When businessmen and women ask me how I handle the challenges of being a woman in business I immediately begin to think of all the ignorant, perverted, rigid and outright arrogant situations that I’ve been apart of. You’ve heard it:
“You’re not ready to play with the big boys – but I’ll let you make me a sandwich.”
“I can get you this contract, but you gotta give me to booty first.” (Yep, someone actually said this to me)
“I know you think you’re smart, but your plan is gonna blow up in your face.”
“You’ve got a great idea, but you’re going to need me to make it happen.”
I begin replaying the intensity I felt in the peak of these gender-biased moments, all the crazy faces I make in my head from utter shock, and the visions of politely “removing” taste buds from an elite few.
…and then I smile. All that anxiety and stress came from the old me, but I still get asked:
- How do I get the opposite sex to take an attractive woman seriously?
- How do I keep the conversation about business instead of the bedroom?
- How do I ensure that I don’t cower when someone is trying to intimidate me?
It took me years to figure it out, but I realized that it’s nothing personal; that others create challenges based on what comes naturally to them. I’ve learned how to finesse even the most compromising situations and cleverly maneuver myself to remain sweatless and unmoved. Here’s how.
Think about any movie – romantic comedy, action, suspense, you name it – the basics are all the same: the characters, the script and the drama in between. Spoiler alert! You already know that there will be a good guy and a bad guy; boy meets girl scenario or someone who saves the world from aliens. You also know that there’s going to be some drama, whether excitement or tragedy, because who wants to see a movie where nothing happens? And above all, you know that there must be a well-written script – otherwise it’s corny or boring and we’re ready to ask for our money back.
So what does this have to do with overcoming challenges?
If we already know that characters will play their role and the drama in life comes standard, why is that we continue to be surprised and respond to the most predictable situations like they’re brand new? We should not allow people to re-write the scripts of our lives in a manner that creates anxiety, gives away our power and discredits our contribution. If we know what’s coming, we should be a step ahead.
First, you have to STUDY THE CHARACTERS. Know the cast in the environment that you’re leading. Note: this is not a permission slip to start stalking people!
Spoiler alert! An average man will play the role they normally play: they may not speak because they think you’re intimidating OR they speak because they see something beautiful that they want and they want to explore it, conquer it and hoard it in their camp. True story. Men will react – good or bad – to things that intrigue them. They spend time pushing buttons and boundaries to see what they’re up against. It’s not new. Your role is to know whom you’re dealing with and how to properly engage.
I pay attention to how they like to give and receive information (i.e. stats vs. stories), the type of verbal affirmations they respond to (ego nurturing), types of things they highlight in casual passing (sports, people, news) and the type of people they hang around (statesmen, philanthropists, lots of women).
Find a way to relate to the character. People are more vulnerable to you when they feel as though they’ve been heard.
Second, SKIP THE DRAMA. Everything doesn’t warrant a level 10 response from us. I’m all for being an interesting and enthusiastic, not to be confused with being moody or irrational. As a person who is usually the only woman in a boardroom full of men – Spoiler alert! – there is a stereotype that women are zealous and hopeful without any real foundation.
Imagine me at a table full of men vehemently trying to explain to me why I can’t excel at being creative and project-oriented at the same time. I sat upright in my chair, listened, and waited for the proper time to introduce them to a concept that they’d never experienced before – me.
After just one meeting with a very successful Asian male from the group, he expressed, “I thought you were just very happy and eager about this project; that you’d have no hard insight as to how to run this program. It was very refreshing to see that you are very practical and extremely organized.” I responded without jumping up from the table, popping my neck or pointing fingers. How we respond gives away signals to our stability, class and strength; which is exactly what your challengers are looking for. The same goes for women who aren’t supportive to you. Let them keep the drama; you keep your cool.
Third, “RIGHT” THE SCRIPT. When it comes to navigating challenging conversations and situations, there’s nothing more powerful than choosing the right words to say.
I cannot express how important the scenery or the atmosphere is when considering what you say. Knowing when to make a very blunt statement versus a clever comeback will make or break your position. With that in mind, here are a few tips to keep in mind when developing your script:
- Stay true to yourself. Don’t agree to something that you believe is harmful with where you see yourself in the future.
- Always have an opinion, but be selective as to when or if you share it.
- Don’t. Push people’s buttons.
- Always get back to the business at hand. Get what you came for.
- Smile – just a little.
Example. If a man has been known to be aggressive and “punchy” in order to belittle me in public, I don’t break eye contact, I speak slowly and say something like, “I’ll be sure to give you some better insight about that at a later time, but if we can, I’d like to finalize our next meeting date.” Hold gaze.
Mastering the characters, the drama, and the script is how we make our power plays. What you’re really dealing with is a person’s maturity and confidence. Don’t be caught off-guard at how someone acts when they’re intimidated or curious about whom you are. Spoiler alert! You’re awesome and deep down they already know that you’re awesome.
Sonny Smith is a strategic planning and operations specialist, advocate for social awareness and a fan of lists that come in threes! The Birmingham, AL native is passionate about working with big ideas and the entrepreneurs who create them! Sonny lends her expertise to corporate and non-profit influencers and welcomes the opportunity to discuss community solutions in an open forum whether local or abroad. Connect with her at Smith@SmithGetsResults.com or on Twitter @SonnyGetsItDone.