Ways Women Soften Their Behavior For Male Colleagues (And Shouldn’t)

May 17, 2019  |  
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being a woman in the workplace

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I’m guilty of doing it myself: softening my behavior to make the people I work with feel more comfortable. It’s not like my true inclination is to be a raging b*tch or an overly assertive, bossy type. The way I really want to do and say things falls more in the firm but fair region. However, I believe that, for some reason (let’s say, centuries of misogyny) when a woman is just firm and straightforward, others can interpret that as her being mean. And, to give many of the progressive men in my life some credit, not everyone feels that way—but a lot of people do. I’ve experienced it too many times. A man I work with asks me a question, I give a simple, emotionless answer, and he asks, “Are you okay?” or “Is something wrong?” The mere fact that I didn’t add some nicety to my response—that I didn’t put some sugar on top—made the guy think something must be wrong. That’s why I adjust my behavior, even if I don’t want to. Maybe many of us do. Here are ways women soften their behavior to make male colleagues comfortable (but shouldn’t).

 

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“If it’s not too much trouble”

Why do I say this? Why do I add this comment when giving an instruction or directive to someone? Whether or not it’s a lot of trouble shouldn’t concern me if it’s the person’s job. It’s not like, if he were to say, “It actually is too much trouble” that I’d say, “Oh okay. Then just don’t do it.”

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“When you have a moment”

Isn’t the unspoken implication that this person will do the thing I’m asking him to do, when he has a moment? He won’t do it when he doesn’t have a moment. That’s just not how time works. Again, if it’s someone’s job to do something, I really shouldn’t be implying in any way that I’m troubling him by giving him instructions.

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“Small talk, then work talk”

For some reason, I feel harsh talking to someone about work before making time for pleasantries. This is especially true with men since, as mentioned before, if I don’t do the niceties, they assume something is wrong. But, I really shouldn’t have to do the whole “How’s the wife? And the kids? Still dealing with allergies?” nonsense before finally saying, “Hey, did you get that project done yet?”

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Deeply couching criticism

I should be able to just tell a man that he did something incorrectly, without first paying him four compliments on the ways he did things right, AND going out of my way to tell him how common the mistake is. I should just say, “Can you fix this, please?” and be done with it.

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Emojis and exclamation points! J

These have their time and place in professional emails, but I am guilty of adding quite a few—particularly when emailing with male colleagues. Honestly, this is impart due to the fact that I’ve heard men say that a woman sounded like a b*tch through her emails. And when I saw the emails in question, she really…didn’t. She just didn’t use emojis and exclamation marks.

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Hugging colleagues

It’s not like men hug each other in the work place, or even when they run into each other out of the work place. I guess it’s ingrained in me that women are supposed to be physically affectionate and sort of nurturing in that way. But, I should really just shake a professional acquaintance’s hand.

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Tolerating emotional tantrums

I can’t tell you how many times men I’ve worked with have been openly grumpy and giving me attitude, only to later confess, “Sorry. I’m going through a breakup” or something like that. And then I said, “Oh my gosh no, I’m sorry! Are you okay?” You know what I should have said, “Well, leave your personal stuff at home.” I highly doubt that men bring their emotions into professional interactions with other men. They just assume a woman will tolerate it.

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Turn feedback into a joke

There I go again: struggling to give simple, clean feedback. I always turn it into a joke or find some way to soften the message. Grown, adult men should be able to receive feedback from a woman, without it coming in the form of a joke.

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Saying, “Sorry” when we’ve done nothing wrong

I, in fact, sometimes say this when the other person did something wrong. For example, if a man sends me a document that has errors, I’ll respond and say, “Sorry, but is there any chance you could fix this and that?” Why am I saying sorry? He should be the one saying sorry, and then fixing it.

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Allowing for interruptions

I fear that women have been taught so much to be polite in conversation that it’s to our detriment when dealing with men. Perhaps when talking to other women, we can all wait our turn and not speak over each other. But when dealing with men, it barely works. I shouldn’t let men interrupt me. I should interrupt right back and say, “I wasn’t finished—you can speak in a moment.”

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Waiting for the right time to speak

As for simply starting my statement in a group setting, if I don’t just push my way in there, I may never get to speak. And that’s why I often leave meetings with men having barely spoken. While I don’t condone interrupting in general, if you are a woman, you will probably have to interrupt men to get a word in edgewise sometimes. If you wait for an opening, it isn’t coming.

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Laughing at subtly sexist jokes

Whether sexism is blatant or subtle, it shouldn’t be tolerated. Subtle, however, is the worst kind truly because it’s harder to address. When it’s blatant, it’s easy to call it out. But I am guilty of laughing at subtly sexist jokes, because calling the man out feels like it would be creating a needless fight. But you know what? It is needed. Staying silent is what lets men think they can continue to make sexist jokes.

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Letting other women be cut off

While I hope we all start fending for ourselves more in group conversations, women can also help each other out. I’m sorry to say that, I’ve seen other women get stepped all over in conversations with men—interrupted and cut off—and I just watched it happen. I’m going to make an effort, when I see this, to cut the man off and say, “I think she wasn’t done talking.”

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Speaking quietly

Unfortunately, just using my normal voice sometimes doesn’t get my point across when dealing with men. Though it can feel odd to raise my voice because it feels like yelling, I need to stop and realize that, compared to everyone else, I’m basically whispering.

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Allowing for mistakes due to personal issues

“Can I get an extension on this—I’m going through some personal stuff?” is something I hear from men from time to time. Again, I think they believe that since I’m a woman I’ll understand. But, knowing they wouldn’t ask that of a man, I shouldn’t tolerate it, either.

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