My balcony has heard a lot of things. It’s the scene for analysing male behaviour over wine, laughing about life over wine, talking about careers, mistakes, triumphs, love, lust, success, meaning and all manner of things… over wine of course. Whenever there’s a major life event in progress, it’s not unusual to have one of the girls contact me and say ‘I need some balcony time.’
One such balcony time involved a dear friend of mine who was unhappy at work. She wanted to move from one department of the business she was in to another – and she knew there was an opening where the team would welcome her with open arms. However. Her biggest concern was that she didn’t want to let down her current team by leaving them with her accounts. She didn’t want to let down her current boss. This was a great challenge for her, and led to her sitting in her old department for far too long.
Another balcony time I was talking with a friend who knew she was the best in her team at work. She told me that she had been there the longest, she knew the job better than anyone else and always exceeded expectations. She also recalled that the market value for what she did was much higher than her salary at the time. ‘I’ve decided to move and find another job where I can get paid more and be more appreciated,’ she said assertively.
‘What did your managers say when you spoke about your situation?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I didn’t speak to them about it. It’s easier to just go somewhere new.’
What’s going on here?
There are some themes that I see popping up time and time again when it comes to women in the workforce. I can only speak from my own experiences, of course, and I’m generally not a fan of gendering issues so please keep in mind that this certainly doesn’t apply to every woman, only women or every person. That said, I’ve noticed that when it comes to women in the workforce, there are two common limitations we tend to place on ourselves:
First, we care too much. Yes, that is a thing. There seems to be a tendency to take emotional responsibility for our colleagues, our clients, our bosses. That means we make a lot of decisions based not only on ourselves, but how we think those decisions may affect others. This is not always a bad thing, until it results in taking on too much or sacrificing what’s important to us. You know the ‘everything person’ in the office? The one who does everything, knows where everything is, will be able to organise whatever is needed and fix whatever problem comes up, and is always willing to do so? Sometimes people end up walking all over them, passing off their tasks to them and giving them any outstanding responsibilities in the office, often for little appreciation in return. There’s been one in every office I’ve ever worked in. Ever seen an ‘everything person’ who is a man? Me neither.
The second limitation is another simple one. We don’t ask for what we want. The research has indicated time and time again that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries than men. Women are less likely to go for jobs that they aren’t fully qualified for than men. I cannot count the amount of times young women have expressed their concerns with me about their careers: Concerned that they’re being overlooked for certain tasks they’d excel in, concerned that they aren’t being valued, paid enough, given enough, given too much.
I’ve been in a male-dominated industry for the majority of my working life. I’ve also worked with hundreds of professionals, coaching in the areas of sales, behavioural profiling, leadership, professional development and all things human behaviour. Of course, as a woman I hold close to my heart the area of women’s professional success, which is why I jumped at the chance to write a blog for the wonderful Naked Curve.
Something I say regularly in my sessions, that I’ve realised over the years, is that most of the time, the difference between what you want and where you are is not a big one. Often, it is only a tiny stretch beyond what makes you comfortable right now. Often, it is only taking one uncomfortable step: One conversation, one question, one action, beyond your comfort zone.
When we talk about the ‘view from the balcony’ from a facilitation perspective, we’re thinking about zooming out and seeing things from a bigger point of view. In the long run, most of those moments that are painfully uncomfortable at the time become our biggest strengths, our biggest moments that we shine a light on when we look at the highlight reel of our lives to date.
So what can we do?
- Know what you want: Take a view from the balcony
Yes, I talk about asking for what you want. I’m sure you can feel my energy seeping through the page right now: Ask! Ask the question! Demand more from your life! Back yourself!
But one cannot do this if one does not know what they want. So the first thing to do is to take a moment, right now (read the rest of this post first though, don’t leave me yet), and ask yourself: What do I want?
What would make me happy?
Where do I want to be? What do I want to achieve?
What do I value in work? In life?
What needs to change in order for that to happen? How can I create this?
The answers to these questions are different for everyone. Some people thrive on variety and social stimulation. Others need autonomy, freedom, responsibility. Others simply need to have a meaningful impact. There is no right or wrong, so I encourage you to dig deep, zoom out, and write down at least 10 things in life that motivate you. Use this as your foundation for growth. I can set a vision of where I want to be in 5 years, 6 months, 20 years, if I know what makes me happy. This might change over time – in fact, it probably will, as you do, so it’s important to revisit regularly.
It’s amazing when you start doing this exercise how much you might realise about yourself, simply from thinking about what’s important to you. Many of us go years at a time in auto-pilot without even asking these questions – so if you do now, well done: You’re already ahead.
- Ask for what you want
Once we’ve done a little life and motivation review, we can look at where we can take action. When I’m training salespeople, I tell them that if you don’t ask someone to buy, they won’t. In life, we get what we ask for. We receive what we put out there. And no one can help you solve a problem or make a change if they don’t know it exists.
So that means, if I am about to quit my job because I know I deserve a pay rise and more appreciation and responsibility, I don’t start by looking elsewhere. I book a meeting with my boss, and I have a clear conversation with them where I assert what I want. If I want to improve my relationship, I start by having an open and honest conversation where I assert what’s important to me. If I want to go down to part time so I can work on my side gig, I have a conversation about it.
I don’t know what conversation it is that you might need to have, that you’ve perhaps been putting off or avoiding entirely, but if you’ve read this far you probably know what it is. Maybe it’s a big life-changing conversation. Maybe it’s conversations in those little moments in your day, with colleagues, or customers, or friends and family.
The best assertive conversations are clear, confident and open. They seek out the opinion of the other person without losing sight of their own perspective. They are based in facts and come with reasonable, specific requests. They are willing to compromise where relevant, and willing to stand their ground where relevant. They are authentic and honest, and often uncomfortable. They look for a solution that benefits all parties involved.
In many of these situations, the worst thing that can happen is that the other party says no. No to the pay rise, or the promotion, or the sale, or the changes that you’re seeking. That’s also a reasonable outcome, in that you can take that new information (‘they’re definitely not going to give me a pay rise’) and figure out what makes sense for you to do next. As a side note, never put forward an ultimatum (to anyone) unless you’re willing to go through with it. So before proclaiming that if you don’t have X change you’re going to leave, make sure you mean it. Go into the conversation with your key points (write them down if you need to) and make sure you keep the conversation on track so your point gets across clearly.
As another side note, it is important to be calm and clear. Never have one of these conversations in a moment of anger or frustration. Never make decisions when you’re upset. That’s not assertive, it’s a charged expression in the moment.
- Be selfish
This is counter-intuitive advice, I’m well aware. The problem is though, if you live your life making decisions solely because your mother, brother, daughter, friend, boss, colleague, told you so; or if you make your decisions solely because of how you think those decisions will affect others, you’re going to wake up one day with regrets.
I am not advocating that we make decisions without considering the consequences. I am not advocating for a lack of empathy, kindness or positive intent towards others, I am simply advocating that we put ourselves first. Because no one else will.
As an example, I’ve had a couple of girlfriends end up in scenarios where they definitely want to leave their job. The process of resigning, though, fills them with so much fear that they put it off – because they don’t want to let down their boss, or their colleagues, or their clients. They end up sacrificing what they want because of the fear that their job will miss them too much or let too many people down. Give yourself permission to think of yourself. Give yourself permission to live your life the way you want to. Give yourself permission to take chances. And give yourself permission to be selfish.
When you start to assert yourself and go for what you want, life becomes incredibly liberating. I can tell you that from experience. When you choose your path, rather than let it choose you, things change for the better. We have an incredible power to create, build and have an impact on ourselves and others. Don’t hold yourself back. I encourage you to take a view from the balcony: Decide what you want, and then make it happen.
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