Unfortunately, most women in the workforce know all too well how difficult it can be to find your voice. Even the most powerful professional women struggle to speak up, share their ideas and assert themselves at work.
While some may genuinely lack confidence, many are actually quite sure of themselves, but fear their confidence will be perceived as a bit “too much,” and they’ll be labeled as aggressive. Virtually every professional woman faces this dichotomy: how not to be perceived as difficult or a doormat.
It’s extremely frustrating, considering that our male counterparts don’t have this problem. When men communicate, it’s acceptable–even desirable and influential–for them to be assertive and self-confident. It’s considered an attribute, rather than a flaw. But, women who don’t balance their confidence at work with healthy dose of modesty often face a backlash effect where they’re perceived as less likable – a negative reflection on their personality.
When we’re asked to provide feedback about our peers, our supervisors or organization, this can feel especially daunting because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or come across as mean. But, we must overcome the fear of being seen as “bitchy” simply for being honest and genuine in our opinions. Instead, we must learn to give feedback in a confident, constructive manner, in a way that inspires positive change, without downplaying our own role or diminishing that of others.
Here are some tips:
Be direct, but also constructive.
This is the difference between saying, “That was an awful presentation,” and “That presentation was really unclear and needs a lot of work.” Being upfront and honest are important. But it does no one any good to be hurtful when it in no way helps the situation. The goal of giving feedback is for the individual to improve. But if your feedback doesn’t leave room for improvement, they’ll feel demoralized rather than motivated.
Ditch the compliment sandwich.
I’m on a personal crusade to end this practice of tucking a complaint between two compliments because it’s ridiculous. We’re all adults, and we don’t need to be soothed and coddled. The compliment sandwich doesn’t make the recipient feel any better–it makes YOU feel better. Often the recipient misses your constructive criticism altogether, or they dismiss it because you said other, nice things, so it must not be that big of a deal. Cut to the chase and be clear.
Give feedback frequently.
Just like riding a bike, the more you give feedback, the easier it gets. Especially if you’re in a leadership role, make sure that your employees know where they stand on a day-to-day basis. Ask yourself: if an employee were to ask for a raise and you’d decline, would they know why? If the answer is no, you’re not doing a good enough job at giving feedback. Everyone deserves to know about their strengths, what they can work on to improve and to have a trajectory for continuous growth.
When women feel forced to stifle our opinions or to temper our presentation out of fear of being labeled as “mean,” we undermine our own ambition and likelihood of success. And, any workplace culture that allows this dichotomy and double-standard to persist is robbing itself of valuable insight that could have a substantial impact on business performance.
Women must feel comfortable giving feedback, and confident that their input will be heard and not ignored. Otherwise, companies risk losing out on the engagement and impact of a potentially very large segment of their workforce. No company can afford to sacrifice that competitive advantage.
Your feedback is vital to the success of your peers and your employer. Finding your voice and learning to give constructive, honest input makes you a better employee and a valuable asset in your company’s–and your own–future.
This guest post was authored by Carley Childress
Carley Childress is CEO of Macorva. Carley comes to field of employee engagement from an engineering background focused in software development and business management. Having worked for companies both big and small, she is passionate about bringing startup levels of engagement to established companies by developing software solutions that bring together global engagement strategies and local action.