“I’m Going To Be Direct…”

There is a lot of discussion right now around workplace communication between the genders and unconscious bias, with the thought that if women were to change their language style, we could be much more successful in our careers. Sounds so simple, right? I call bullshit.

If you haven’t seen these articles, there is an excellent summary here from a post on a California State University website.  Issues in women’s styles of communication include:

* Up-talk – the habit of ending sentences on higher pitch which makes women sound tentative rather than in charge.

* Dismissive words – inserting the words “just” or “a little” demeans whatever follows it.

* Meaningless apologies – saying “I’m sorry” around things that weren’t your fault.

In regards to these three submissive tics in communication, I am all for change, regardless of gender. My own communication style tends to be direct, and I’ve been told I’m more “masculine” in my approach than most women. It is part of my personality, not necessarily something I’ve worked to cultivate. Even so, I am conscious of the tics mentioned above and try hard to remove them from my speech.

However, does being a more direct communicator benefit me as a female? Apparently not. As another article on gender bias noted, speaking up in a forceful manner can be more risky for a woman and her prospective leadership career. If I speak up in a meeting and say the exact thing my male colleagues would (or God forbid express anger about something), I’m more likely to be viewed as pushy and a bitch rather than assertive and a leader. 

Let me get this straight. As a woman, when your language is submissive it means you are not a leader and when your language is assertive then you are being too bossy.  Well, that’s a very fine line to walk.

So when someone says they want to teach you “one simple skill to curb unconscious gender bias”, I perk up.  

This article got my attention. And then it got me angry.

It is a well-intentioned discussion about “framing” your comments. Apparently, all I need to do to ease bias in the workplace is to warn my male colleagues in advance that my comments will be straightforward, that a truth bomb is coming their direction by saying, “I’m going to be direct now…” 

Does anyone else find this condescending from both a male and female standpoint? I’d like to think my male colleagues don’t need me carrying a flashing neon sign, “hey, get ready, female with an opinion coming your way”.  Of the men I work with, their egos aren’t that fragile and their intelligence is assumed.  Unconscious bias or not, I refuse to begin framing my contributions to our workplace discussions. So what to do instead to address these issues?

Well, LET ME BE DIRECT… This is not the answer. There is still a lot of work to be done on removing unconscious bias.

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