All our experiences as kids will run from our senses to our brains which will do all the interpreting and shape our behavior as grownups. In her book “The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking and Sounding Your Best”,
Louann Brizendine, describes the experience of a little girl, and how her mother gave her unisex toys, one of them was a truck, where the mother later found her daughter has tucked the truck under a blanket and was telling her “Don’t worry, little truckie, everything will be all right.”.
On the other hand Nawwal Al-Saadawi, in her book “Studies on Man and Woman in the Arab world” states “Whereas boys are allowed to go outside and play in the street and socialize with their friends, girls are isolated at home with the excuse of protecting her from the outside world, a girl starts fearing strangers, and feels that she could be a prey at any time, so she secludes inside the house where safety is presumed to be, but she does not realize that this safety is the danger because it isolates her from society and cuts her roots from life day after day, and her experiences die while she is still alive”.
I present two experiences; one western and the other Middle Eastern, my aim is not to privilege one over the another but rather to explain the complexities young girls go through in two different contexts, we can see in the first example, when the mother gave a truck to her daughter, the daughter resorted to treat the truck as a child that needs nurturing, in the her book Brizendine goes on to explain how boys and girls have different brains, although we didn’t get to see how this girl will grow up to be, however, this is to emphasize the idea that the female brain differs from that of a man and how it will grow to interpret things. Saadawi also asserts how young girl’s personalities are shaped from a young age.
In these two different contexts, young girls grow up to be the kind of women they are today, and the experiences they received at a young age will affect them years to come, unless if they do something about it. So I want to talk about how to overcome some of these obstacles through our use of language when you are a grown-up woman who has to deal with people at work every day.
Using the Language of Success” by Phyllis Mindell, she describes how our language skills convey messages about ourselves and our capabilities every time we interact with colleagues, put a pen to paper, or stand before an audience, and how weak language lessens the impact of our words, this language was formed at a very young age.
The early experiences I described earlier in this article definitely at play on how young girls grow up to be the kind of women they are, but that does not mean if you were brought up in an un-empowering environment you can’t learn to toughen-up when you are older, it requires a little bit of training. Language is our way to express and define ourselves, so if we learn some techniques to foster our leadership whether in the workplace or life we can achieve many things. But,
How can you transform your language?
Mindell tries to answer this question in her book, she suggests, since we normally try to emulate role models such as our mothers or a favorite teacher, we must according to Mindell “copy the language of women and men that succeed”, she continues to offer examples of people to emulate like Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bader Ginseburg, and Carla Hills, after reading this list of women, I asked myself who are the women who stand as role models in our Arab world? in order to answer this question I turned to social media where I am part of many online groups that include Arab women from all around the world, and asked the question “Whom Do You Consider Your Role Model?” I received many answers, some women saw other women whom they worked with as a source of aspiration, some of them were activist, lawyers, or educators, and I received this video interviewing some Arab women, titled Women Pioneers, another documentary about Hafai Albasheer, titled ‘A Woman’s Struggle’, Albasheer is a Palestinian educator who is a proponent of the advancement of women and the nursing field in Jordan (a trained nurse herself). Nadine Labaki, a director and a writer, is another woman who can be seen as a contributor in forming an image about our Arab culture, at a time we are in the most need to do so.
Many women may resort to various techniques in order to be heard in the workplace, this could be shouting down, repetition or talking fast in order not to be interrupted, there are many weak language methods women use when communicating with others that undermine their messages, these words can be something like “I think” and “I feel” in these cases women need to learn how to focus their language on the issues and business at hand rather than on feelings. Here is a list of other words and phrases women often say that undermine their authority “You Shouldn’t do that/ Really/ Well/ In my opinion/ The way I see it”, Mindell explains the reason why women shouldn’t use these words is because you will sound as if you are doubting your own words and they lengthen your sentences unnecessarily, here is another example she offers:
Uncertain Phrases: I’d like to get the promotion, sort of…
Confident Phrases: Please consider my promotion.
Women in Power and Giving Directives
Women managers might face this problem, they give their directions to their colleagues, and they are ignored, how to deal with this? researchers found there is a direct and indirect way of giving directives, here is an example:
Direct: Please complete the job by noon.
Indirect: A way must be found to complete that job on time.
Researchers found, either way, might work so you have to try them and see which one gets you the results you need. The indirect method might be a good way to communicate with people who are at a senior level who don’t like to be undermined. However, I remember a relative of mine who got a job offer and moved to Dubai, although she had the title of a manager I remember her telling me she used to be ignored until she toughened up and removed all the polite expressions when she spoke to her team, and it worked.
Another mistake women might do is building others confidence on the expense of their own credibility by saying things like “I don’t know as much as you do, so..”, or apologizing too often. Another aspect women at work should take care of is to understand the politics of how to write memos and reports, in an article by Harvard Business Review titled “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk”, the article does not show where to put a hyphen or the exact use of words, it rather presents the corporate politics a woman might face and how to be prepared for them when presenting her case to management. What the article suggests is that if you, for example, want to send a memo to your manager highlighting a misconduct happening against women in your department showing how it is taking place in a systematic way, you might want to talk to your female colleagues first, and ask them bluntly if they are willing to back you up and speak in public to support what you are saying, this way you won’t end up being labeled as an accuser without a real claim. So that if you thought if you don’t speak up you might want to leave the company you will end up leaving anyway. So strategically design your move, your manager might not want to listen to such an issue because it will require him to act on and it will show that there is a problem in his department.
The examples might go on and on, in this article I tried to give examples as much as possible on how to communicate and start establishing yourself as a reliable and accomplished woman.