This is a special interview that Dr. Lois Frankel gave us. She is the author of the authentic and practical book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. She was very generous in answering questions that have long haunted me in the workplace. I think you will find this information immediately useful and applicable to your daily lives.
Thank you so much Dr. Frankel for this interview. These are burning questions that I’ve had for a long time and I know other women have as well when it comes to our work environments.
Q: I made the observation that at most of the jobs I’ve held, at least where I live, there are a lot of women in administrative positions and then a man as the President or CEO. This dynamic always seems so odd to me. Have you noticed this trend? And if so, what are our best tools for women in these positions to get the promotion and be seen as a leader in our job without so much of the office drama that winners encounter.
A: This is an age old problem that is slowly changing. To move from an administrative or professional role to a leadership role within the same company can be a challenge for women. Even when they go back and get degrees or increase their skill sets by taking on varied assignments, people don’t acknowledge their readiness for new, more responsible roles. So they need to be clear in asking for what they want, support the request with data that underscores the specific skills they bring to a position, and be prepared to leave if the company can’t grow with them. Sometimes a fresh start is needed to jumpstart a stalled career.
Q:What is one way we can stop second guessing ourselves and become a “go-to person” at our job?
A: If I were to choose one way, I would say make sure you have all the training and education you need to act with confidence. For example, I didn’t need a Ph.D. to do the work I wanted to do but I knew it would give me credibility and confidence — and it did! So if you need to, get a certificate, a degree, take classes, find practical experience or anything else that will take the edge off of that self-doubt.
Q:Does being strong always mean being assertive? Can strength be quiet? If so, what does quiet strength look like?
A: While strength can be quiet, that’s usually more applicable to people who have already established themselves as experts or leaders. In these cases, quiet strength comes in the form of listening more than talking and using fewer words rather than over-explaining. It’s like the old commercial, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Most women, however, have the opposite problem. They are quiet when they should be speaking. Remember that true assertiveness is not loud or pushy, by definition it’s confidently expressing your own thoughts and needs while at the same time taking into consideration those of others.
Q:When a coworker tests boundaries with us repeatedly because of insecurity or what not, and even after we’ve set our limits with them, do you know any words are phrases that can activate our strength so that they respect us?
A: This ties right in with my next book, which will start off as an audiobook. The working title is, The Nice Girls Guide to Telling People to Go to Hell So They Look Forward to the Trip. I don’t know any words that ensure respect. I suggest that instead, women aim for words that change the behavior of others. I can’t control if someone respects me, but I can make what I want clear and attach consequences, both positive and negative. One of the best techniques for these communications is what’s called the DESCript. Describe the situation from your perspective, Explain why it’s a problem for you, Specify what’s acceptable, and indicate Consequences. I just did this with a landscaper who kept coming to my home at times that were not agreed upon, which meant my work was constantly being interrupted. I told him, “Fred, you and your crew have been arriving at times that are not what we agreed to. This creates a problem for me because I’m an author and it distracts me from my writing. I need you to stick to our time schedule. Otherwise, you will come all this way and I won’t be available to meet with you or answer your questions.” When he came “off-schedule” and did work that wasn’t acceptable to me, he had to come back out and re-do it if he wanted to be paid. He came on time after that!
Q:When someone tries to take our power from us at work how can we redeem ourselves?
A: No one can take your power unless you choose to give it to them. When you feel someone trying to take your power, you can do a few things: (1) call a brief time out so that you can think about what you want to say to maintain it; (2) listen, ask questions and tell the person you will get back to them (make no commitments and don’t go along for the sake of getting along); and (3) use the handy DESCript to let the person know how you feel about what they’re doing and what you expect in place of that.
Q: What do we do when there is one alpha female at the office, who isn’t a manager, but who doesn’t let anyone else have freedom to make their decisions or have their own bit of control over a situation?
A: I would begin with having a heart-to-heart about how her behavior makes you feel and what you need in order to work effectively together. If the person is narcissistic or has some other personality disorder it may not work, in which case you have no choice but to wait her out, transfer to another department or company, or, as a group, let the manager know how her behavior is impacting the group’s ability to get the job done.
Q: Is it possible for two women to be strong, assertive and dominant in the office without hating each other? How so? ♡o｡.(✿ฺ｡ ✿ฺ)
A: Absolutely! By seeking the complementary of strengths and discussing how together they are more powerful than individually. It doesn’t mean there won’t be skirmishes from time-to-time, but by working from the place of your own strength and unconditional positive regard for the other person’s, they can be overcome.
Q: At the office, I’ve noticed women try to compete for the “top spot.” Each wants to be powerful and use their voice. However, this usually results in jealousy, competition and negative feelings between them. What does this situation look like from your perspective?
A: The real problem here is that the “top spots” are fewer for women than for men and it results in more competitiveness. Women can get beyond this if they form “affinity groups” where they learn that working together ensures that they all win and that each one has the responsibility to bring other women along with them. You see this less in women-led organizations where there are predominantly women. Women, by nature, are collaborative. It’s about finding ways to develop that collaboration in the workplace.
Q:The natural feelings of rivalry surface when women work together. But I know some women want to empower fellow women. How can we let each other shine with our unique traits without giving in to the natural tendencies of insecurity, jealousy and competition?
A: See above.
Q:Does being a strong equal woman always mean being a bitch? Because sometimes I want to be nice and friendly, but that results in less respect.
A: Being a strong woman NEVER equals being a bitch. Bitches may get what they want in the short term, but not in the long-term. The same holds true for men, by the way. There’s a Chinese saying that I love, “Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you.” Nice is necessary for success, it’s simply not sufficient. You have to add assertive behaviors (as defined above) to your repertoire of nice ones.
Q:I feel bad being assertive sometimes, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or deal with retaliation from another person. Is there a way around these feelings?
A: Once you understand that assertiveness is about dealing with other people’s feelings you can be more assertive with confidence. If someone retaliates or expresses hurt feelings when you’ve shown concern for their needs and yours, that’s someone who is trying to manipulate you into doing what they want and it should not deter you from acting assertively in the future.
Q:For myself personally, I had a lot of motivation to succeed in business, but each time I would ask a question in a meeting first or take on leadership roles I was met with resistance. How can other women keep their eye on more recognition and a leadership role when this resistance constantly gets in the way and they are just tired of battling the crowd?
A: When it comes to women in the workplace, the tall nail certainly gets hammered down. Every workplace is a playing field with rules, boundaries and strategies for success. Those change from department to department and boss to boss. If you find yourself on a playing field that can’t tolerate smart, motivated women, it’s time to find a new playing field.
Q:A strong woman at the office usually draws unnecessary criticism about her work from others as a way to keep her in check. How can we protect our mindset from being disrupted by this?
A: See above.
Q:Do you have advice on how we can stop the emotional bleeding that happens to some of us after a bad or embarrassing incident at the office so that we can stay focused on our goals?
A: I think there are three things that you can do: (1) bring it out in the open and discuss it. Wounds don’t heal in the dark; (2) in discussing it, talk about what you learned from the situation or what you now know you need to do differently; (3) ask for feedback from others. My experience is that most people want to help others when they’re hurting. Ask for what you need in terms of gaining greater insight into what happened and how to prevent it from happening in the future. We can’t change the past but we sure can change the future.
Q: What if we feel bad about letting our true talents show at work? We don’t want people who have been there longer to get jealous?
A: Bringing others along with you on your empowered path is the best way to be comfortable in your own skin and diminish jealousy. I go back to “affinity groups” where women help other women. Start one in your company if you don’t have one.
Q:What are your thoughts on seniority in the workplace? Do we have to hold ourselves back because we are newer to the office?
A: It’s not so much about seniority, but rather about understanding tradition and the rules of the playing field. When you’re new, your top priority should be about learning the nuances of success in your new environment. So ask a lot of question, seek out people who can guide you, and establish yourself as a team player rather than feeling you have to prove yourself with new ideas or creating change in the first 50 – 90 days.
Q:How to we get past fear of speaking up, fear of being an individual, fear of success, fear of retaliation by our coworkers, fear of disrupting the way things are usually done to rise to the top?
A: Fear is almost always an old message repeating itself in the present. To overcome our fears we have to understand their origins. What purpose did “holding back” play in our past? How was it useful to us? What new behaviors need to be tried out and practiced? Taking baby steps can help to gain confidence so that when a giant leap is needed you’re ready!
Q:If we are a manager and we ask someone to do something and they don’t do it or disrespect us instead, what are steps to help us get them to do what we want?
A: The place to start when things go South with an employee is a private discussion aimed at understanding what happened and why. I always assume the best — especially when these incidents first happen. I assume either I wasn’t clear, the person didn’t have the skills to do what I asked, they were distracted, or maybe they’re in the wrong job. It doesn’t help to label employees or demonize them. Seek first to understand, then be understood. Be a coach, not a manager.
Q:How can we be assertive or disagree without looking angry or emotional?
A: Advance preparation is the key here. Don’t wing it. Write it down. Practice it. Chance favors the prepared mind. Think about what you want to say, what they other person has to say, and create an environment where the discussion can take place without stress or being rushed.
Q:How do we openly challenge a perceived wrong at the office?