Getting Heard: What Works at Work
A senior woman executive named Kate had a boss who thought she was difficult to supervise. When she talked emphatically, he would furrow his brow or cover his mouth and look puzzled. So she decided to try another approach.
Kate wrote down an agenda for every meeting with him and sent it to him in advance. When she met with him, she spoke slowly and softly, especially when he looked puzzled. Her boss decided that she was easier to deal with since working with him because of his management skills. It didn’t occur to him that he couldn’t hear her before when she was talking emphatically and quickly.
Men and women, and especially men, may be hardwired to avoid dealing with the emotions, or strength, of what they hear. Ouch. The evidence is clear. Brain imaging shows us that the amygdala, the emotional-processing part of the brain, lights up when even the brains of “logical” leaders make decisions.
Research in neuropsychology and neurophysiology has made the compelling case that, as humans, we feel before we think. Therefore, all thinking is preceded and accompanied by emotion.
Emotions and moods are contagious. The emotions of others tend to rub off. We want to be around people who are neutral or positive so that we don’t get affected/infected by negativity. When women speak loudly, intensely or emphatically men often hear this as negative even though it may not be the intent. It’s the authoritative tone that matters.
So why is there such a reaction when women show emotions or are emphatic? These reactions may be from bosses, Human Resources, spouses, friends, colleagues and even other women. There is even a reaction to a lack of emotion.
Strong feelings and emphatic speaking can be perceived as “nasty.” While shutting down can be perceived as too “nice.”
The Four P’s: Persistently Pleasant, Positive and Polite
For years, as a mentor to women, I tried to get “cold” or “intense” women to stop being “ice queens” by smiling. Others thought they were angry. Actually pleasant works a lot better. It takes a lot of looking in the mirror and practicing to get that “ pleasant face” to wear so you look relaxed and comfortable. If you look and feel comfortable, then others will feel that way to. No one wants to be with someone who seems grumpy. You need to have that face on command with everyone at work and perhaps your life. “Pleasant” pays off.
Years ago, in a behind the scenes look at Helen Mirren’s leadership role in the BBC’s Prime Suspect, she was coached in how to look and act. One of the admonitions was to never smile. She was in a man’s world so she played unapproachable. She did not yell or treat anyone with disrespect. She practiced “command tone” which works in the military and paramilitary like the police. But this may not work in corporate life. Like Helen Mirren playing a part, you need to practice the whole role in your organization.
Why is it vital to stay positive and pleasant in your workplace? Remember, moods are contagious. Studies have repeatedly shown that emotions spread whenever people are near each other, even when contact is completely nonverbal. Think of the impact of spouses on each other. Moods, fads and fashions rub off.
When we get a “gut feeling” the emotional part of our brain, our amygdala, activates circuitry that runs from the limbic centers into the gut—giving us the compelling sense that “this feels right.” This very real form of intuition offers a direct pipeline to the full range of our experiences. There really are “molecules of emotion” that give you
that “gut” feeling/emotion.
When we speak positively others sense that anything is possible and are more likely to connect with what we’re saying. Polite is the grease that keeps everything moving in every culture. Learn the right polite words for the culture you’re in. Pre-emptive thank you’s help others want to do what you want. “Thanks so much for arranging this for us” is a way to show that it will pay for someone to respond properly. You can thank in advance.