Your boss just announced you’ll be working this weekend—when you’ve already made plans. Earlier, your presentation was sabotaged by the project leader. And before that, your assistant dropped the ball on your travel arrangements, so you’re going to miss the first day of an important conference.
Every day, the workplace offers the potential for conflict. Navigating business relationships and on-the-job discord can be tricky, and women tend to approach and resolve it differently than our male counterparts. Luckily, the qualities that make us different can be used to our advantage.
How Women Approach Conflict Resolution
Conflict triggers are different for men and women:
- Women feel conflict when relationships are threatened. For men, it’s more about their position in the business world.
- Women tend to be more sensitive to personality conflicts, as well as to gender-role stereotypes – especially if the stereotype has little to do with the job. (Think of the only female in a meeting being asked to fetch coffee.)
- Men tend to shake off workplace slights, negative personal comments and personality differences more quickly.
When conflicts arise, women talk in depth and at length about the disagreement, and focus on their participation in the relationship. They voice concerns about fairness and can be more accommodating to others’ needs than to their own. In contrast, men tend to use more linear language when discussing a dispute.
The Strategies Women Offer
The good news is that women don’t have to conform to workplace gender and conflict perceptions. To paraphrase Gandhi, women can “be the change we want to see in the (working) world.” We can change the gender triggers that may make us feel that we’re worth less – or are less worthy to be at the table. Here are a few strategies to employ:
ectations tend to follow behavior. So, if women behave as though we are entitled (to better pay, a voice or a promotion) we will be treated as though we are entitled.
- The expectation that women won’t negotiate as strongly as men can be changed by doing just that.
- Reduce typical gender triggers by repositioning the framework of the conflict or negotiation. For example, instead of taking it personally or focusing on the relationship, reframe the disagreement as counterproductive to the project, which affects everyone on the team.
- Separate your identity from the conflict. Focus on what is being said, not how it makes you feel. You may even realize that the message says more about the sender than you.
- Women often enter negotiations with a collaborative mindset, believing that both sides can benefit. This can be a great advantage over men, who often see negotiations as a competitive exercise.
At work, women may avoid speaking or standing up for their beliefs, so they don’t appear too masculine or aggressive. We do this because of our fear of harming relationships.
It might help to lose the term “aggressive,” with its negative connotations, and embrace the term “assertive.” In addition, flip the fear of perception on its head. Instead of being concerned with how you will look if you take an assertive stance on an issue you care about, think about how you will look if you don’t. After all, you don’t want your employer to wonder why they ever hired you, right?
About the author: Melissa Russell writes on leadership management and negotiation. She also writes on topics such as business administration and corporate sustainability for a number of universities through the University Alliance. Find Melissa on Twitter @M_L_Russell.
A meeting with an executive can be different than a meeting with a manager. You’ve got to connect with the executive’s perspective including their challenges, their opportunities and their overall strategy for building results.
Ultimately, success in executive meetings is attitudinal. You have to believe that you have a right to be there and that you have something of value to offer them. Effective meetings are more flexible than presentations. You need to be as prepared for what you will hear and learn as for what you will say.
The starting place is to understand the perspective of the executive that you are meeting. Perspective tells you the executives’ priorities and what it takes to bring value to each of them.
For example, CEOs tend to be externally focused on their industry and the trends that are driving business strategies. They value ideas and examples outside their company and use external context and perspective to make decisions. The COO is driving lines of business and has specific metrics in mind for accelerating growth or managing costs. He will make decisions based on your ability to impact or influence those metrics. The CPO (Chief People Officer) is managing people needs against business goals and has to attract and retain the right talent with a competitive blend of benefits. All the C-suite executives are looking ahead and trying to leverage what’s to come rather than micro managing what happened yesterday.
As we work with people on executive-level conversations, there are two questions that we get asked most often.
First, people worry, “Will I have the answer for anything this executive might ask me?”
You should definitely be prepared but rarely is this conversation a deep dive into information. Top level conversations are about strategies and the big picture initiatives that will drive them. For example, if you are the human resources manager and you come to talk to me about a new step you want to implement in our hiring process, I’m not likely to want to know how you will roll-out the step. And, if you bring too much detail on implementations, you’ll quickly lose me. Instead, I’m more interested in thinking about the impact of the step across all our constituencies. Top executives don
I’ve watched every episode of 24. My wife bought me the Season 1 DVD set one Valentine’s Day a number of years ago. It sat on a shelf for a few months until one day I inserted episode 1 into the DVR to help me through my treadmill workout. It only took that one episode and I was hooked.
I couldn’t stop watching. 24 was my crack. I had to have it. I purchased every season and would devour episode after episode. The intrigue, the action, the back-stories and Jack Bauer obsessed me. But I was also taken by what I considered an interesting juxtaposition in most seasons. While CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) was faced with addressing the newest catastrophic threat, it was also an organization teeming with very ordinary HR and organizational issues.
No matter the extent of the danger or the number of lives in the balance, 24’s writers would weave in workplace jealously, sexual harassment, office romance, insubordination, clueless bureaucratic managers and title seekers.
As a businessperson, I was fascinated by these plotlines. Here is a workplace locked in a battle against terrorists and evildoers yet employees were exhibiting some of the same frivolous and selfish behavior as would occur in any other organization. If truth is indeed stranger than fiction, what chance do we have to create high performing workplaces when our missions are certainly less critical than saving the world?
When I left “big company” life to start my first company, I believed that a small company that I led wouldn’t have the same frustrating people and bureaucratic issues that seemed to haunt most days in big company life. I could eliminate those issues by selecting the “right” people, clearly articulate our strategy and provide our people meaningful work. I was either naïve or ineffective. May be a little bit of both. For in this business and the other 4 small companies that followed, people issues would constantly emerge.
24 helped me to realize that whether it’s big business or a start-up, whether the competitor is another widget company or an international terrorist, most employees could care less about the big picture, the strategy, the mission. They are thinking or acting with their selfish interests in mind. Except for Jack Bauer. Find the Jack Bauers. Nurture the Jack Bauers. They will make the difference.
Photo via soccer28.glogster.com