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The Top Two Secrets of Successful Professional Women

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Some years ago the Catalyst group did a survey of women in fortune 500 companies who were at the VP level or higher. They asked them to describe the behaviors that led to their success. The number one answer at 71 percent was “exceeding expectations.” The number two answer at 67 percent was “communicating with men in a manner with which men were comfortable.”

How to view it: In a recent article here on w2wlink.com, a different study from Catalyst reports the “damned if you do and doomed if you don’t” double bind that professional women face. It is very helpful to know that both Sylla, Charybdis exist. The trick is to know how to sail your boat between them (Yes, I get the irony of using this Greek metaphor—I simply do not know the male counterpart).

The fact is that these double standards exist and will continue to exist for some time. As an individual, you need to know how to sail these waters successfully. And according to professional women who have already succeeded, exceeding expectations and learning how to communicate successfully are your two top tools for success. The more awareness you have the more power and real choice you have. 

How to Do it: In order to exceed expectations, you need to know what the expectations are. Make sure you and your superiors know what the goal is and how it is going to be measured. Do not assume that they know what the goals are or how they will be measured. Once you know what the goals and measures are you can make sure that you invest your energies wisely to meet and exceed those goals. Then when the time comes to review what you have done, you can say, “Wow The goal was ‘x’ and I achieved ‘X’+30 percent.”

With respect to communicating in a manner with which men are comfortable, there are many things you can do, including reading my other articles that are often about this topic. In today’s article I want to introduce to you the concept of “communicating with the four C’s to increase your ability to make men feel comfortable with you.” (We only have space here to talk about the first two.) The four C’s are Confidence of message, Clarity of message, Coolness of message and Consistency of message.

There are two aspects to confidence. One is masculine (in the Yin and Yang sense) and one is feminine. The masculine version of confidence is assertiveness. The feminine counterpart is assuredness. Assertiveness communicates the idea of  “I will do it.” Assuredness communicates the idea of “It will be done.” Professional women (and men for that matter) need a balance of both. There is clearly a male double standard when it comes to women acting assertively. My experience has shown me that women who only try to develop their assertiveness crash on the rocks of appearing too aggressive. The way to navigate the passage is to also develop assuredness. (Developing assuredness will get a future article.) In order to get a sense of assuredness, think of times that you simply knew that a goal would be achieved, without a sense of over striving. In sports it is being “in the zone.” One woman I talked with said that it never occurred to her that a man would not listen to her and take her point of view seriously. Make sure you develop your assertiveness and assuredness evenly.

Clarity of message is a much easier concept. The idea of getting clear and specific expectations and measurements is an example of clarity of message. 

Another example is to be short and to the point. Refrain from giving too many explanations that justify your point (This is a behavioral aspect of assuredness.)   

Get rid of “qualifiers” in your speech patterns. These include phrasing statements as questions, such as, “Do you think we need to increase the budget 10 percent?” when you really mean to make a statement. “I think we need to …”   
Reduce the use of disclaimers such as: “I am not sure … if this is the best way to solve the problem. …”
 
Eliminate non-assured hedge words such as: sort of, maybe, perhaps (unless you are doing it on purpose for strategic reasons).

Finally, abolish the use of tag questions such as, “Okay?” and, “Do you know what I mean?”
 
 

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