In the past month or so I’ve read article after article that suggests the reason women aren’t more successful in business is due to their lack of authoritative communication skills. They tend to be timid, afraid to speak up for themselves, and don’t ask for what they need or want. That’s why their careers don’t accelerate at the same rate as men’s do.
Most recently, Christine Jahnke’s book, The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking and Sounding Your Best, has kept the conversation going. (You can find an exploration of some of Jahnke’s ideas in a Globe and Mail article, “Why Women Need To Step Up To The Microphone,” by Leah Eichler.)
But is this negative view of women’s communication skills really accurate? I’m not doubting that there’s truth to the notion that women may be less successful than men in the top ranks of the business world, in part because of communication difficulties. But as I speculated, not long ago, in an earlier blog post, Are Men Really From Mars And Women Really From Venus?, people are more complex and life more nuanced than the idea of dividing communication abilities along gender lines would suggest.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia speaks alongside Speak Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Nita Lowey. Photograph from Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Flickr photo stream.
This point particularly hit home the other day when I saw the following headline in the National Post: Three Women Share Nobel Peace Prize.
The three women:
–Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 72-year-old leader of Liberia (and Africa’s first freely elected female head of state).
-Thirty-nine-year-old Leymah Gbowee, who “mobilized women across ethnic and religious lines to bring an end to the war in Liberia and ensure their participation in election.”
-Yemen’s 32-year-old Tawakkol Karman, a journalist cited for her part in “the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.”
Each received the prestigious award. Each has worked against all odds to advance the rights of women.
Reading about these courageous women brought me up short. Clearly they are outspoken. Clearly they are determined. And clearly there’s no “glass ceiling” hold them back in their endeavors.
Clearly and most importantly, each of these women said to herself, at some point, “I can,” rather than “I can’t.”
And that’s something any of us can achieve, even – or maybe especially — if our work is far less daunting than struggling for basic human rights. So much of achievement in any situation comes down to a few pretty basic principles:
1. Stay focused.
2. Consider in advance how you want to present your ideas and thoroughly prepare.
3. Recognize that your own attitudes and thoughts will influence the way you present yourself – but “feel the fear” and do it anyway.
4. Stay focused.
Truly, I can’t emphasize the need for focus enough. When we think about how the new Nobel Peace Prize winners got to where they are, one of the first things that comes to mind is just how determined and focused each of them must have been.
It points the way to a golden rule of communication: if you tell yourself you can speak up, you probably will find that you can, and you will.
If, on the other hand, you allow yourself to be intimidated by the words of Denise Graveline, a public-speaking coach cited in Eichler’s article, that “study after study shows…both men and women react more negatively to women who speak up in meetings, than they do to men…[and] because men speak up more in the workplace, they’re more likely to have opportunities to promote themselves…” you will defeat yourself before you even begin to come close to that glass ceiling. And why would you want to do that?
How have focus and determination helped you to improve your communication skills? Share your experience by commenting on the blog, or by email messaging: email@example.com.