Impact and Gravitas For Women
For all our progress in the modern workplace, women are still not always rewarded for their strengths or their particular style of communication. If you’re a woman reading this, you may recognise the feeling of not being able to get your point across and battling perceptions of the kind of roles women should play in the workplace. Ultimately of course, we need perceptions to change and for unconscious bias to shift, but in the meantime, we can also be pragmatic and take personal responsibility for our own communication style. Here are some practical tips about how to represent your expertise effectively and be as visible as possible in meetings.
Make sure you're representing your ideas vocally in a way that makes you sound as though you believe in what you say. Cultivate the ability to pitch down at the ends of sentences and land your point. That way you sound as though you're making a statement rather than asking a question or needing validation.
Avoid prefacing ideas with disclaimers such as, ‘this might be a bad idea’ or ‘I'm not sure this is going to work’ which can be a self-protecting reflex, internalised over years being shot down. Unfortunately that can set up doubt other people’s minds before you even expressed yourself and give them an easy ‘out’ for not taking you seriously. You can still keep things exploratory by starting off with ‘what about?’ or explain that you're thinking aloud, but essentially make sure you edit out any words that devalue your own ideas.
Use the actors’ technique of ‘accept and build’ to interject into fast-flowing conversations by acknowledging someone’ s point through a brief bit of paraphrasing and then pivoting to what you want to say. By doing that you will have made them feel seen and heard and built a good reception for your point, even if you express disagreement.
Deter interruption by having a very clear structure to what you're saying. You might list your evidence by saying ‘there are three reasons why I think this will work’ to alert people you're going to go through three stages and that they need to hear you out. Or you might talk through the options you’ve considered to deter pushback and strengthen your final solution.
Be aware of the feedback loop between physicality and state of mind. Make sure you use decisive gestures, open out your shoulders, and engage with your eye contact. Take the space you are entitled to! Simply by changing your posture you can send different signals to the brain which will create room for a more resilient mindset.
Being strategic in your approach to communication can help you to capitalise on the strengths and talents that you bring to the workplace and give you more choice and control over how you are perceived. Practicing these mindful communication tools will ensure that you are being you ‘on a good day’, every day, and help you to hold your ground in challenging situations. The corporate norms may take time to change, but we don’t have to!
Back to the Real World
At 7am, panic gripped me. I was about to do my first face to face course since Covid began, and I would be seen from the waist down for the first time in 18 months. There was no way round it. I would have to ditch the pyjama bottoms.
Once I’d got over the shock of finding some proper clothes and brushing my hair at the back, I caught the taxi with Annie into Soho. Greeting each other for the first time, we spent about 5 minutes staring at each other like excited teenagers and repeating ‘Weird!’ before settling into the ride.
Once in Soho, the assault on the senses was overwhelming. The roar of the crowd, the smell of traffic, lights, colours, action! Then the realisation dawned…….we actually had to find a building instead of just finding the link. Despite being in the shortest street ever invented, we still went the wrong way and it took us a good five minutes to find the door. But the next challenge was getting in. What to press? To pull or not to pull. I had a moment of yearning for a neat little message to pop up saying “The meeting host will let you in soon.”
After a flurry of hand sanitising, we arrived at the correct floor, stumbling out of the lift like relatives of Crocodile Dundee, marvelling at the office walls and the three dimensional people. I reached out to shake our host’s hand and realised mine was like a claw from where I’d been gripping my mouse for two years.
When we got to the meeting room, we saw that there was someone using it. From the cobwebs of our memory, we recalled how to do our best ‘polite hovering’ technique until they noticed us. Ha, still got it! However, then we only had 5 minutes to try and set up the tech. Of course, my computer point blank refused to be connected to the main screen. It was as though it had got so used to being looked at constantly and being the star, that it was having a tantrum, “No, look at me! Not over there, over here!” Eventually with some help from IT, (another real person rather than my usual ‘guy on the end of a phone’), it agreed to co-operate.
Initially we were startled to see lots of heads coming in that were actually attached to bodies. No flickering outlines, no floating faces in moonscapes, or cat’s faces on their shoulders. Oh crikey, I would have to change the repertoire of pet jokes that I’d built up over the last year. I coaxed my neck to swivel and look round the table, and it protested with a creak, having only looked straight ahead for the best part of 18 months.
We had to resist the urge to say ‘please can you all switch your cameras on’, which had become our mantra. No need. Everyone was visible! Nobody lurking there with a virtual paper bag over their head with their name on it.
And then we were off! It was an absolute joy to see sound coming out of peoples’ mouths and not just the speaker on my computer. So often I’d spent a frenzied few seconds scanning the tiles, trying to see who was off mute and guessing who had just spoken.
In fact I was so elated to be in the same room as other people, I made a gesture at one point and knocked a glass of water all over myself. I realised that I’d been operating within the small confines of my laptop for so long, that I was intoxicated by the vast space around me and completely misjudged the distance. I would have to re-learn my spatial awareness.
The workshop came to an end, and soaked but happy, I began to pack away. Then I remembered that the natural thing to do is to have conversations with people afterwards, rather than just click ‘Leave Meeting’ and walk off. What had Zoom done to my manners!
I think we were still dazed from the whole experience because we both got into the lift and stood chatting until I realised that it wasn’t moving.
I said ‘Er Annie? I think we have to press the button saying ‘G’.” Annie stared at it, as if it was a poisonous mushroom growing out of the walls, and then slowly pressed it before we both burst out laughing.
It was certainly like having to learn to ride that bike again, but I think we’ll be keeping our stabilizers on for a while yet!
© Cat Clancy 2021