Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Report Says Women Should Speak Less to Get Ahead at Work

Marissa Meyer: Powerful Woman

Marissa Meyer: Powerful Woman via Flickr CC

Did you see the blockbuster article in the NY Times by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant discussing why women don’t speak out at work? Women who present ideas in meetings are often ignored, or are talked over by men, who run with their idea. When I told my daughter about the story she sat up straight and said “That happens to me!” She is 14, a freshman in high school.

In addition, they quote research from Dr. Victoria Briscol at Yale, which found that

“Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.”

While anecdotally I believe the talking over women story, I find the research shocking. Surely this is not happening on a conscious level. I went and read the original research paper, and there was an interesting nugget that did not make the times article: Women in positions of authority who spoke less were perceived as more powerful than women who spoke more, and men in positions of authority who spoke more were perceived as more powerful than men who spoke less. In fact, the women who spoke less has similar scores to the men who spoke more, and vice versa. They speculate that men and women may want to have different strategies for how they use their power at work. (See page 14.)

What does this mean for someone looking to find the proper Humility balance? As a reminder, Humility balance is defined as “Not more than my place, not less than my space.” When talking more is counter productive is is better to stay Silent? On the flip side, maybe remaining quiet is perpetuating an unjust social hierarchy, and it is better to trail-blaze, in the hopes that over time both men and women will become more comfortable with women asserting their power.

I don’t know the right answer, other than to reaffirm that this research shows that women are right to be concerned that speaking out can be held against them. Now that we know, we have an opportunity to check our reactions to people in power.

What do you think? Do you buy it?

It is important that we spread the word about unconscious bias. Please share this post!

What Does the Fox Say At Work?

What does the fox say? It’s a question 144 million plus have been asking on YouTube over the last few months. (And if you really want to know the answer, you can see it here.) The song describes what a fox looks like, and runs through a bunch of gibberish versions of what a sound the fox makes. Is it funny? Yes, a bit. (Although if you ask my tween daughters, they will tell you it is hilarious.)

When I hear the song, I think of a different kind of fox, the fox in Aesop’s fable the Fox and the Crow. This kind of Fox is a flatterer, someone who can convince you of anything. In this respect, the song “What Does the Fox Say” gets it right. When we are watching the video, we sing and laugh along, and we may even parrot what we hear to others. But if we stop and think about it, we say to ourselves Huh? It no longer makes any sense.

Have you ever had the experience at work of being talked into something that turned out to be really stupid, either for you or for the company? And then, the person who talked you into it is nowhere to be found. I write about the Fox in Busting Your Corporate Idol, because the consequences of trusting the untrustworthy are monumental.

The Fox is particularly dangerous, because he or she will say whatever you want to hear. The Fox is primarily out for him or herself, but unless you have dealt with this type of person before, you may not be aware.

I worked for years with a Fox, but didn’t know it until things got rough, and I was left holding the bag. In many respects, it was my bag to hold, BUT the Fox had advised me what to put in the bag, and where to carry it. So when the Fox went out of their way to point the finger at me, I wanted to cry fowl.

I stood up at a meeting to explain it all, and all that came out of my mouth was “Ring ding ding ding ding dingeringeding.” It made sense when the Fox said it to me. I should have known better.

Office Politics for the Non-Political

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 17 (conclusion)

In the last post, I embedded a video in which Harvard Business Review authors Kent Lineback and Linda Hill champion the cause of using politics for good purposes. I know that politics is like kryptonite to many people, in part because politics can be so illogical, unethical, or just plain mean.  But there are ways to play politics without catching an ethical disease.

Politics is about building a network of people you can count on, people who work together for common cause and for mutual benefit.  Lineback and Hill argue that people who don’t play politics associate mainly with friends at work, and therefore have less access to information and allies. In fact, without allies you won’t be able to defend yourself (or your team) from decisions that may compromise your values.

Lineback and Hill wrote a series of great tips for building a network in their HBR article “Stop Avoiding Office Politics.”  Here are two that I particularly like:

  • “Work with others for mutual advantage, not just your own.”  I would add that mutual advantage also means there is something in the exchange for you too. Doing favors for someone without expecting anything in return at work is not a way to build a network, it is the way to become a doormat.
  • “Build ongoing, productive relationships with everyone you need to do your work, as well as those who need you, not just those you like.”  This means that you may need to work with scumbags, assholes, eggheads, or airheads that you normally would prefer to avoid. 

“Dealing with Office Politics” on Mindtools.com gives an excellent overview of the how’s and why’s of office politics. I particularly like the advice for dealing with what I call the Foxes, “people out for themselves and not the common good.” Mindtools suggests that you “Get to know these people better and be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them.”

One person I interviewed used this strategy to good effect. “My conversations with (The Fox) were always transactional – I never mentioned anything personal, because I was concerned it could be used against me.”

If you are like me, someone who isn’t a natural politician, beginning to engage may seem a bit daunting.  My suggestion: First try just one new thing. Little by little, you will start to acquire some chits that can help you shape your environment, and give you more choices.

In the last and final chapter, we’ll explore what life looks life after you’ve busted your corporate idol.

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Does Avoiding Office Politics Mean Abdicating Your Power and Responsibility?

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 16

When I first entered the corporate world, I was under the illusion that I was above politics. I did excellent work, and thought that data and passion for the customer would carry the day. I explained my philosophy to a new mentor over lunch, at a time when I was looking for answers to my crazy life.  I think my exact words ended with “I don’t play politics because I don’t need to.”

He laughed.  “Ok,” he said after taking a sip of coffee. “You may think that, but I assure you that others in the organization don’t think that way.”

Boy was he right.

If you’ve made it this far through the book, you probably realize that I’ve grown up quite a bit since then.  On some level, I knew about the people who I now call Foxes, manipulators only out for themselves.  But I failed to recognize that sometimes a Fox has power, and makes getting more power a priority.  (In this post, I share an example of A CEO firing someone for being manipulative.)  I, like many others, viewed politics as inherently manipulative and bad.

Eventually, I woke up to the reality that politics exists in every company. In good companies, politics revolves around competition between groups for resources, or differing views on business strategy.  In unhealthy companies, politics is about ego, empire building, and gets very very personal.

By not playing politics I was abdicating some of my power, and thus unable to  effectively do my job or set boundaries around my home life. I was severly under-gunned when I was attacked by a powerful Fox.

Politics is a tool, and like any tool can be used for good or ill.

As a prelude to the next post, I highly recommend this video. Harvard Business Review authors Kent Lineback and Linda Hill champion the why and how of using politics for good purposes. A bit dry buy very informative, especially the first few minutes.

What is your  experience with office politics?

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What I Learned About Organizational Savvy From My Fraternity

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 1

My junior year in college, I was rush chairman at my fraternity, which meant I was in charge of recruiting new members.  There was this one guy who came by a few times and impressed some of my brothers with his coolness. Others, like me, thought he was an asshole. We were a small house, and did not turn away people easily.  We also didn’t have any guys who liked to brag about cheating on his girlfriend, and I was not up for letting one in.  This was the dark ages of the 80s, when we used an index card to track each “rushee”.   Every week I would hand out the cards to other brothers, who had the job of inviting them over for dinners or other events.  One of my brothers really wanted to help with rush, but he was terrible on the phone.  I gave him the asshole’s card every week.  And the asshole quietly disappeared.

I can’t exactly say that my choices were the model of honest behavior, but I was living according to my values in an organization that may have chosen another path.  I now realize I was using organizational savvy (a skill I seem to have lost during my ten years in the academic world, and had to rediscover the hard way in the business world.)

Veteran executive Marian Cook  defines organizational savvy as “understanding the professional culture you are in and working with it – instead of against it – to achieve your goals. It is understanding that ‘office politics’ is a reality to be dealt with, not ignored or even looked down upon. Whenever two humans get together, there are ‘politics’ at play, affecting your performance, the perception of your performance, and therefore your pay. It is the portfolio of competencies, approaches, and behaviors used to navigate your career and organization with success and integrity.”[i]

Organizational savvy is a tool, and like any other tool can be used for good or ill.  This chapter will teach you how to use organizational savvy to regain control of your life.

[i] Leadership Skills: Organizational Savvy (Part 1 of 3) By Marian Cook WITI Leadership http://www.witi.com/wire/articles/96/Leadership-Skills:-Organizational-Savvy-(Part-1-of-3)/ Retrieved January 7, 2013.