Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of stories about why women need to be more assertive and powerful in the workplace. Often, these stories encourage women to eliminate words like “should,” “just,” “actually,” and other qualifying statements from their vocabulary. As women, we are told that we need to adopt “power words” and “power stances” in order to be taken seriously as leaders. We need to modify our ways of being in the world if we ever intend to break through any glass ceilings.
I wholeheartedly disagree.
I think it’s high time we throw out all these “shoulds” and embrace our feminine strengths.
When women give in to all the “expert” opinions about what it means to be powerful leaders and have successful careers, we tend to forget that these tips were pretty much made by and for men. Instead of modeling ourselves after men and the good ol’ boys’ club, we can acknowledge that, today, we need women’s unique skills more than ever.
It’s true that, as women, we do tend to apologize and qualify our words. From an early age, we are conditioned to do this so as to “soften” what we are saying. When we don’t, people (including other women) criticize us for being “too direct.” This doesn’t happen with men, who are appreciated for their directness.
It’s an unfortunate catch-22 that women find themselves in. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. How can we be “direct” without being viewed as “rude,” “angry,” “bossy,” etc.? How can we garner respect and flourish as the wise, confident, and capable beings we are?
We can start by recognizing that whether we’re at home or in the boardroom, there is no one way to effectively communicate. It’s really all about connections, which women are wonderful at creating. We generally have a wider set of communication skills than men because we’ve learned how to be adaptable with our language. In our attentiveness to mood and moment, we usually have a good idea of what’s going on – and we have to trust ourselves to respond to it.
We are masters of evaluating all aspects of a situation and knowing what is necessary, and we must use our broad communication repertoires to determine this for ourselves. Let’s stop getting stuck in the “shoulds” and choose our own language unapologetically.
Maintaining curiosity about ourselves and what we value is also instrumental when it comes to choosing which words to use and how we want to present ourselves. Sometimes, this might mean being direct and abrupt, and other times it might mean softening our language.
We can also use our “nurturing” skills to foster environments that directly lead to our success. This begins with asking powerful questions, getting our colleagues to weigh in, and encouraging a workplace that honors and demonstrates trust, transparency, respect, and multiple perspectives. So, you see, it doesn’t have to be about debating, standing our ground, or convincing others to see things the same way we do. Instead, let’s facilitate meaningful dialogue that’s about establishing rapport in order to find the solutions we need.
In creating connection with others, we don’t have to be powerful at the cost of our integrity. We also don’t have to steamroll over other people’s souls in order to make a point. Instead, we can encourage people to share their thoughts and feelings and to feel heard rather than silenced or threatened. We can reach out and mentor that woman who could benefit from our perspective. We can willingly share our knowledge with one another. We can encourage collaboration and cooperation.
When we get clearer and clearer about our values and what we want, we can also wed our natural capacities to build rapport with our assertiveness. Again, it’s not about the words we use – it’s all about getting congruent with our values and expressing ourselves wholeheartedly while encouraging respectful space for others to do the same.
As the founder of Women For One, a community where women from more than 50 countries share their powerful stories with the world, I celebrate the sheer diversity of women’s voices. From sassy and matter-of-fact to compassionate and introspective, these are women whose stories range from the devastating to the delightful and everything in between. They are changing the world around them and making life happen by sharing what I call their “messy brilliance.”
This isn’t about following someone else’s formula. It’s about embracing who we are – which doesn’t fall into narrow definitions of power and how women “should” communicate. For me, this is the future of our world, and certainly, of women’s leadership.
Kelly McNelis is founder of Women For One.