When I read Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, I was initMale dominated worldially suspicious of his thesis that givers are more successful than takers. However, the stories and research he shared made me a believer. He explains that men and women are both givers but give in different ways, with women more likely giving more in relationships and men jumping in and saving someone’s life in an emergency. The challenge is that women tend to define themselves by the quality of relationships where the work place has not valued these so called feminine qualities until fairly recently, beginning with the book Emotional Intelligence and now Adam’s book. So after decades of hiding, it seems that it is now safe to bring these feminine qualities to work. But how?

For me, the first step is something that Adam’s book doesn’t address, which is how to deal with the old baggage that many of us have from either being taken advantage of or being passed over. This came to light recently when I was facilitating a seminar on how to manage your career in a highly competitive world for women who work in technology. Most of the women who came were but a handful of women in a male dominated world. When I asked the women what challenges they face, the most common issues included how to be heard, how to be recognized for their good work, or how to work with colleagues with whom they don’t have much of a rapport. They shared their story lines which can become self-fulfilling prophecies such as, “I can’t trust these people to support me so I need to do whatever I can to show them that I am smart and valuable.” These beliefs lead to working extra hard, becoming more aggressive, or even learning about football to gain some attention and the problem with these strategies is possibly becoming known as a bitch or inauthentic which will not help career advancement. Rather, the solution is counter intuitive to many women and is similar to the idea of befriending the enemy. Let me explain.

During this seminar, I proposed to the women to consider being strategically vulnerable. It means that you don’t have to be selfless or share that you cry at love stories, graduations, etc. Instead, you offer your colleague a compliment on a recent presentation and tell them you admire them by saying public speaking isn’t your strong suit and you would like to learn from them. This idea resonated with a petite woman of Indian descent we will Rashda who had not said a word during the three hour seminar but stood up at the end declaring her “AHA” moment as it never occurred to her to give her male colleagues compliments as a way of building rapport. She was so busy working hard and then rushing home to be a mother that she didn’t bring her feminine side to work. She realized that she gives her friends or children compliments, and she now realize that her caring about relationships could help her at work and might even make her life a little easier.

Before she left, she also expressed her frustration in private that her male colleagues continuously talk over her and asked what can she do with her hostile feelings? While I know we all have visions of wanting to tell off our annoying co-workers, women especially are accused of being more emotional and if you are a minority – there is a tendency to get labeled in a more negative fashion and that label lasts longer. So, I asked her my favorite coaching question, “How is it working for you to hold on to feeling resigned or resentful?” She said that it wasn’t. I then suggested how about considering letting it go and being compassionate towards yourself and others?

Happy balanceI know it is not easy to do – I am not asking you to forgive the person, rather to focus on what holding on to the negative emotion is doing for you. Feeling angry or resentful takes away from your ability to think creatively. Imagine what might happen if your male colleague were to be more open with you or at least not annoying? Rashda could then see the benefits of fostering a more open relationship with a key colleague and was left inspired with a new strategy that giving doesn’t have to be selfless; in fact, it can just mean bringing your feminine-relationship oriented self to work – what a radical concept!

Start small and be patient with yourself, as that feminine self may be a bit rusty or cranky, but befriend it and see what happens…and tell me about it!  By the way, this is NOT just for women, men.


One Response to Bring your feminine self to work – the new key to success

  1. michele durant says:

    Hi Kay!

    I’m just realizing that I’m not sure I ever got back to you about our get together. I’m still available, if you are. Please let me know. June is always more hectic than usual, so am glad it’s almost over. I loved your comments here and would love to read that book, so will add it to my list for summer reading. Let’s talk soon, Mich

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