With insights drawn from more than twenty years of experience as a prominent career consultant with a nearly 100% success rate helping hundreds of clients, this guide conveys a powerful and practical message that exposes seven self-sabotaging behaviors that keep women from success. Using real-life examples, shared experiences, and the author’s own guilty confessions, it delivers the sage advice every woman wishes she had at the start of her career in order to take control—and achieve those goals.
“Like combining your best girlfriend and an elite career expert.” —Teresa Taylor, author of The Balance Myth and former COO, Qwest Communications
|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
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Deadly Sin #1
"If your number one goal is to make sure that everyone likes and approves of you, then you risk sacrificing your uniqueness, and, therefore, your excellence."
Being kind is a virtue, but is being too kind a detriment? It's a fine line, but one that's easily crossed by many working women.
We all know someone who could be described as the "nicest girl in the world". She's the best friend, the sister, the mother that always goes the extra mile and doesn't seem to have the word "no" in her vocabulary. She never says an unkind word and is extremely polite ... and would be absolutely devastated if she thought someone didn't like her.
These qualities may serve you well in a social setting, but they can actually derail your career if you're not careful. You don't need to be unkind in order to further your agenda, but being too kind can sabotage your success and the goals you're trying to achieve. It's a conundrum.
"You Like Me, Right Now, You Like Me!" — Sally Field
Whether we're working or winning an Oscar, our innate desire to be liked can easily spiral out of control. These feelings may start in grade school, but they continue into adulthood and into the workplace. In school, girls are kind to avoid being called a "mean girl". In the workplace, women are kind to avoid being called a "bitch".
"When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch."
— Bette Davis
The labels are different, but the motivation is the same. Most women want to be liked above all else, and because the need to be liked is so strong, women will avoid certain situations and opt out of opportunities where they might be perceived poorly. As a result, self-sabotaging behaviors ensue — avoiding an unsatisfactory performance review, suppressing an opposing opinion at a board meeting, or deciding not to negotiate a higher salary because someone might not like you.
Tricia and the Lunch Ladies
My client, Tricia, was a well-respected and well-liked director at a non-profit organization. It was a prominent position worthy of a prominent seating position at the annual luncheon. Before Tricia's promotion to director, the women who organized the event would routinely seat her in the back of the room far away from the leadership team and distinguished guests.
Tricia assumed that her new position would also include a new seating assignment at the event. When she realized that, once again, she was relegated to the back of the room she was offended, insulted, and confused about what to do next.
If she confronted the other women and asked them to rearrange the seating chart, would they think she was acting like an entitled diva? Would they think she had an inflated ego? Was this issue worth the potential conflict and fallout? Would they still be friends? Would they say negative things behind her back?
These were all the questions Tricia was struggling to answer. But the real question was, "Would the other women still like her?" Tricia was a woman in a position of power and successfully exceeded all her goals and objectives. However, she was still paralyzed at the possibility that the other women wouldn't like her or would think badly of her if she pushed the issue and flexed her authoritative muscle.
Tricia's initial reaction was to ignore the situation and do nothing. She decided the issue didn't warrant ruffling anyone's feathers. In other words, she wasn't willing to risk the "bitch" label in order to have a more prominent seat at the luncheon.
Doing nothing and avoiding the conflict altogether is not a successful strategy. Too often, women take the path of least resistance and don't fully realize how that self-sabotaging behavior negatively impacts their career.
There are times to do nothing and there are times to take action. This was a time to take action, and we figured out a way for Tricia to stay true to herself, to ruffle the least amount of feathers, and to achieve the desired results. Tricia also needed validation that she was not making unnecessary demands, acting like an entitled diva, or abusing her new position of power.
"A woman should always be more concerned with standing up for what is right than making sure everyone 'likes' her."
— Dr. Laura Schlessinger
She approached the event planners and said, "I'm not sure if this was an oversight or not, but I think it would be really beneficial to the organization if I sit at the front table in order to develop better relationships with the topdonors." Tricia did not accuse the women of intentionally sabotaging her seating position and she didn't "pull rank" and throw her director title in their faces.
Instead, she simply focused on the professional value the new seating arrangement would bring to the organization. The women fully agreed, thanked her for bringing the issue to their attention, and seated her at the appropriate table. Tricia felt empowered and did not allow her sinful need to be liked stop her from achieving her goal.
BFFs ...Best Friends Forever
Not only do women want to be liked, but they place an enormous amount of value and importance on their relationships, even at work. I have had too many clients fail to pursue a promotion or opportunity because their friend and co-worker had expressed an interest in that new position.
Karen and Her Act of Kindness
Karen was working for a major telecommunications company in the accounting department along with her friend and co-worker, Jamie. They worked together for years and had become extremely close friends. The manager of the department was promoted and both women were qualified to fill the open position.
A management position was part of Karen's career plan and she had been working diligently to develop her leadership skills. Meanwhile, Jamie, a single mom, had complained to Karen about the need to makemore money. Karen felt bad for her friend and made a conscious decision to make the friendship the top priority and not even apply for the manager position. Jamie was quickly promoted to manager and became Karen's boss.
Karen relayed this story to me a year later when she hired me to help her find a new job. She didn't resent the fact that Jamie received the promotion. She resented the fact that she didn't even apply for the job. She regretted not having a conversation with her friend about how important the manager position was to her and that they should both apply ...and may the best woman win.
Karen held herself back and sabotaged her own career goals because she felt bad for Jamie's financial situation. She didn't want to risk ruining their friendship by competing for the same position, and thought it would be awkward to be her friend's boss. Karen valued the friendship more than the opportunity. Ultimately, Karen's friend became her boss, her own resentment grew, and she started looking for a management position with other companies.
"Remove those 'I want you to like me' stickers from your forehead and, instead, place them where they truly will do the most good — on your mirror!"
— Susan Jeffers
I am not suggesting that women should be loyal and kind-hearted to their friends in their personal lives, and then become cold-hearted and ruthless in the workplace. You need to be true to yourself and operate with authenticity and integrity in both areas. However, it is perfectly appropriate, and highly recommended, to have a professional agenda and to take steps to advance that agenda without sabotaging yourself.
If I had been coaching Karen at the time, I would have encouraged her to approach Jamie and find a way to honor the friendship and to pursue her career goals simultaneously. Instead, Karen did nothing, Jamie got the promotion, and Karen was left looking for another job.
Being too kind might be the right way to navigate personal interactions, but it doesn't always work well in a professional environment. If you allow someone to cut in front of you in line at the movie theater, would you also allow someone to steal your credit at work? If you allow a friend to dominate the conversation at dinner, would you also allow a co-worker to dominate a meeting you're leading? Taking a more passive position in social situations may be the right move, but is it the right move to be as passive in the workplace?
"Never dull your shine for somebody else."
— Tyra Banks
It boils down to choosing your battles. It might not be worth jockeying for position in the movie theater line, but if you continuously allow someone to steal your credit at work, you run the risk of appearing weak and losing credibility. Opportunities that should be yours will pass you by. WOMAN UP! Being too nice can have a definitive, negative impact on your career.
The Apology Anchor
Not only can women be too kind, but they also apologize excessively without truly evaluating if they've done anything wrong. Saying sorry too much is an anchor on your upward mobility. The frequent, indiscriminate apologies drag you down and hold you back.
Women are taught to be well-mannered and learn early on that it's not polite to make others feel uncomfortable or to appear (and act) overtly aggressive or combative. We ask for help by saying, "I'm sorry to bother you, but can you direct me to customer service?" Someone bumps into us and we say, "I'm sorry, excuse me." We don't hear someone call our name in a crowded room and we say, "I'm so sorry, I didn't hear you." We interject in a meeting by saying, "I'm sorry, but in my opinion ..." None of these scenarios would be classified as wrongdoings, but women still feel the need to apologize.
Women over-apologize as a way to avoid conflict and to foster harmony and agreement. A quick apology may represent an effective strategy if the goal is to deescalate a situation and keep the peace. Instead of appearing kind, however, over-apologizers run the risk of appearing like passive doormats ...easily walked all over and taken advantage of by others.
Contrary to popular belief, men also apologize in the workplace, but only when they've analyzed the situation and truly believe they've done something wrong. For women, an apology surfaces as an impulsive reaction, a polite response to a situation she wishes to avoid or to smooth over.
According to one study that appeared in Psychology Science in 2010, "participants reported in daily diaries all offenses they committed or experienced and whether an apology had been offered. Women reported offering more apologies than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. There was no gender difference in the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies. This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior."
"An apology given to appease one's conscience is self-serving and better left unspoken."
— Evinda Lepins
According to this study, men don't find that their own actions and behavior, or those of others, necessitate an apology as frequently. This is good news for women at work — they can act now and ask for forgiveness later (if at all!).
The sinful, overly-polite behavior sends the wrong message in the workplace. Excessive apologizing is perceived as a sign of weakness, a lack of confidence and competence, and an inability to lead and make difficult decisions. The tendency for women to over-apologize at work minimizes their expertise and undermines their authority.
Diane and Her Dilemma
My client, Diane, suffered through the sin of being too kind and over-apologizing. Diane was vice president of operations and the part of her job she dreaded most was conducting performance reviews. She began every review with, "I'm so sorry to have to do this" and then proceeded nervously and timidly to provide the necessary feedback as nicely as she could. Often times, her subordinates felt compelled to make Diane feel better during the review. "That's ok," they would say, "I think the feedback will really help me."
Not only did this behavior reflect poorly on Diane during the reviews, but it caused her subordinates to lose respect for her as a leader after the reviews. And, unfortunately, they often missed critical information and feedback because of Diane's apologetic delivery.
The ability to apologize and to accept responsibility is a noble quality in the right circumstances. Conversely, unconscious and indiscriminate apologizing can damage your career. If women want to achieve greater levels of respect and success, being more selective and discerning about when to say "I'm sorry" is a step in the right direction. WOMAN UP! and reserve your apologies for truly offensive behavior and egregious errors.
Turning the Tables
Other women occupy the opposite end of the Kindness Conundrum spectrum — those who believe they need to be "mean girls" in order to get ahead. They operate with a significantly more aggressive, masculine, and domineering style in the workplace. Often, this behavior is a result of feeling insecure and threatened by other successful women (and men). However, unlike their counterparts, these women act as if they don't care if they're liked or not. They view their abrasive and "unlady-like" behavior as a strength, not a weakness, and maintain their positions of power through fear and intimidation.
Not only do these qualities conjure up bad "mean girl" memories for many of us, but they come across as anti-woman and off-putting. As women have advanced in the corporate arena and started penetrating the so-called "old boys" network, a conscious or subconscious mindset surfaced; in order to be accepted and respected, women thought they needed to act like men, dress like men, and reject feminine characteristics. Not true, as this next true tale demonstrates.
Ann and Her Axe
My client, Ann, worked in local government, a traditionally male- dominated industry. She had a very direct and abrasive communication style and lacked the subtle nuances that women use when navigating a conversation. She came across as aggressive, cold, and combative, and her biggest problem was that she couldn't retain any female employees. Ann's department had thehighest turnover rate and her boss was pressuring her to hire and retain more women.
In my first 5 minutes with Ann, I knew exactly why the turnover rate was so high among the female employees. Ann was not a "girl's girl". She admitted she was harder on the women in the department because "they needed to develop a thicker skin if they wanted to work in government".
Granted, Ann believed she was doing her female employees a favor, but the plan completely backfired. I worked with Ann to help her realize that softening her approach was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and better leadership. As she modified her behaviors, her team environment and retention rate improved.
Fortunately, over the years I have encountered fewer and fewer "mean girls", but I still work with plenty of women struggling with the Kindness Conundrum. There is a fine line between being kind and being too kind. If you're not achieving the professional goals you have set for yourself and you've identified a destructive pattern of "kind" behavior, it may be time to WOMAN UP! and replace your wishbone with a backbone.
* * *
I actually committed the full range of "kindness" sins in a single scenario. I started off too kind, apologized excessively, and then turned into a mean girl from the depths of hell. It was a complete disaster that turned into an important life lesson.
I was hired to facilitate a 5-day transition workshop for a Fortune 500 telecommunications company. The terms of the contract were pretty straightforward and I was really excited to do what I do best — deliver useful career information in an entertaining and action-oriented workshop. The consultant who hired me to help his client was a really nice guy and we had a successful working relationship in the past.
On the first day, Monday, it became obvious that there was a major miscommunication snafu between the host company and the workshop participants. Although the participants were supposed to be divided evenly over the 5 days, instead, everyone showed up on the first day. Being the "nice girl", I didn't want this logistical disaster to reflect poorly on my consultant friend, so I put forth great effort to make the best of the situation. I conducted additional workshops and scheduled private one-on-one consultations throughout the remainder of the week. Despite all the challenges, the participants enjoyed a highly productive experience and raved about the content and results they achieved. Everyone was happy.
I submitted my invoice and awaited the final payment. I waited the appropriate 30 days and then I contacted my friend and said, "I'm so sorry to bother you, but do you have any idea when I'll receive the final payment?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Woman Up!"
Copyright © 2015 Aimee Cohen.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsPreface: Big-Girl Panties
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
My StoryThe Empty Desk
Same S***, Different City
An Overnight Success…20 Years in the Making
4 Reasons Why Women Sabotage Their Careers
A Prison of Our Own Creation
1. Deadly Sin #1Kindness Conundrum
You Like Me, Right Now, You Like Me!; BFFs...Best Friends Forever; The Apology Anchor; Turning the Tables; Guilty Confession; Success Solutions; 10 Things for Which You May NEVER Apologize; Woman UP! Reflections
2. Deadly Sin #2Competency Curse
3 Dangers of Being Too Competent; The Disease to Please; 5 Reasons Why Women Say “Yes”; 5 Benefits of Saying “No”; Woman UP! Tips: 5 Ways to Say “No” With Confidence; Guilty Confession; Success Solutions
Woman UP! Tips: When to Say “No” Checklist; Woman UP! Tips: 10 Benefits of Having a Mentor; Woman UP! Reflections
3. Deadly Sin #3Perfection Prison
A Perfect Opportunity; Woman UP! Tips: You Know You Are a Perfectionist When…; Woman UP! Tips: A Perfectionist’s List of Perfect Excuses; Guilty Confession; Success Solutions; 3 Strategies for Embracing the Imperfect; Woman UP! Reflections
4. Deadly Sin #4Affirmation Addiction
Does Someone Need a Hug?; Woman UP! Tips: 12 Steps for Breaking the Affirmation Addiction; Whose Fault Is it Anyway?; Woman UP! Tips: Subtle Signs Your Co-worker May Be a Saboteur; Guilty Confession; Success Solutions; 6 Benefits of Being Your Own BFF; Woman UP! Tips: The Best Qualities of Your Best Friend; Woman UP! Reflections
5. Deadly Sin #5Divulgence Disease
Show Up and Throw Up; What Happens in Vegas; Guilty Confession; Success Solutions; 5 Simple Rules to Prevent TMI; Woman UP! Tips: Top 10 Taboo Topics to Share at Work; Woman UP! Reflections
6. Deadly Sin #6Miscommunication Mayhem
Physical Messages and Mishaps; Major Appearance Mistakes; Woman UP! Tips: Surprising Statistics About Your Executive Presence (EP); 7 Verbal Miscommunication Cues; Guilty Confession; Success Solutions
3 Ways to Give Your Voice Volume; Woman UP! Tips: Helpful Phrases to Squash a Saboteur; 3 Ways to Boost Your Body Language; Woman UP! Reflections
7. Deadly Sin #7Undervalue Epidemic; The Disastrous “Triple-D”; Woman UP! Tips: You’re Guilty of the “Triple-D” If You Describe Your Success As…; The Negotiation Game; 4 Reasons Why Women Don’t Negotiate
Guilty Confession; Success Solutions; 12 Tips to Transform Negotiating Skills; Woman UP! Reflections; Conclusion: From Sin to Success
Onward and Upward
The Self-Confidence Cure
Woman UP! Tips: 12 Qualities of Highly Confident Women
Woman UP! Tips: “Brag Book” Rules and Benefits