The Abrasiveness Trap

It’s becoming more well known that being an assertive woman in the workplace is not a quality that gets women promoted. Whether a woman’s manager is male or female, studies reveal that women who are assertive are perceived as abrasive compared to their assertive male colleagues who are perceived as decisive and confident.

There’s a lot of advice out there for women. One of the most popular books on negotiation tactics for women, Ask for It by Linda Babcock, suggests that women should be clear about what they want, but that they should ask for it in a “relentlessly pleasant” tone. To the author’s credit, she comes right out and says, “I don’t like it either, but the research shows that this tactic is highly effective.”

However, Babcock follows this statement with one that has a big hole in it. She writes that if enough women play the game and use the relentlessly pleasant approach to acquire positions of power, then perhaps when more women are in power, assertive women applying for jobs or asking for promotions will no longer have to play this game.

This claim is flawed because, as Babcock points out in an earlier chapter, both female and male managers are biased against women. If this bias magically goes away when more women are in leadership roles, Babcock fails to explain the magic.

So what do we do about this trap? I’m not sure. Perhaps negotiation advice for women should be focused less on individuals playing the game and more on communities of women having their eyes wide open and helping each other out.

 

Take it Further

The Abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews

 

 

 

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Leading with Empathy: Yourself, Your Team, Your Customers

When you are leading a project, it’s tempting to focus on the solution. But it’s much more important to lead with empathy. Leading with empathy allows you to understand problems all around you. And once you understand these problems, you are in a much better position to build solutions. In terms of leading a product team, there are three levels of human relationships with which you need to engage empathy: yourself, your team, your customers.

Empathizing with yourself might seem like an oxymoron because the very definition of empathy is to stand in someone else’s shoes. That said, sometimes you need to see yourself as someone who really cares about you sees you. When you need to understand your fear, as a trusted friend might, and distinguish which parts of it are within your control and which parts are beyond your control, then focus your energy on the former. You need to be kind to yourself, just as a friend would,  and tell yourself that you belong here. Empathizing with yourself is the first step to leadership. If you can recognize your own hurdles, then you can help others work through theirs.

Empathizing with your team is important to leadership. It’s important to know what each team members goals are. Because when you know that, you know what motivates them and you can help them align their own motivations with the work that needs to be done. Motivated team members are the best team members. It’s also important to recognize the different points-of-view that your team members bring to the table and verbally acknowledge that you value that diversity. This acknowledgment quells doubt and builds confidence. Empathizing with your team members to understand and appreciate their motivations and their diversity creates enrollment. Enrollment is what you need to lead your team. 

Empathizing with your customers or users is a path that’s becoming more well known these days. This shift in thinking about project management is a shift from focusing on the bells and widgets of the solution or gadget that you want to build to paying attention to the problems that your customers have. Paying attention requires empathy. It requires emersion in your customer’s problems. The field of anthropology offers us a thorough set of tools for doing this that has been adopted by several prestigious innovation programs.

Leading with empathy will help you understand the problems at every level of the project at hand. Understanding problems will help you lead your team and customers to create and enroll in solutions that are driven by empathy. Empathy all around.

 

Take it further

Empathizing with yourself: Hardwiring Happiness

Empathizing with your team: Radical Candor

Empathizing with users: Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

When to Use Radical Candor

The management book, Radical Candor is often interpreted as, “Be blunt when giving feedback.” But it’s more nuanced than that. One of the most useful tips in the book is, “Praise in Public, Criticize in Private.” For example, if someone on your team sends out a group email and there is a mistake in it, let them know in a private message, not in a “reply all.” But if they share good work in a group email, “respond all” and praise away. Common sense, yes?

But what about a workshop or critique situation? If you read this blog, then you know I went to art school. And art school is tough, especially critique.

Critique is a group meeting in which you hang your work on the wall and your professor and peers rip it to shreds. It makes you tough. If managed correctly, the public criticism is all about the work, not about the artist, and it ultimately makes the work better. An artist that is practiced in crit eventually internalizes this kind of feedback and can call it up while they are working to make good decisions.

On the other end of the spectrum from critique is radical empathy, the practice of helping people feel seen and heard.  This is especially important when teaching women and people of color who tend to hang back in group critique settings. First generation college students might have this challenge too. It can take them a while to speak up at all. And when they finally do, is critique the best environment help them build confidence? Do they need to be toughened up or have their lives been tough enough already?

I don’t know the answers here. But it’s good food for thought. Something to hold in my heart and continue to think about.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Radical Candor blog

Is “Grit” Racist?

Using Pattern Recognition to Gain Buy-In

When you are introducing a new idea to people on your team or to potential partners or customers, right at the start you need to connect your new idea to something that your listeners are already familiar with. If you don’t do this, your listeners will be distracted, skeptical, and they might even question your credibility.

But if you come right out of the gate and introduce your new idea by drawing an analogy to something that your listeners are already familiar with, you are much more likely to get buy-in. Follow that analogy with some convincing data, and you’ve got even more buy-in. Once you have buy-in, you can spend your energy focusing on the real nitty-gritty of your project rather than spending it trying to convince people that your project should be a project at all.

Storyboards are Customer Centered

Early in the design process of your product, service, or system, you want to use tools that reflect what stage of the process you are in. At the start of your process, low fidelity tools like storyboards and paper-prototyping let you create and test out a bunch of ideas really quickly. This rapid iteration helps you figure out where your product needs to go.

Storyboards are especially helpful because they help you create stories about your customers’ problems and their journey to solve them through a series of tasks. Storyboards help you empathize with your customer and they help your team get on the same page about the problems you are solving and for whom. Storyboards also help keep you from drilling down too quickly on features and product details that may seem cool to your team but may not be relevant to your customers.

Want to learn more about storyboards? Check out this fantastic video from HCI prof, Scott Klemmer.

Creating a team that trusts each other

It’s not that hard to do once you decide to do it

STEP 1. Know Yourself, Especially Your Fears. Know what triggers you. Know what scares you. See how that influences the decisions that you make, the things that you say to other people without thinking, the control that you insist on keeping.

STEP 2. Be Vulnerable. Be transparent about your fears. Not all of the time. But when they get in the driver’s seat and mess things up, it’s ok to say to your peers, “Hey. This could have been smoother. I was driven by X. Next time I might try Y.” Be honest with your team in a way that invites them to be honest with you and with each other.

STEP 3. To Change Habits, Use the Pause Button. Recognize patterns of behavior that show other people that you don’t trust them. Then commit to changing those patterns. You don’t have to know what the new pattern will be right away. You just have to teach yourself to press the pause button. Instead of reacting when you are triggered, press pause. Give yourself time to think about the best way forward. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you will eff it up sometimes. You’re human. The important part is that you recommit and that you keep trying.

STEP 4. See and Hear the People Around You. Know what their priorities are. Know what fears they have. Don’t assume that you know them or can read them without really talking to them. And don’t assume that you know them through gossip. (Btw — don’t engage in gossip. Shut that sh*t down)

To get to know people’s priorities and fears, you might ask, “What’s on your mind?” and follow that with, “And What Else?” These questions* help people dig deep and they help people feel seen and heard.

STEP 5. Value Your Team’s Diversity. Acknowledge Tension. You have a diverse team because you value multiple points of view. But the cost of that diversity is that it sometimes creates tension. Don’t avoid the tension. Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. Lean into it. It may very well be a sign that your team is about to make a breakthrough or solve an important problem.

STEP 6. Don’t Rush to Solutions. Each problem has multiple solutions. Before you make a decision, articulate the problem you are trying to solve, and if you have a solution in mind, share it along with the rationale behind it. From there your team has the information they need to offer you alternative solutions. Spending a little time in this process creates buy-in, gains trust, helps people be seen, makes them feel included. It seems like a lot of work, but taking the time to build trust is worth it. A trusting team works better than a team that is distracted by fear.

STEP 7. Give Feedback. As a rule, criticism in private, praise in public. When you give criticism, be sure to share your rationale and your high-level thinking. This will make the criticism less personal and more inclusive. As for giving praise, be sure that it’s more than, ”Great job!” Let people know that you see their process and that process is something you value. “I like how you did X. I can tell you really thought about Y,” is useful and meaningful feedback.

A trusting team is free to redirect the energy that they used to spend on protecting themselves to helping make your organization great. Because they believe in it. Because they have buy-in. Because they feel seen and heard and trusted.

Aligning Different Points-of-View to Make Positive Change

The complex problems that we face are complex because they require buy-in from multiple stakeholders. Take STEM Education. There is a lot of experimentation in this area. But if true reform is to scale, there needs to be buy-in from multiple stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, school administrators, policymakers, and sometimes even business owners. Each stakeholder in this list has their own motivation and worldview when they are addressing reform. So how do we navigate this kind of complexity? I have a few ideas.

The first thing we want to do is acknowledge the different points of view sitting at the table. So often we gloss over this and pretend it’s not going to present problems. But of course, it does. Any good listener at a committee meeting can hear the motivations behind what each person is saying out loud. And any good listener can see that when these motivations aren’t aligned, those mismatches manifest in clouded decision making. So it’s beneficial to acknowledge diversity.

The second thing we want to do is acknowledge people’s emotions. Our points-of-view aren’t only rational. Our points-of-view are tied deeply to our identity and hold space in our hearts. Emotion in decision making isn’t a bad thing. Unless we ignore it. If we ignore the influence of emotion, then that too manifests in confused decision making. So acknowledge emotion.

Once we have acknowledged the perspectives and emotions in the room, we are ready to frame the issue in a generous way, in a way that accommodates and encourages the diverse perspectives in the room. In an interview with UC Berkeley Professor George Lakoff, he asks us to reframe how we talk about taxes. If we frame tax issues as “tax relief” then the outcome of using this language is that people think taxes are bad and a form of punishment. But if we talk and think about taxes as our dues, as what we pay to enjoy the things that we enjoy in this country: highways, schools, bridges, etc, then we might see paying taxes as an act of patriotism. Yes, they are still hard to pay. But that’s what we do in order to live a good life. We make sacrifices. This is a generous way to think about taxes.

Once we have framed the issue we are working on in a generous way, the group of stakeholders with multiple perspectives are free to generate a bounty of potential solutions to explore. Why do we want to generate a number of potential solutions and not just one or two? Because each time we increase the number of potential solutions, we increase the chances of finding the right one or the right combination of a handful of solutions. If we revisit STEM Education as an example, a diverse group is likely to come up with curriculum ideas that are all over the map. This can feel terrifying for the teachers in the room because they know that they are on the line to implement the ideas that are decided on. To help those teachers relax, we can assure them that this is just brainstorm and that analytical decision-making will be coming in the next step.

However, the decision-making shouldn’t be framed as,”Which choices are right and which are wrong?” We should strive beyond either/or thinking to integrate the best ideas. Roger Martin, the former Dean of Rotman School of Management wrote a book about how the best leaders get alignment from multiple stakeholders. The book is called The Opposable Mind and in it, he claims that when great leaders are faced with choices that seem to be in opposition of each other, those leaders use integrative thinking to find a third way. With our STEM Education example, STEM Educators might proclaim that coding is the most important thing for a student to learn. While a parent might declare that teamwork is the most important thing that students can learn. And then a local business owner who has agreed to take on some students for a summer internship might believe that product management is the most important skill for students to learn. Integrative Thinking allows us to see that those three learning objectives don’t have to be in opposition. They can be integrated. A talented educator can craft lessons in which students learn to code while working in a team using a proven product management process.

Aligning these different points-of-view by acknowledging diversity, framing the problem in a generous way, brainstorming on multiple paths forward, and using integrative thinking to find the best solution is how we bring folks together to solve complex problems and make positive change.

Let’s do this.

note: This post was originally shared on Medium as a response to a prompt in Seth Godin’s altMBA program

Marketing Myopia

90% of new products fail. They fail because the team that designed the product paid more attention to their product and features and their own motivations than they did to their customers’ problems and worldview.

Take for instance that little voice-activated robot in my kitchen (Amazon Alexa). It’s crystal clear to me that the Alexa product team is much more focused on making shopping on Amazon easy for me than they are with my actual needs in the kitchen. It’s early days so I’m somewhat forgiving, but in the moment when I really need a reminder of how to make miso dressing, I get pissed off. Each time I have to put down my knife, wash and dry my hands, and walk over to my phone or laptop to get a recipe using my wet fingers, I just cringe. Alexa, why do you hate me?

 

To inspire people to move forward, we have to meet them where they are

I’m a futurist. I write and think a lot about the evolving relationship between people and technology. In all of my work, I try to engage people in a discussion about this. Whether I’m teaching an intro class to undergrads or sitting on a board for k-12 or coaching early stage startups or facilitating workshops with STEM Women.

In this work, I meet two kinds of people: people who are already engaged in deep thought and conversations about the relationship between people & technology and people who aren’t….yet.

It is my goal to encourage more people to engage in these conversations. Why? Because technology is a force. It scales really well. And active citizens are positioned to shape what it’s scaling in a way that passive citizens are not. So we need to be active and not let the future be shaped by an elite few.

As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff proclaims in one of his book titles, we must program or be programmed. Just look at the average person’s use of facebook and the confusion around the companies’ ethics violations to see how passive engagement with technology plays out. We end up getting tricked into blindly working for facebook, generating content for free that they then turn around and capitalize on.

So how do you encourage passive users of technology to become more active? The answer is surprising — you need to be empathic and you need to be vulnerable. It’s not enough to plop a gee whiz technology kit in front of an inactive user and say, “Just explore — be part of the future!” No, you really need to stand in that person’s shoes and understand why they have a passive relationship with technology but even further than that, why they think you are wrong to be promoting an active one. Empathy and vulnerability.

Most of us were brought up in an environment that taught us to not challenge authority and to let an expert few invent, manufacture, and disseminate new technologies. And while we feel comfortable expressing little acts of rebellion here and there — a tattoo, eating weird food, whatever — we are hesitant to stand up and be an active change agent. Managing our own lives is hard enough and there are so many distractions.

Please don’t tell me that on top of all that, I have to be a hacker to be a responsible citizen of the world. Because that stresses me out. But if you can show me how to be a change agent in a way that acknowledges and helps me push through fear and stress and anxiety, well then, I’m all ears.