“It wasn’t right what you did. You shouldn’t have taken over like that!” she said.
Monday morning. It had been a glorious sunny weekend and we had been walking in the Peaks and wild swimming. I was practically glowing. I’d been working my way through my inbox for the last 30 minutes and didn’t even hear her enter my office. Those words practically knocked the wind right out of me.
The worst thing was….she was right. The previous week, I had been asked to proofread a grant application. I quickly realised the mistake. It was missing vital sections with 24 hours to go. Rather than going direct to my colleague, I sent it to another colleague for a second opinion. Was I being too harsh? Nope they agreed.
How do you want to deal with this? He said.
Instead of going directly to my colleague, I made a bad choice. Rather than dealing with the potential conflict myself, I took it up the chain. I told myself, if I got the higher powers to deliver the bad news, (that potentially it wasn’t ready to submit in this round after 6 weeks of 100% effort) then I was saving her from the humiliation of certain rejection.
But it wasn’t that simple.
There was part of me that was enjoying being the competent person.
In the end, we decided that with 24 hours to go; 3 hands on deck could complete the missing parts.
So instead of allowing my colleague the space to lead, I took over. Okay you take that section, I’ll work on this and send it to you, essentially cutting her out of the loop. At 4:58, with 2 minutes until the deadline it was me who clicked submit with her looking on from the side lines.
We had done it and I had proved my excellence in the process. Or so I thought…
“You went behind my back, took over and didn’t include me.” She said.
Let’s be clear, I’m not proud of my behaviour. Instead of proving just how valuable I was to my supervisor, instead I proved how insecure I was. That I would behave without full integrity in order to cement my position as “the best”, all rooted in those feelings of not being enough.
Have you ever behaved in way that didn’t make you proud?
Personal, Cultural and Professional Paradigms
There are three different paradigms that contribute to the way we approach life: personal, cultural and professional paradigms.
My Dad used to work in Denmark Mon-Fri. I grew up believing that my Mum was in charge of everything. If we go back a generation, my Grandma was the only person to show up to work when their town was being bombed. I come from the mentality of…show up and push through…no matter what.
What did you learn growing up?
I grew up in the UK which is the 6th most masculine country in the world (Hofstede). As a result, I have been swimming around in a culture that celebrates the individual and material rewards for success.
Which country did you grow up in?
When I started as an undergrad in Chemistry, there were loads of women around me. In fact, the figures for 2018 show 43% of undergrads studying Chemistry were women. It wasn’t until the end of my PhD did I look 2 steps ahead, discovering that there were only 5 female academics in a department of over 200.
Is there a noticeable hierarchy in your workplace?
It’s easy to see how these paradigms can converge to create overachieving independent Superwomen. Striving to do more, be even better and prove ourselves.
Back then, I didn’t have the tools to handle challenging conversation well at all. Instead, I would slip into The Martyr. In other words, I took everything very personally and didn’t own my mistakes.
Here’s a great script for handling criticism well.
Step 1: Confirm the state of mind/emotion of the person.
” I can see you are upset”
Step 2: Ask for the facts
“What has happened to make you upset”?
“Why are you upset”?
Step 3: Repeat what she has said using her words.
“You are being treated unfairly.”
Step 4: Ask for clarification
“What is it that you do not like…?”
“Can you give me some specific examples?”
Step 5: Restate the criticism using the person’s own words.
“You are saying that…”
Step 6: Ask her what she wants done about her complaint.
Step 7: Respond by saying what you will do and when.
*Note that in the majority of cases, what the person will ask is less that what you would expect. The fact that you have actively listened to her reduces the intensity of the criticism and request for follow-up action.
We are hearing in every sphere – politics, business, academia, “we need more women here!” But 78% of women believe stepping up means even more hard work and many of us are already firefighting and thinly stretched.
You want me to be a leader, a wife, a mother and buy the birthday presents? There’s this constant pull of competing priorities.
In a bid to manage what’s already on our plates we lose forwards momentum and slip into career inertia or dissatisfaction.
In my coaching, I use leadership and NLP-based tools to support my clients to find a new approach to get more of the important things done with less push and effort and without burning out.
Do you need a new approach?
PS I’d love to hear about your paradigms. Hit reply and tell me what factors have influenced how you show up in the world currently.
PPS Have you ever worried about conversation in advance, ruminated upon events or have worst case scenario thinking? Tune in next week to bring awareness to this iterative cycle of thoughts.