Emma said to me, “I’m constantly second-guessing myself when I’m in conflict with someone. I speak and then later wish I’d said something different. And I hate that I cry when I get angry! It’s so stereotypically female. At work I’m told to ‘buck up’ and stop being so emotional.”
I hear different versions of this story from a lot of women in my work, whether I’m coaching, mediating or training. It makes my heart ache every time I hear it questions like these:
- What’s the “right” way to do it?
- Maybe it’s better not to say anything than to say the wrong thing. How can I change the way I do this to better fit the people around me?
- How can I be less emotional during conflict? I know I shouldn’t show strong emotion in the workplace and crying is seen as weakness. Tell me how to change!
Message to women everywhere: Stop over-listening to others who say that crying is “inappropriate” or that showing strong emotion in conflict is “wrong.” Stop constantly second-guessing yourselves when you’re negotiating or caught in a difficult conversation. The more you try to do conflict “unemotionally” (that’s not even possible, by the way—see Good Decisions Need Emotion), and the more you try to use a voice that’s not yours, the more you’ll be off balance during conflict.
Instead, start figuring out your own “right voice” for conflict and negotiation. Carol Gilligan wrote almost a quarter century ago about the “different voice” that women bring to interactions at home and work. It’s a voice that places value on connection and relationship, even during conflict. Gilligan proposed way back in 1982 that our workplace and social cultures begin to adapt to acknowledge the validity and value of this different voice. I’m not saying that crying during conflict is something you should feel free to do anytime it comes up. I’m saying that there’s more important work you should focus on than trying to get unemotional or dispassionate.
What is your “right voice” for conflict and negotiation? I’m going to write more about this over the coming month. Let’s start here. Your “right voice” is the one that…
- Authentically conveys who you are and what’s important to you.
- Acknowledges that the relationship is important and doesn’t apologize for your predilection toward connection and caring (if you have that predilection, of course!).
- Celebrates that you’re able to tap the “emotional” part of yourself as well as the “thinking” part of yourself.
- Helps you keep your balance and center during difficult situations so you don’t second guess them over and over later.
- Is right both for you and for the culture you’re in—it strikes the right balance so that you can, too.
So how do you find your “right voice”? Watch for more posts coming up on this topic.