No More Ms. Nice Gal

Depending on who you ask, I think people would say I’m a nice person.  (My sisters would label me as bossy before nice.) As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m a eternal optimist.  I smile alot.  I also think that most of the time people are just doing they best they can at their jobs.  I always default to trying to work with and partner with my stakeholders.

I have read and heard generalizations that women are too nice.  That they bend and give in too easily.  That they avoid conflict to the point it becomes detrimental to solid forward progress.

I do not believe that I bend or give in easily.  I stand up for what I believe in and voice my opinions- even when they are in contrast to the rest of the room.

After some introspection this past week, I realized that I am much stronger in meetings and in front of a group, than I am in a one-on-one negotiation.  Why?

I think I want to work constructively with people.  As a result when we get together one-on-one in a room or over the phone, I usually start by opening up about myself or my time.  For example, I might say “I know I am responsible for some of the communication breakdown, I could have done this or that better.”  Then I would wait for the other party to open up and make some concessions about their own communication breakdowns.  From there, we’d talk about how we could work better together, improve communication, etc.  It always feels like it worked well.  Typically I’ll see results.

My last discussion which followed the script above, did not quite achieve the result I expected.  Let’s call this teammate Bob.  I left my conversation with Bob thinking we had made some good progress.  We admitted there were some big communication gaps and had a plan for closing them.  A day later I got a phone call from a fellow team member who had just talked with Bob.  It went something like this:

Teammate: “Hey Allison, I just got out of a meeting with Bob.  Bob claims that you and your team are responsible for most of the communication breakdown.  He said you admitted there was alot more you should have done.”

Me: “Wait, that’s not true.  Sure there is more I could have done, but Bob was mostly to blame.  I can’t believe he just sold me out like that and blamed it all on me!”

Teammate: “Allison, I need you to be strong.  Bob will run you over if you don’t stand up to him and make him clean up his act and get his team in line”

Me: “Thanks for letting me know what Bob said.  I’ll be more careful about what I say and how I talk to him in the future.”

I thought Bob and I had a good working relationship.  Sure I’d seen him run over other people.  I had even called him out in meetings before for not telling the truth about what was really going on.  I didn’t think he’d turn on me.  I should have known better.

I value teamwork.  I want my team to do well and look good.  I want to work with my teammates to create successful products.  There are people out there like Bob who put themselves first.  Bob has different values and different priorities that me.  He makes sure that he looks good and successful, even if that means making his teammates look less successful.

Maybe women are too nice.  In this case, I certainly was.  I know some men who have been too nice too- I’ve watched Bob run over them.

The key to success is learning from your missteps.  I let Bob throw me under the bus in front of my manager when I wasn’t there.  He used my openess against me.  I’ve learned my lesson.  No more Ms. Nice Gal when talking to Bob.  From now on, when he and his team are in the wrong,  I’ll let him know- without admitting any faults on my side.

I’ll be keeping my eye out for other Bobs.  When I spot them, I’ll know to alter my normal working style- take away the nice and turn up the bossy.  It was a good lesson in situational awareness and adaptation.  Watch out for those Bob’s in your world!

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