real issues. Maybe you apologize to keep peace or to be diplomatic. But there’s such a thing as being too diplomatic, to the point of being dishonest. If you keep letting others get away with boorish behavior and cover it with an apology and a smile, the problems will continue to fester and may blow up in your face someday.
4. Being overly apologetic is ineffective anyway, due to overuse. A recent study showed that because women are more apologetic than men, their apologies are generally less likely to be taken seriously.
Apparently it’s the unexpected apology that makes people sit up and take notice. While the same study indicated that, statistically speaking, an apology from someone in a managerial position is more significant than the gender of the person making the apology, women in general are still taken less seriously, so apologies should only be made when the situation truly calls for one.
5. Apologizing can seem like an admission of guilt or liability. This could be especially important for women in HR, particularly when dealing with an employee’s complaint. Even a well-intentioned expression of empathy can backfire if it seems to be framed as an apology for the company’s wrongdoing.
Nobody is suggesting that women adopt an arrogant attitude and never apologize when an apology is indeed appropriate. Moreover, as many women have discovered, female assertiveness also carries risks. Both male and female employees are more likely to classify a woman as “bossy” when she is even mildly assertive, though they wouldn’t blink an eye at the identical behavior from a man in the exact same situation. Your best bet is to strive to be as reasonable and balanced and fair as possible, keeping in mind that in the workplace it’s generally better to err on the side of assertiveness – even if they do call you “bossy”.
About the Author: This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from people search. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a the male dominated world in which we live, it becomes increasingly important that strong women leaders take charge and make themselves known. They should use their strong personality traits to be a role model to other women and young girls. What, you ask, are the personality traits that tend to make a woman a good leader? Take a look at these personality traits and see if you, or someone you know possesses these traits. If you or someone else does possess these traits, encourage that person or challenge yourself to become an outward role model for other females.
A strong woman leader is confident in the person that she is and the decisions that she makes. So many women and girls today are insecure and unsure of themselves. They need a female leader who can show them how to be comfortable in their own skin. They need to find themselves and be confident that the person they are is good enough. As a woman leader, you should outwardly display your confidence to other women, and encourage them to learn how to “own it”, rather than be intimidated by confidence in other women.
Female leaders are people who make a difference in the world, and to do this, they need to be intelligent. This is important because women leaders need to be taken seriously, and this will be a struggle if their intelligence is questioned. To develop intelligence, the first step is schooling. Encourage young women to stay in school and learn all that they can. The second part of intelligence is awareness. Be aware, and well-versed in the world that is going on around you. This will allow you to more adequately assess a situation and intelligently decide what you should do about it. Being intelligent and prepared in every situation will inspire women, young and old, and will draw positive attention to women as a gender.
An attribute of any leader, not just a woman, is the ability to talk to others and convey a message. This does not necessarily mean, however, that a leader has to be outgoing. Outgoing leaders can lead by preaching their cause and talking to people about the important things that they have to say. This can often be very effective because you are spelling things out for people. A woman can also, however, be a quiet leader. Quiet leaders lead by example, and this leadership tactic can be equally as effective. Leading by example is simple: practice what you preach and if people believe in what you are doing, they will model their actions after yours.
Pam Johnson is an HR professional in the furniture industry, as well as an adjunct professor for her local community college . She is constantly seeking out people with leadership qualities to fulfill management positions. She obtained her MBA in Human Resources Degree.
Women, we have a vitally critical role that we must assert ourselves into now and for the long term foreseeable future. This role is hard to label and has many facets. We must take on this role. We must not shy away from it.
In the news there has an increase in the visibility of rapes and gang rapes, as well as sexual abuse. There are many stats regarding rape, one of the CNN articles I will link to later quotes a survey that 1 in 5 women are the victim of rape. As you start counting the women you know, you can start right here as one of the victims you know. But one in five says you know a lot more too. So we have a job to do. I found inspiration in this CNN article, Teach young men to treat women with respect.
But I want to push our roles as women further into the actionable details and broader in the scope.
- Our job is to teach boys to respect women.
- Our job is to continue to equalize the genders as partners on this planet.
- Our job is to teach women to be strong and build their self-esteem to help protect them.
- Our job is to encourage our brothers, uncles, male friends, fathers and spouses to be good role models for young men and boys. They can make a difference in the lives of boys that may feel the need to follow bad role models.
- Our job is to demand that coaches receive training on how to instill respect for women as part of their development of men.
- Our job is to demand that our military leaders receive training on how to instill respect for women as part of their development of men.
- Our job is to demand that their training is part of the exercise and education of our men.
- Our job is to make sure that men who evidently don’t really know what rape is, are not ever elected to public office.
- Our job is to educate our girls that being drunk can put you at risk of way too many things.
- Our job is to teach women to have each others back and to watch out for the ones that are treading into risky territory.
- Our job is to call out the males in our lives when they encourage the victimization image of women. (I am not talking about being prudish or Victorian about sexuality, that is counter-prod
- Our job is to be outraged and vocal about our outrage at any rape. It is actually a family discussion topic, if you have children that are teenagers. It can’t be swept under the rug, it must be discussed. It wasn’t long ago that we couldn’t discuss breast cancer, but we are now (or you better be).
Women, we have a job to do.
Our job is to help women build their own power and women’s power as a whole which will hopefully change perspectives and here is another great article from CNN, Women's Power: A story with sharp divide.
We as American voters just elected 20 women to the Senate, the largest number in history, but that just 20% of the seats. Not enough. I agree with the sentiment that it is sad that we are celebrating such a low number, but it is a start.
While I was preparing for this post I found a Facebook post from Mary Ellen Slayter that hit home and absolutely loved. It is about changing the perspective of women and empowering their image. It is about the different perspective of women in the fairy tales. It is much more light hearted then the rest of this post, but it is key. We must change the image of women at many levels. This is a great one for the early ages – Girls are Not Chicks Coloring Book.
We have a job to do and it is one of the most vital roles we can play.
About the author: Lois Melbourne, GPHR, is vice-chair to Peoplefluent, a leading social human capital management technology company. Co-founder of the global workforce planning and analytics solutions company Aquire, mom to one terrific young son and wife of co-founder Ross Melbourne, Lois maintains a strong personal commitment to career education and small business development and is a frequent speaker, author of industry articles, and an avid blogger and networker. Connect with her on Twitter as @loismelbourne.
Photo Credit: iStockphoto
Have you ever helped a friend or family member move? If you have, did the friend or family member try to bribe you with pizza or drinks to get you to agree to help? Lugging boxes up and down stairs isn’t fun, so offering a treat of some sort makes it easier to coerce your loved ones into maneuvering your gigantic couch through your narrow doorway.
Nonprofit organizations rely upon the kindness of strangers. Getting volunteers to help out and making them want to come back is one of the most important factors that nonprofits face. To be successful, they have to build a community of commitment.
The techniques used by nonprofits can be a huge benefit to HR. After all, if these techniques can encourage people to work for free, applying them to a business can help to increase employee motivation.
1. Inspire people
Inspiration is the driving force behind most nonprofit organizations. Once you can get someone to genuinely care about something, it is much easier to get them to spare some of their time or money.
Even if your company isn’t saving lives or helping puppies, you can still be a source of inspiration. You might enact a mentorship program to help develop your employee’s careers. You could start a wellness initiative to make it easier for your team to get healthy. Being a positive influence on your employees can go a long way towards creating a pleasant work environment.
2. Create goals with clear results
How many times have you seen a fundraiser use imagery to show how close they are to their goal? If the goal is raising $10,000, then seeing a bar graph creep closer and closer to the top of the chart is a clear indicator of how close (or far) the goal is.
When a team has a clearly defined goal in sight, it can propel them forward. Knowing what they hope to achieve and being able to see exactly where they stand can be an energizing influence on their work. If a goal isn’t reached, it can be a learning experience to figure out what went wrong and what could be improved for next time. If the goal is met, employees have something tangible to be proud of and celebrate.
In order for a nonprofit to get volunteers to work efficiently, every detail has to be organized. You can’t throw hundreds of volunteers into an event without telling them what to do and who to report to. Not only could disorganization ruin an event, but it could also deter volunteers from returning.
Being well-organized is more than just assigning employees a job title and place to sit. It is about making sure that each employee knows what their job entitles, how to do it and why it is important. They should know how their role relates to others within the company and who is responsible for what. Streamlining business practices is a lot easier when everyone knows their individual role and how it fits into the whole.
4. Make them feel appreciated
Nonprofits have mastered the art of the thank you. They know that it is important to keep volunteers and donors happy, so they make sure to demonstrate their appreciation. Letting volunteers know that their work is valued helps to foster a sense of teamwork.
Feeling under appreciated is one of the most common reasons why people leave jobs. It can be really disheartening to work incredibly hard on something and feel as though no one even noticed. Employees that feel valued will work harder and stay with a company longer. Do all you can to show employees that the work that they do is important and appreciated.
People work to get a paycheck, but volunteers work because they want to make a difference. Getting paid employees to feel that same sense of drive can do wonders for the workplace. Passion will outwork ambivalence every time.
Any tips for getting your employees to truly care about their work? Do share!
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Erin Palmer works with Villanova University on programs such as Masters in Human Resources. She happily writes for a living and enjoys mentioning that fact to people who think that Writing and English majors will never find a job. She loves to meet new people, so reach out to her on Twitter as @Erin_E_Palmer.
So, I’m driving home from St. Louis listening to Drive Thru HR, which I usually do on road trips, to catch up on my daily HR news from some incredible HR professionals all over the world.
I hear Lisa Rosendahl, (@lisarosendahl) who I was fortunate to meet last year at HRevolution. On the show, Lisa and William Tincup are talking about credibility and all these memories started popping into my mind, ideas and examples so I thought this is a great topic for my next Women of HR blog post.
The story I thought about occurred in my first couple of years of my HR career.
I was in charge of starting a training department. My initial goals where to hire a training coordinator and a couple of trainers. We had a person from another department with computer experience coming in to provide computer training and she was doing very well performance and training wise. Just for the record, I inherited her and she was not my hire.
She was getting good reviews but there were a few things that started to tick me off, so to speak. Measurable things that reflected poorly on our brand new “start-up” department and the rest of us who worked in the department. The following describes how she presented herself and how I perceived her credibility, NOT good.
I have talked about this story several times but never really sat down and wrote about it.
She repeatedly dressed inappropriately as a trainer and as a representative of the organization in front of 20 to 30 of our 500 employees at any one time. Her “see through” pants were so sheer that you could see whatever kind of underwear she was wearing, thongs and all! She would also come in wearing shirts that showed off her belly button.
This was a 25 to 28 year old woman, so we are not talking about a teenager, but what really topped it off was the office Christmas party attire. And YES I do tell this is a story every time I discuss credibility, or lack thereof, in a business setting.
At our Christmas party that year, she came in late (of course) to make an entrance. I remember looking toward the door as she walked in and what I saw was to be talked about for some time after by everyone there in the office. She had long hair that nearly went down to her bottom and she had it stacked on top of her head in the shape of a Christmas tree with lights and decorations in it. Her earrings were also flashing decorative lights. She was wearing five inch heels, a dress that was extremely short and skin tight. Her dress had almost no back and was cut all the way down to her underwear and everyone stopped and stared.
She was suppose to be a professional in an organization and come Monday morning in the board room the discussion was not what’s going on in the spreadsheets today but, did you all see what so and so was wearing the other night at the Christmas party? From then on, I’m sure her credibility wasn’t that thick because of the clothes she chose to wear to work.
What’s the lesson here?
Credibility goes well beyond your paper credentials. Consider the entire picture and how people perceive you and what you choose to do (or wear).
Photo credit: Unknown
I recently had the opportunity to attend a women’s networking event hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in St. Louis. Our speaker was Adrian Bracy, CEO of the Metro St. Louis YWCA.
Ms. Bracy told her story of growing up in Miami and not feeling like she fit in. She shared stories of how she found a small group of friends to support and accept her, ladies who still are a major support to her years later. Her stories of career transition as an accountant working in the NFL for various teams to her current role as the CEO of the YWCA in St. Louis were fascinating. It was something she shared about what inspired her that leads me to share with you today.
Ms. Bracy mentioned reading Women Don’t Ask a few years ago as she was on a plane for a high level job interview. From what she shared about the book, the lesson is that women are raised to receive an offer (job offer or other offers) and say “thank you.” Men are raised to receive an offer and start negotiating.
Do women know the art of negotiation?
There are exceptions to every stereotype out there, but in this case, I’ll venture to guess that many women do accept job offers or answers from our leaders without question. We don’t ask for higher salaries, for more help or resources nor more help from our family members. Is it because it is not comfortable? Is it because we are not competent in negotiation? Is it because we want to avoid confrontation? Many women avoid negotiation for varied reasons. However, whatever t
he reason, it is something we can learn and get better at with time.
Right now, today, you can:
- Arm yourself with information. Take time to think about what you truly need then do the research necessary to get yourself comfortable. This will position you for having a creative approach to the solution you desire.
- Don’t be afraid to be honest. A good example of honesty paying off comes when negotiating workload. Many employees today get their work from multiple sources; a supervisor, other colleagues, company leaders, clients, vendors…the list goes on and on. After sifting through what needs to be done, being able to approach people and squarely address and negotiate different deadlines and deliverables will be key to better managing the workload.
- Build a relationship. Whether you are negotiating with a family member or a potential boss, being able to show you are not afraid to ask for something and negotiate a situation will ideally build a stronger relationship and demonstrate you are worthy of respect. Show respect to them and understanding for their needs and they are likely to want to negotiate to help you reach your needs as well.
The key to being a good negotiator is not about how many negotiations you win at. The key is getting yourself comfortable with doing it more often- or just starting to do it. Take that step and you’ll be the one asking for, and getting, what you want!
Photo credit: iStockphoto
Often times the only difference between success and failure is confidence. It is the most beautiful attribute on a woman, and it’s necessary to be successful in the workplace.
A confident woman portrays strength, determination and persistence, and is not afraid to be herself. While we all know confidence is crucial in order to create a name for yourself in the office, actually obtaining it is another story.
Read these tips to help yourself be more confident at work, command the attention of your co-workers and gain their respect.
Redefine Your Picture of Confidence
Confidence is portrayed through more than just words. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t always mean being outgoing or boastful. Often it is just the opposite: meek and humble. When one is confident in their skills and abilities, they do not feel the need to continually convince others. Try instead to focus on being compassionate and eager to learn, yet strong. In doing so, you will portray power. You will show others that you have something to offer the world.
When you talk about yourself to others, what do you say? Do you continually criticize yourself or put yourself down? Or do you speak of your greatest achievements? Words are powerful, and whether we like it or not, they actually do have the power to hurt us. The things we tell others about ourselves generally become true sooner or later.
Pay attention to your self-talk. If you catch yourself harboring negative thoughts, replace them with positive ones. Remind yourself of your many strengths, talents, and achievements on a daily basis. You've worked hard to get to where you are – you earned it. You deserve the respect of your peers. You’ll find that focusing on constructive thoughts and language regularly will gradually begin to shift your self-perception.
Create an Image
Confidence is not the result of a first-class haircut or an expensive outfit. However, items that increase your feelings of self-worth can provide you with a temporary confidence boost. And when utilized enough days
in a row, the self-image will start to become permanent.
If you feel more powerful in a certain suit, or gain assurance from your favorite pair of heels, take advantage of them. Capitalize on anything that contributes to a more positive, confident you.
Take a moment to study yourself in the mirror. What does your image say about you? Do you look polished and put together? Do your eyes shine back with an intent gaze or are they shifty and downcast? Does it appear that you value your health and take care of your body, or do you seem to have let yourself go?
Even when your lips are sealed, your body is communicating hundreds of messages. Your physical appearance, posture, and mannerisms speak volumes as well. Focus on improving the shortcomings you spot in the mirror. Show others you value your body enough to take proper care of it. Practice good eye contact with yourself, and feel free to practice facial expressions as well. You may feel silly, but when the time comes to speak in front of a group, your muscle memory will spring into action- eliminating stress and anxiety.
Fake It Til You Make It
Keep in mind that no one is confident all of the time. Every single person has moments of weakness and doubt. The key is being able to recognize these moments and pull yourself out of them. When your assurance just isn’t there, fake it until you actually believe it. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, hold your head high, and smile.
Being confident at the office is often crucial to gaining respect, having your ideas heard, and improving your position within the company. Being more confident does take a bit a practice, but once you get the hang of it, it can become second nature.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Elli Bishop is a writer for Your Local Security. She was born and raised in Colorado and now enjoys skiing, playing tennis, and hiking in the mountains of Salt Lake City, Utah. Elli speaks from experience when it comes to overcoming shyness.
Imagine (which may not be too hard) that as a result of your team’s hard work and commitment, you reach a pivotal point – a point at which the future of your business could change for the better.
Now you are faced with the challenge of making important decisions, creating innovative plans and taking action. The most critical of these steps is the initial decisions you make, and I’m here to let you in on a secret to success – use your vision, 3-D vision, that is!
Unlike the Euclidean version that may come to mind, this 3-D experience is defined by three essential elements: discuss, debate and decide. Each element forms the foundation for execution success and goal achievement. Neglecting even one component will compromise the outcome of your opportunity.
The most valuable discussions are those of dialogue as opposed to dissertation, and the most productive dialogues occur in two steps.
First, state the opportunity in clear, un-biased terms. With a mindset of respect and equality (organizational hierarchy has no place here), encourage free-thinking and sharing from the team members about how best to maximize this opportunity if it should even be pursued. Provoke constructive controversy and resist any propensity for judgmental commentary. Seek to stretch perspective beyond the status quo and mitigate potentially limiting beliefs. Doing this step first will engender thoughtful regard and trust among the team members and open the door to creativity and innovation.
Second, add structure to the dialogue. Take a closer look at each of the contributions to the discussion so far and apply objective questions to all of them. What are the potential consequences, intended and otherwise; who will be involved and feel the effects, for better or worse; what’s the value of the “extraordinary” opportunity to all those involved? Think of this step as a culling process where the most valid contributions are identified and clarified for subsequent debate.
Having shared an intellectually curious, thoughtful discussion, it’s time to take sides – literally.
Debate is essentially a well-reasoned, respectful, even passionate argument. Debate the proposed positions and discussion points from each plausible perspective. The goal is discovery. Through deep inquiry, clear and thorough presentation and thoughtful rebuttal, answers to questions that otherwise would not likely come to mind are brought to light. Perhaps even more revealing is the discovery of questions behind the questions – the things you were unaware you didn’t know. Debate where and how a proposed course of action might fail, how it might succeed, is it even feasible, and so on. And, above all else, listen with the same intensity others reserve for speaking. It will pay dividends even beyond the decision you choose.
Finally, after all the discussion and enlightened debate, it’s time to choose. This does not mean defeat nor acquiescence for anyone. For even those who “lost” the debate will ultimately win with a great decision made. It means to commit – completely and clear-mindedly for everyone. This is not a place for compliance. Commitment necessitates regard for the process you’ve completed and respect for the people with whom you’ve processed. What does this look like down the road? Unity of command – when in the moment the decision that was made is challenged by circumstances or individuals, you stand by the decision you made as a team and present it as your own, without caveat or condition.
How will you know your decision was the “right” decision and even a great decision? Fair question – perhaps not the best question, however. The more compelling question is, “How will you lead in the wake of the decision you made?” Great leaders do far more than make great decisions. They deal with consequences, they focus, they listen, they navigate the unpredictable course of life, and in so doing they inspire those they lead to make their own great decisions.
Many years ago, in a company far, far away, I transferred into a new department. From the get-go, I liked all of my co-workers, with one exception – his name was “Walt.” Our journey on the road to a productive work relationship was a bumpy one filled with power plays, tension and avoidance.
The story below is not intended to malign Walt. He was a very professional, smart and talented individual. Rather, my goal in telling this tale is to share with you a lesson I learned about setting boundaries.
Shortly after my arrival in the department, tensions began to surface between me and Walt. I suspected that we were engaged in a power struggle of some sort, but for what type of “power?” We were peers and to my way of thinking, we had equal amounts of power within the team structure. Not being a pushover, I felt the struggle and began to push back whenever he tried to get the upper hand.
It all came to a head during one meeting in which Walt and I convened in a conference room to discuss a project we were working on. We had each brought several large reference binders into the room. As we stood up to leave after the meeting, I gathered my armload of materials. It was at this point that Walt picked up his coffee cup and moved, with otherwise empty hands, toward the door. He nodded in the direction of the binders he had carried into the meeting and tossed off, “Hey, grab those books for me, will ya?” and then turned to exit the conference room.
Now, here’s what was going through my head, “I am not your personal assistant, and no, I will NOT pick up your stuff!” Instead, I blurted something only slightly less severe, “What? Are your arms broken?” Walt turned and stammered, “Well, I only….um. Geez!” A tense silence ensued. Then he offered, “I didn’t mean anything by that, I just thought. . .” He trailed off. I countered with, “I think you are perfectly capable of carrying your own stuff back to your office.” Which he in fact did do immediately after I stormed out of the conference room.
I’d love to say that this outburst provided the catalyst for a meaningful conversation between two colleagues about respect and boundaries. In a perfect world, that’s what would have happened, but instead we each acted as if the whole blow-up hadn’t occurred. Yeah, yeah, I know, “avoid the co-worker” isn’t exactly high-quality interpersonal advice. But here’s the upside – I drew a line in the sand. Drawn somewhat clumsily, yes, but drawn nonetheless. Prior to this, either I was inadvertently signaling to Walt that he could push me around or he was testing to see how far he could push me. In either case, from that point on, the power struggles stopped. We were able to work on getting to know each other’s talents and build upon that knowledge to create a more productive working relationship.
Once we stopped trying to prove who was more “powerful” (or smarter or better-liked by the boss or whatever the heck we were trying to prove), we were able to bridge the substantial gap in our affinity for one another. I discovered that Walt and I shared a similar educational background, having even attended the same undergraduate program at the same university. This led to us “talking shop” about human performance technology which in turn helped me learn a bit about Walt and his family.
Did Walt and I end up becoming the best of buddies? No. But we did learn to respect what each other brought to the team and that strengthened our team’s overall performance.
If a colleague is pushing you around, don’t be afraid to draw your own line in the sand. It’s tempting to wait for that “right” time, thinking you need a well-rehearsed, professional spiel in which to present your case. That’s great in a perfect world, but sometimes perfection doesn’t cut it. Sometimes a less-than-perfect yet direct route gets the job done just as well.
Photo credit iStockphoto