By Meg George
I spent a great deal of time in 2019 thinking about how I communicate and how significantly my style of communication impacts the outcomes I’m seeking. My husband and I are business partners, so I have the advantage of bouncing ideas off of someone with a sometimes different perspective all day (every day). I’ve noticed that while we almost always agree on an initiative, in the past we have been apt to approach it differently: he was direct and unapologetic, and I was cautious and forgiving.
In our work, we engage primarily with nonprofit organizations and philanthropists and therefore communicate regularly with nonprofit and board leaders of both genders. In the nonprofit world, leaders are constantly asking for things. Needs are always tremendous, and thankfully, people are willing to meet them. But those people have to be asked. More often than men, women tell me that they feel rather burdensome when they are faced with this heavy lift of making solicitations. Am I bugging this person if I send another email? What if he or she thinks I can’t take a hint, or that I’m too forward? I empathize with this worry, because I used to share it.
My communication changed when my anxiety around how I am making someone feel changed. In any business world, we need to ask things of people whether they are supporters, employees, clients, and the list goes on. If we are confident, respectful and direct, then we have done our job. How someone responds to us is their business, not ours. I use nonprofits as an example often because it’s my line of work — when someone ignores an “ask” or even says “no,” we tend to take it personally. But it isn’t personal. It’s more likely than not a financial or business decision on their part, and there was no harm in asking, so we shouldn’t feel sorry about having done so. Ironically, that feeling I once had of being a pest shed itself when I stopped starting my ask of people with “I am so sorry to ask but…” or “This is probably a busy time for you and I apologize but…” and started to communicate the way that I notice many men to do me: without apology, and with candid and sincere language.
Of course, this is not true of all men and all women, and here I am generalizing. From personal experience, I know that my husband and I are wired differently, and many times over, it applies to other people I know and with whom I do work. I am more sensitive than him, and he is more straightforward than me. We are partners, and we need to achieve the same things, so while I know that my sensitivity and softness can be an advantage in certain situations, I have changed the way that I approach conversation (in person, by phone and through email) and have noticed a significant change in how people respond to me.
Women cannot lose what differentiates us. Our contributions at the workplace, at home and in our communities are both critical and unique. How do we become even more effective? In my opinion, it is through straightforward and genuine communication. Be intentional about what you want to say, concise with how you say, and unapologetic for saying it. How does that phrase go, “I’m a woman, hear me roar.” Well, let’s roar even more directly this year!
For more about the George Development Group, visit georgedevgroup.com.