This week I heard Muriel Penicaud, the French Minister of Labour, speak on gender equality. The man who introduced her commented that “gender equality is a topic close to her heart.”
Penicaud went on to expose the business case for this issue of global concern. She cited French government initiatives to encourage women in leadership positions and to reduce the pay gap between men and women. She shared examples of corporations that had implemented pay equality and the resulting vitality and engagement on the part of all employees.
So why did my hand shoot up during the Q & A ?!
Here was my question:
“In the introduction, gender equality was presented as a subject close to Ms. Penicaud’s heart. For such a global issue with a strong economic case, shouldn’t it be a subject close to men’s hearts too?”
“Point well taken,” responded the male MC, and the discussion moved on.
You, me, and anyone can demean our arguments and distance listeners with well-intentioned, yet un-considered words.
We’ll look at three verbal faux-pas and how a slight reframing transforms these degrading snippets into opportunities to collaborate and reinforce.
Disconnect Trap – Labels
Do NOT: Talk about other’s opinions
“Samira, who is particularly concerned about religious discrimination….”
“Meet Jeanne, our advocate for non-violent communication….”
These comments undermine the person taking a stand AND they don’t make the one saying it look good either. They create disconnect.
The speaker positions him or herself as someone who is not concerned about issues like gender equality, liberty in beliefs, or constructive communication. It invites the question: are they more concerned about themselves than about others?
The person of whom it is spoken is put in a box. Samira and Jeanne may be the savviest financial analysts or most astute marketers in the office, yet the above statements have stripped them of professional qualities and labelled them as “activists.”
DO: Own your opinion
For the talk with the Labour Minister, I would have liked to hear: “Our fourth topic is gender equality, a topic close to Mme Penicaud and to my heart.”
Take a personal stand.
“I respect Samira for her outspokenness regarding religious discrimination.”
“We should all be aware of our unconscious biases, and I have learned much from Jeanne when she calls me to account.”
Owning your opinion keeps gossip down. Instead of talking just about Samira and Jeanne behind their back, now you have a stake in the discussion.
It trains you in leadership. Great managers have their team members’ back. A culture of trust is built as much in the daily interactions as it is in the strategic decisions.
Disconnect Trap – Discrediting Yourself
DO NOT: Introduce your ideas with “I believe”
“I believe we should…“
“In my opinion,…”
If you are saying it, you should believe it.
The personalization of your opinion invites others to transform the topic at hand into an issue with YOU. That’s a disconnection with the business at hand. Stick to the topic.
DO: Speak what you know
If you have facts and observations which lead to a conclusion, you are bringing value to a discussion. Share it.
If you have a creative and helpful idea, share it. Share it with confidence that you are a contributing member of a team. It’s what they hired you to do.
Here are ways to create connection in a group discussion
- State the facts
“Joe said __________. Jane said __________. A common point is _______.”
- Clarify the perspective
“We have not yet looked at the situation from the customer service angle…”
- Test your ideas in a smaller group or an informal setting first. Ideas build on each other. The more they are shared, the fuller they become.
Over lunch: “What do you think about (your idea)?”
- Muster courage and state your belief or opinion without an introduction
“Here is an opportunity: _________”
Alternatively, stay quiet and listen. Really listen. That brings value.
Disconnect Trap – Shirking Responsibility
Do NOT: Transform responsibilities into favors
“I’ll do it for you when I finish what I’m doing.”
Is this person doing a favor for his boss or colleague?!
I experienced this situation in personal life this week. Full grocery bags sat on the counter and I asked for help to put the food away.
“Let me finish this and I’ll help with your bags after.” Who’s bags? We have five men in our household. Who will be eating most of this food?
Whether your team is at work or in family, everyone benefits. Everyone GETS to (vs. has to) participate in the work. We contribute together for each other.
DO: Own your part of the responsibility
Stick to the task.
“I’ll do it when I finish.”
Play your part willingly.
“What can I do to help? What do you need from me?”
Put it into practice
In my trainings, participants experience “Aha moments” when they discover how their communication creates disconnect. We build these opportunities for self-discovery through interactive activities such as this listening exercise:
Two people face each other standing three meters (yards) apart. Person A reads off statements and Person B responds solely by moving forward (he is motivated to cooperate with Person A) or by stepping back (he disengages).
Some of the statements generate disconnection and Person B steps away from Person A. Others bring them closer together. The entire group pictures how some responses push people away while others build connection.
Want more cooperation in your communication? Drop me a note and we’ll get the conversation flowing.