“Sorry to bother you, but this’ll only take a second…”
It’s probably not the first time that you’ve been told to watch your language and how it represents you in the workplace. Specifically, sentences like that above are seen as the ultimate betrayal of yourself as a businesswoman; your emails should never portray weakness or apology, but confidence and strength. Yet, apologetic emails are a trap into which many women consistently fall, thus hurting their own prospects of success in a work environment that demands not only strong work performances but self-assuredness as well.
So how else can language used by women in the workplace be holding them back?
A recent article that was written by executive coach, author and motivational speaker Sue Stockdale inadvertently provides some more clues. In her article, Stockdale describes a study she was looking to conduct on some “successful female entrepreneurs running fast-growing companies.” Stockdale recalls the very first steps of her study, in which she eagerly awaited a whole new influx of study participants who matched her necessary qualifications.
Perplexed, Stockdale realized that something about her traditional advertising method wasn’t doing its job at targeting her audience. That, or simply “the lack of interest meant that [successful entrepreneurs] actually didn’t exist.” She resorted to other techniques, and found, as she had originally expected, “many women who had ambitious growth plans and whose businesses were generating annual revenues well in excess of £250,000.”
What Stockdale eventually realized was that none of these women had categorized themselves as “successful” or “running fast-growing companies” – not at first, at least. Rather, it was only during the course of their conversations with Stockdale that, one by one, they started to recognize their success and ambition.
Stockdale was required to dramatically shift her interviewing tactics. She explains, “I would begin with getting to know them as individuals and find out what their passions were; why they started up their business and what progress they had made to date. Then I would enquire what their future plans were, and what they hoped to gain as a result of that success.” Only when she used this approach did she find her impressive, ambitious businesswomen.
Stockdale takes a moment to reflect on this. She shares some of her professional knowledge on the subject of risk: “For those that are warier and prudent, or more risk averse, stating ambitious growth aspirations for their company may seem highly uncomfortable. While they are perfectly capable of getting that outcome, how they express their ambitions may be somewhat different to those who are more adventurous and carefree, and more comfortable with risk-taking.”
She elaborates by using a mountain as an example – if she were to tell a risk-averse woman, she explains, to climb a mountain, she would likely immediately be rejected. However, if she were to describe the endeavor as a walk in the fresh air, with “a bit of a chat,” she says, she would likely have much more success getting her friend to walk up the mountain. Same outcome, different language.
So, what does all of this mean? Women are more likely to use risk-averse language in the workplace, but just as likely to be ambitious, successful, and good at their jobs. This risk-aversion is a mindset that needs to be, well, kept in mind. Never let your risk-aversion, your shyness, your fear, or anything else hold you back from the success you can otherwise achieve.
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