By Jessica Chivers, founder of The Talent Keeper Specialists (www.talentkeepers.co.uk) and author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work (Hay House, 2011).
Nicky Dulieu (CEO of Hobbs) has called on women to be more authentic at work. Market research by her business found that one in three women prefer a male to a female boss because women ‘lack personality.’ I read it with a balanced view of humanity and thought ‘yes, yes, we must let our personality shine’ on the one hand and on the other, ‘oh no, that’ll be some poor so and so’s downfall!’
No matter how ballsy you are I expect there have been times you’ve stuffed cotton wool into your character to mould it into a form similar to your colleagues. So in this blog post, drawing upon insights from the world of psychology I’m encouraging you to consider in what ways you might do well to, er, un-stuff yourself.
Four practical suggestions then for how you might represent yourself more ‘truthfully’ at work in a way that benefits and the fifth is a tip for the more introverted among us.
1. Say what others aren’t saying
Be daring, have an opinion. Make it relevant, thoughtful and something that ratchets the conversation up or on a level, especially if the conversation has got tactical and it needs to be strategic (an area where women are under-rated compared to men). A friend come business co-conspirator and I went to a research-based seminar for HR folk on intraprenuership last week and I suspect you wouldn’t have needed a very broad box of paints to capture the scene if we hadn’t been there. Comments from the small audience were bland and mainly focussed on the problems of encouraging entrepreneurial spirit in big business until Nadia challenged it with an opposing view. I closed the audience participation bit by outlining what I’d be doing if I were sitting inside an organisation looking out from an HR position (on the blower to the US State Department for eDiplomacy and other pockets of intrapreneurial greatness – do be in touch if you want to know more). The hosts seemed to lap it up and although we ruffled a few feathers (this was the first of such events we’ve attended) Nadia made a significant business connection: the seemingly only other ‘up for it’ person in the room, who we coxed out of his shell – he’d been hiding!
2. Say what’s on your mind
You love something, you loathe something? You’re seriously concerned, you’re incredibly enthusiastic? We all have emotions (albeit each of us varies in the range, frequency and intensity we experience) and if we’re going to be authentic at work, the people we lead and the people who look up to us need to see we have them. A meta-analysis of self-disclosure studies (Collins & Miller, 1994) found that people who disclose their feelings tend to be more liked than people they don’t; people disclose more to people they like and people prefer those to whom they’ve made personal disclosures. When you have a strong feeling, if you’re not known for radiating it, you could let it stand out and be seen and heard to great effect. Displays of authentic emotion can bring a group of people together, especially if your emotion reflects the wider mood or if you’re particularly positive about something or someone. Conversely, it may be that you need to temper what you display, rather than what you amplify. This is an area that can be worked on through coaching.
3. Let colleagues know when you feel guilty
Psychologists from Stanford published a paper last year (Rebecca Schaumberg and Francis Flynn, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) outlining three separate studies which found a positive correlation between guilt-proneness and leadership effectiveness. In one study, 139 MBA students’ past 360-degree feedback reports were analysed and on every item relating to leadership effectiveness the MBA students who rated themselves as guilt prone were scored more highly. The researchers also explored a similar emotion, shamefulness, and found no such link. Guilt is a reflective emotion that causes us to act and make things better (that we perceive we have some responsibility to fix) whereas shame is about flopping in a corner feeling sorry for ourselves without the additional drive to put things right. So demonstrating that you care and that you feel bad when things under your remit don’t go well is likely to enhance your career.
4. Bring your external world inside
Share some of what gets you going and what fills your life outside work, with your colleagues. It goes back to the merits of self-disclosure and people being able to identify with you in a more rounded way. I’ve had many coachees tell me over the years that they can’t find ‘a way in’ with their line manager as he or she isn’t very approachable. At best this has limited their ability to get on and deliver; at worst it’s meant a parting of ways. Sharing something of our life beyond work is a way to soften any hard impressions people may have of us. What have you got going on at home that others might benefit from hearing? In what ways could your hobbies link valuably to what’s going on for you professionally right now?
5. Be socially proactive in new group situations
If you’re not naturally extraverted, be proactive and positive in new group situations and people will confer higher status on you which lasts beyond that first meeting. This is the finding of Gavin Kilduff and Adam Galinsky writing in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology this year and that kind of behaviour is what psychologists call ‘approach-oriented’ (as opposed to ‘avoidance-oriented’ where we would shrink away from interacting with new people in an unfamiliar setting). Being socially proactive – for instance confidently making the first move to say hello and demonstrate interest in the people you’re meeting – doesn’t come naturally to more introverted folk and this is where their research gets interesting. Simply spending a couple of minutes writing about a time you felt powerful, before you go into a meeting with unfamiliar people, primes you to display these ‘approach-oriented’ behaviours. So the next time you’re asked to join a steering group, pan-business project or start a new job, make sure you display this social confidence from the outset and people will perceive you as ‘high status’ from that point onwards.
And then of course there’s what we wear and how we wear it, but that’s not my (hand) bag.
What are you taking away from this post?
Zooming back out to where I started, it’s important we let the best version of ourselves be seen at work if we’re to change perceptions of what it’s like to be managed by a woman. We’re kicking the ladder/tying the jungle gym ropes out of our own reach and harming our careers – and those of our friends, sisters, mothers and daughters – if we don’t shine and show how we can be a genuine pleasure to work for. Follow the tips and reflect on the difference they make.
As ever, if you’ve got a view on this post please leave a comment or drop me a line. You might also forward the link to colleagues.