You may have noticed that when it comes to talking about achievements in the workplace, women tend to say “we” instead of “me”.
There’s a lot of science as to how women and men differ physiologically and psychologically – and I’m certainly not a qualified professional to comment on that.
But one thing I do understand is women. Specifically, what goes on in our wonderful but complex heads.
Since leaving my corporate desk job (where I climbed the corporate ladder from a young age) I’ve started three businesses, each one targeting and focusing specifically on a female audience. From fashion styling to coaching women entrepreneurs, each of my businesses has taught me a great deal about women.
The most relevant observation I’ve made from my line of work is this (prepare yourself for a huge generalisation that I hope we can at least all casually agree on) – women love to “think” about stuff.
You’ve probably experienced this yourself. How many times have you wanted to do “that thing” or “that dream” and you’ve sat around talking about it more than you have done anything about it?
This explains why when caught unawares with feedback or comments that we weren’t expecting, we sometimes don’t immediately respond. Or if we do, we kick ourselves later because we fumbled our way through a response that didn’t succinctly communicate our thoughts because we just didn’t get a chance to “properly think about what to say”.
We usually also want to be sure we’ve got our facts straight – and sometimes that means a few minutes of processing time, or even wishing that we could check back with our team first. Many men, on the other hand, seem to be able to respond instantly about any situation and almost without hesitation.
We are also by nature, caring, nurturing and inclusive creatures. We love the idea of family and bonding and it’s this that makes us particularly focused on “the team”.
Now this doesn’t mean that men aren’t team focused. Far from it. We just tend to have different ways of expressing that compared to our male counter parts.
For a male, being part of a team is usually associated with camaraderie. Slapping each other’s back. Cracking some joke that you all “get”. Think footy teams and you get my drift.
When it comes to teams, women often want to make sure everyone is comfortable, happy and that no one is left behind. Which goes a long way in explaining why generally, men say “me” and women say “we”.
Now most of you probably had an inkling that this was the case.
The more important question is, what can you do about it?
This is the tricky bit.
We often want to get more assertive in the workplace but we don’t want to be known as “that” female colleague. The ball-breaker. The one who plays like one of the guys. Worse still – the one the other women feel they can’t trust or get on with.
I was no perfect employee. But one thing I was good at was getting my point across while retaining my position, authority and also my sense of “team”.
And there’ve been two things that have always helped me.
The first is to anticipate.
Let’s face it – we’ve all had those meetings where we were dealt with a comment, statement or question that was so out of the blue (or horrifyingly incorrect) that we’ve just sat there shell shocked, mumbling something about “team” while a male colleague sat there talking about “his” achievements.
There will always be certain personalities in the workplace (male and female). When you know you’re working with a difficulty one, try to anticipate it and be prepared.
Talk to your team before your meetings. Get the low-down on where they’re at with their projects and get them to flag any potential issues.
Arm yourself with all your facts before the event, and you won’t be left scrambling trying to unsuccessfully defend your team because you want to give them the benefit of the doubt and speak to them first.
The second is to embrace the differences.
I recognised the moments where I had totally clammed up or not given myself the recognition I deserved.
So I’d take myself to my colleague (or even boss in some cases) and in true womanly style, I’d “talk through it”.
But this was rarely a talk to discuss my “feelings” or emotions. It was a chance to get really honest. I’d tell them that I had felt a need to first check in with my team before responding.
Or I’d completely fess up and say “I said ‘we’ because Janice in accounts needs to be recognised for XYZ – but I also want you to know where I’m personally at with this project”.
It’s important to recognise why we said “we” (or whatever thing we did) and bring the conversation back to the (original) point.
The key was that these follow-up conversations were always very factual and non-confrontational. It was me simply saying, “Yep, I had a moment. Here’s the point I want you to know and hear instead.”
Men say “me” and women say “we” quite often.
And it’s absolutely OK. Because that’s who we are, as long as we know how to adjust for that in the workplace.