Note: If you cannot get past the introduction of this article without commenting on my appalling lack of feminism, please see my article “The Coach’s Dilemma: The Assertive Women” before ripping me a new one.
Duke University Professor Martha Reeves, in her book Women in Business, states some hard truths:
“Women will be judged more so than men on whether or not they are collaborative and supportive of others’ ideas [and] according to the expectation that they are caring, warm and nonconfrontational.”
“Women will be expected … to harmonize work relationships and to be ‘good’ with people.”
Look up “harmonize” in the dictionary and these statements reek of sexism: to produce a pleasing combination; to cause two or more things to be combined or to go together in a pleasing or effective way. Synonyms don’t make it any better: coordinate, go together, match, blend, mix, balance, be compatible, suit each other.
The harmonize expectation is a bitter pill for all women professionals to swallow, but particularly those who are confident about their value, have a strong voice and assertively speak their truth.
For these women, harmonizing feels like a cop-out, bowing down to the sexist views of women in the workplace. As a coach, I deal in a woman’s reality in the workplace, not her ideal workplace. So if harmonizing is what is expected, then I will influence her to provide that harmony, but on her own terms, without jeopardizing her values or principles. “Harmonizing” does not have to reduce a woman’s power in the workplace, especially if she turns harmonizing into her own superpowers. Here are three “harmonizing superpowers” for women to consider:
Harmonize Superpower #1: Intent Listening
In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This provides women the opportunity to be extraordinary by not only listening to understand, but also listening to find areas of agreement. Intent listening entails finding the common ground between opposing views, and isolating the points of difference (e.g., “It sounds like we both want to do ‘x’, but we disagree on ‘y’ ”). By finding points of agreement, the divide between you and others appears smaller, people feel more understood and less threatened, and thus people are more likely to consider your perspective.
Harmonize Superpower #2: Ingenious Perseverance
Perseverance without ingenuity can portray persistence or stubbornness, taboos for women in the workplace. By combining perseverance with cleverness, creativity, and resourcefulness, women can portray a stronger sense of harmony while still achieving change and impact. Ingenious perseverance requires you to stop repeating the same approach for getting people on board and start trying different approaches, debating different angles of an issue, soliciting a variety of opinions with influencers, bringing people together for discussion while also speaking with them individually, and presenting your ideas in different ways to match how a particular audience can best take in and understand your perspective. The key here is to keep trying, but try differently each time.
Harmonize Superpower #3: Out of Body Experience
This superpower requires women to suspend their ego entirely, while capitalizing on the ego of the other party. Think of television’s Madame Secretary’s Elizabeth McCord, Scandal’sOlivia Pope, and a female version of Columbo (the detective series circa 1970s). These women have the ability to truly get into another person’s shoes, understand his goals and fears, and then tell him what he wants to hear – all in the service of getting to their desired outcome. They want to win but are willing to be perceived as weaker than they actually are in order to get their win. Exercising this superpower requires you to rise above the conversation (i.e., get out of your own body) and look at yourself and the other party in the most objective way possible. You become a facilitator of yourself, drawing out the most productive things to say to achieve your goal. It is similar to the mindset of the intent listener, but more difficult because it can feel inauthentic. No one wants to be perceived as weaker than they actually are, but there is a strength in leveraging that perception to achieve impact.
Expecting women to bring harmony to the workplace without holding men to the same expectation is unfair. Unfortunately, at least for now, it is a woman’s reality. So let’s take this reality, turn it into our superpower and harmonize the sh*t out of our working relationships. As one of my clients once said to me after agreeing to develop harmony as a superpower, “Game on!”