Last December, I watched Vivy Yusof’s monthly book review where she featured and recommended a book by Lois P Frankel, an expert in the field of women leadership development – Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers.
And I was instantly hooked. First, because I’m still not at the place where I want to be in my career and second, I no longer get the same satisfaction that I got from my job as in my first years. Where did I go wrong?
Nice girls act in ways that are designed to make others like her, and a winning woman acts in ways that ensure her goals are met by knowing what she wants, having clarity about where she’s headed, and achieving both through high likability and emotional intelligence.
Yep, I’m stuck in the nice girl phase. I know for a fact that I’m a fast learner, that’s my ultimate selling point. In fact, my bosses recognized me for that during my first year. But that’s the thing, being a fast learner would only get me so far. In terms of being promoted, or being seen as a leader, I have to step up my game. I’m still in my 20s but I surely want to climb the career ladder, fast.
This book helps me on that – to recognize my mistakes and to work on the appropriate solutions. Though this book focuses on mistakes as a woman, I believe men can benefit from this too.
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
It lists out 133 (133!!) mistakes women unconsciously make that sabotage our career based on these 7 different categories.
1. How we play the game
Many women, myself included, view the whole idea of the game of business as something unpleasant, dirty, and to be avoided at all costs but that’s the thing – business is a game and we can win it given we play the game. If we don’t play, we don’t win.
2. How we act
Success in the world of business depends on our ability to know our part and how to play it because people do not know and judge us by our intentions; they know and judge us by our actions.
3. How we think
Working hard may be beneficial and functional early in our careers, but it’s usually not as helpful later. To climb the career ladder, it is important to exhibit behaviors related to leadership capability, relationship skills, and the like. Hence, to instill these positive behaviors and removing self-defeating behaviors, it is essential to change how we think.
4. How we brand & market ourselves
We’re often overlooked for promotions and assignments because we usually are too focused on doing our work without caring enough about getting the credit. We have to look at the workplace as a marketplace, and the product is ourselves. If not, we would be “outta sight, outta mind, outta business.”
5. How we sound
I learned about the 7%-38%-55% rule:
- 7% of our credibility comes from what we say (the content of our messages);
- 38% comes from how we sound (tone of voice, loudness, etc.);
- 55% comes from how we look (dress, posture, nonverbal messages, etc.).
On a personal note, I guess that’s the reason why politicians sell themselves better than others and why they got faaar even though they clearly don’t have the substance and merit.
6. How we look
Well, this is the biggest chunk of the 7%-38%-55% rule. If we don’t look the part, we won’t be recognized as competent professionals, no matter how smart or educated we are.
7. How we respond
The way we respond to the ways others treat us has ramifications on us and our careers. If we don’t respond accordingly, we’re more likely to tolerate behavior we should never allow to happen.
THE TOP 20 MISTAKES
And here’s my favorite lessons based on the 20 mistakes listed in the book that I believe many women, myself included, made – be it from the way we play the game, act, think, brand and market ourselves, or how we sound, look and respond.
#1 Waiting to be given what you want
We tend to not be asking for what we want but instead, we wait for people to hand it over to us and the usual result is we won’t get what we want. Don’t wait to be given what’s owed to us – ask for it.
Some of the tips the author gave:
- Mentally prepare requests in advance – what and why we want it.
- Accompany each request with two or three legitimate reasons why we should be given what we requested.
#2 Avoiding office politics
I hate office politics but…
Trying to avoid office politics is like trying to avoid the weather. Like it or not, it is what it is. Politics is how things get done – in the workplace, in government, in professional organizations. If you’re not involved in office politics, you’re not playing the game, and if you’re not playing the game, you can’t possibly win.
The business of politics is simply the business of relationships and understanding the quid pro quo (something in exchange for something else) inherent to every relationship.
A successful workplace relationship, whether with a boss or a coworker, is one in which you clearly define what you have to offer and what you need or want from the other person.
- Take time to find out what the other person needs, what we have to offer, and how we can facilitate a win-win situation.
- Work through political situations in a way that allows others to see us as problem solvers, not a problem.
- Don’t just give in; think about what we want in exchange. Don’t be afraid to cash in our chips.
#3 Being too thin-skinned
If we want to be seen as having the stamina to play in the big leagues, then we need to take personal out of the equation. It’s all business. How do we know we’re being too thin-skinned? Crying, passive-aggressiveness, giving the silent treatment or withholding information when we’re in conflicts with others.
- Assume the best of intentions rather than the worst. Shit happens, most people don’t start off the day with a fervent desire to hurt our feelings.
- Rather than act out our feelings, engage in a dialogue.
- When given feedback, resist the tendency to become defensive. Instead, ask questions that will help us to understand it. If the feedback has some validity, take action. If not, let it go.
#4 Not asking questions for fear of sounding stupid
I rarely ask questions especially in meetings because I just don’t want to waste everyone’s time. Instead of asking questions, I rather look into it later and find the answers myself. Apparently, this is a common issue with us ladies.
- Ask when we don’t understand. It’s far better than going off in the wrong direction.
- Paraphrase our understanding as a way of gaining clarification. For example, “Do I understand you correctly that [repeat what we understand]?”. If we’re wrong, we’ll be told so; if not, we’ll get the right answers.
- If people make us feel stupid over a question we’ve asked, we can assume it’s their problem, not ours.
#5 Being a doormat
Women – we are goddesses, not doormats!
- Learn to manage expectations by clearly stating what we are willing to do and what we’re not willing to do.
- Let others know the boundaries of our flexibility, without actually saying “no”.
- If we feel as if we’re being abused or taken advantage of, let the other person know how we’re feeling and what we would like to change. While we can’t control the actions of others, we can remove ourselves from unhealthy situations.
#6 Thinking like an employee
Coming to work and doing our job, that’s thinking like an employee. Instead of being a mere employee, be a partner.
- Ask the boss for assignments that will make the boss’ workload easier and at the same time provide us with opportunities to expand our skillset.
- Consider how our primary duties interact with the other functions in our department or throughout the company. Assume responsibility not only for our own success but for the success of the company as a whole.
#7 Obediently following instructions
This isn’t true of all women, but some of us, when given an assignment, become like dogs with a bone. We’re so anxious to get the job done quickly or get the pat on the head we crave, we can’t see what’s on the periphery that would help us work smarter. We tend to look at the details, not the big picture. People who get ahead know how to balance the tactical with the strategic.
- Spend time brainstorming with colleagues before beginning complex or large assignments so we get a 360-degree view of the project landscape.
- Rather than responding to the details of an assignment, consider how it could be done faster, cheaper, or more effectively.
#8 Limiting your possibilities
We too often remain inside an artificially narrowed box circumscribed by others. Perhaps you often catch yourself saying “I’m not the best qualified so I may as well not even apply for that job“, “I’m not smart enough to be promoted” or “They won’t listen to me“. Well, that’s how we limit our possibilities – don’t.
- Consciously expand our world of possibilities by enumerating our choices at every fork in the road.
- Listen for limiting self-talk.
- Ignore naysayers.
#9 Reluctance to negotiate
The author shares a study that shows the difference between the amounts that men and women ask for during salary negotiation – men tend to ask more than women, not only negotiating their salaries but also reimbursement and vacation. The author found that the primary themes that caused this difference are:
- Entitlement – men have more of a sense of entitlement while women tend to ask for what they think is fair.
- Worth – while men believe they should get more because they are worth more, women are uncomfortable with the notion of worth, don’t think of themselves as worth more, or simply can’t measure their worth.
- Proving oneself – women are hesitant to ask for more money before they can prove they deserve it, whereas men use past experiences as a rationale for getting more money.
- Consequences – men are usually less concerned with the damage that asking for more money may cause, but women are more worried that the recruiter would think poorly of them or think they are greedy.
- Deliver excellence always – we have leverage when negotiating if our work consistently exceeds expectations.
- Do our homework – benchmark as much information as we can about what others in our industry and even better, company or department have received.
- Be clear about what we want – think creatively about ways our needs can be met.
- Have a Plan B – consider the alternatives we have if we are unable to reach an agreement with the other persons.
- Anticipate pushbacks – plan how we’ll respond.
#10 Ignoring the importance of network relationships
I really thought going to work, do a good job and try not to cause any scene, would be enough. Well, I’m wrong – that’s not enough. It is important to build a relationship with people because every now and then, we all do need to call on those relationships to help us professionally.
- Develop a plan for how we’re going to build or maintain a relationship with people. Think also about what we have to offer and what we need in exchange.
- Spending time building relationships is not a waste of time. The more relationships we have in place, the more access we have to information and resources.
#11 Failing to define our brand
A personal brand is a promise of performance that creates expectations in its audience. Done well, it clearly communicates the values, personality, and abilities of the person behind it.
- Make a list of the 3 – 5 things that bring us the most satisfaction at work, e.g. problem solving, negotiating, managing projects, listening, etc.
- Translate these behaviors into 3 strengths we bring to our workplace, e.g. our ability to listen effectively enables us to gather data from sources.
- Consider how these behaviors distinguish us from others.
#12 Minimizing your work or position
We tend to dimish our brands – reveal a feeling of embarrassment or lack of pride in what we do. I often catch myself doing this whenever I am praised for any successes, I would say, “Oh it’s nothing, it’s so easy, it’s really nothing” when I know that I worked hard for it.
- Remove minimizing work from the description of our work.
- Describe our work with pride.
- Place value on the work we do.
#13 Waiting to be noticed
I. Am. Waiting. To. Be. Noticed. Sigh.
Waiting to be noticed will not get you where you want to be. You’ve got to know your brand and sell it when the opportunity arises. Women, especially those who are not particularly good at “selling” themselves are often overlooked – not because of lack of capability, but because of modesty or the mistake belief that their accomplishments will eventually be noticed.
- If there’s a vacancy or assignment we want, ask to be considered for it.
- When we’re ready to make a career move, talk about it out loud. Let people know we’re ready for the next challenge (which personally is opposite to my way of living, i.e. work hard in silence, let your success be your noise).
- Continually showcase your achievements in subtle ways.
- Develop a marketing plan. Envision your future and write down the specific steps to get there.
I personally realised that there’s difference between my male colleagues and I, in the way we respond to issue that requires explanation. I sometimes find my explanation can be lengthier than theirs.
I learned the reasons why we, women, tend to over-explain:
- More words soften a message, and heaven forbid we sound too powerful.
- We fear we haven’t been thorough or complete enough, that we keep talking.
- Our statements frequently are not acknowledged, so we continue talking in an effort to get feedback.
- Overcompensate for our insecurity. We think the more we think the more we talk, the better case we make.
- Shorten our explanations by 50-70%.
- Sort out our thoughts when responding to a question, and keep our messages succinct.
- Saying everything that we know related to a topic is not necessary. Less is more.
Early in my career if someone sent me a follow-up email, my email reply would begin with “Apologies for the late reply“, when in fact they’re not even making any issue out of it. So why did I take it as an issue?
What I learned here – apologizing for unintentional, low-profile, minor errors erodes our self-confidence and, in turn, the confidence others have in us. It’s a conflict-reducing technique, but one that makes us look like we’re at fault when in fact we’re not.
My favourite quote here:
Always begin from a place of equality – regardless of the level of the person with whom you are dealing. He or she might have a higher position than you, but that doesn’t make the person any better than you.
- Consciously reduce the number of times we apologize unnecessarily by saving our apologies for big-time mistakes.
- When we do make a mistake worth apologizing for, do so only once, then move into a problem-solving mode.
- Turn the inclination to apologize into an objective assesment of what went wrong and ways to fix it.
#16 Using touchy-feely language
Women tend to use touchy-feely language which sounds less assertive. In other words that this author used, quoting her Indonesian friend – berbasa basi.
- Practice beginning our sentences with declarative “I” statements, e.g. I think, I believe, I propose, I intend, I would like.
- Take more risks around stating our thoughts with conviction.
#17 Taking up too little space
The more space we take up, the more confident we appear. Taking up too little space with using too few gestures – the overwhelming impression conveyed is that of being demure, careful, unwilling to take risks, timid or frightened, with little to contribute.
- Choose a seat at a meeting that will give us the freedom to move around. Don’t sit where we’ll be forced to keep our elbows glued to our sides. Keeping our elbows on the table and leaning in slightly.
- When giving a presentation, use the full amount of space available to us by slowly walking side to side, forward, and back.
#18 Sitting in meetings with your hands under the table
We often do as we were taught in childhood – sit coyly with our hands folded in our laps and under the table, keeping our elbows off the table. I realized that I do this when I’m the most junior one on the table. Not gonna repeat the same mistake!
- In meetings, lean forward slightly, resting your forearms on the table with hands lightly clasped.
- Whenever possible, select a seat next to the most powerful person in the room.
- Don’t be afraid to sit at the head of a long or oval table.
#19 Believing others know more than you
We often underestimate how much we know and put more stock in a stranger’s opinion than in our own wisdom. Unlike men, we tend to admit it when we don’t know something – but fail to trust ourselves when we do.
- Before asking someone else’s opinion, be certain we really need it. Asking a question to which we know the answer can diminish our stature.
#20 Being the last to speak
Oh, I have a perfect example for this. There’s one time where we encountered a problem in a meeting and everyone’s discussing the way to solve it. I knew the answer, I knew the solution but because I was the most junior there, I decided to let them discuss and I stayed quiet. It took them almost an hour going in circles that I decided to just share my mind, and guess what? Yes, my suggestion was the right approach to solve that problem. I should’ve just saved everyone their hour.
- In a group, be among the first two or three people to speak, and speak every 10-15 minutes thereafter.
- If you can’t be among the first to speak, make sure you’re not the last.
ALL IN ALL
As much as I hate office politics and the game of business, I realized that I am in this and I want to stay here for a long time, so the only way forward is up. To do that, I’ll have to improve myself in every way possible and I’m glad that I read this book because it surely opens my eyes to the many mistakes that I do, consciously or subconsciously, which hinder my career growth.
All 133 mistakes listed in the book come with explanation, real life examples, tips and recommendations. If you find yourself making some or most of the mistakes above, like I do, this book is for you.
Let’s continue figuringgitout.