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.
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