Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I want to live on Mars

The other night I attended a public forum on Women in Leadership. It was sponsored by Augsburg College, where I earned my MBA. The two speakers were both from the Rochester community here. The first speaker was Jane Belau, an amazing woman in our community who has been in leadership positions from private business, to community, state, and national leadership positions. The other speaker, Shirley Weis, is the Chief Administrative Officer where I work, Mayo Clinic.

Overall, the evening was engaging and thought-provoking. I truly enjoyed listening to these two women and sharing in their experiences and wisdom. But [and there's always a "but" with me, isn't there?], something has been sticking with me and it's really bothering me. Shirley was talking about how she is the first woman to hold the position she now holds, and indeed I think she's the first to break into that upper echelon (C-level) of administrative management here. She talked about the differences in communication styles between men and women and referenced the book Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus which makes an attempt to explain our gender differences.

Then she turned to a small group of men in the audience and addressed them, bringing up men's style and how men can challenge each other, be spirited, disagree, discuss issues, etc. And then she said "How many of you go home at night after a meeting or interaction that can be charged and think to yourself - 'Oh, I hope Tom isn't mad at me for disagreeing with him' or 'I hope I didn't hurt John's feelings' - etc, etc...

Everyone laughed...everyone. Everyone understood implicitly and intuitively exactly what she was getting at: How silly that was! Silly! Men don't worry about that stuff! Silly. Men aren't concerned with others' feelings in that way - especially if they know they've acted respectfully through their dissent. Silly!

So, here's what stunned me. If we all understand this and know it to be true intuitively...why, oh why do we as women continue? Why can't we have those kinds of exchanges in our work lives?

I don't quite know the answer, but I can relay an uncomfortable experience I had in my job recently that highlights exactly what she was talking about. For whatever reason, I already tend towards the Mars Communication Method! I've always been a straightforward talker...I speak my mind...I will object when I believe it's called for. I will advocate for my team, I will challenge someone when I think their conclusions are faulty.

My spirituality and ethical substance have always guided me to do these things with the utmost respect possible. I always attempt to take great care to be respectful to people when I am disagreeing with them. I know I'm not always successful, especially in my personal life where it's easier to get sloppy, but in my professional life I think I have been pretty good at it. So, recently I was in a situation that called for me to challenge someone's preceptions. I believed, and still believe, that this person was making statements and decisions based on faulty logic and misperceptions of fact. The decision I was asking her to make, and indeed other dowline decisions, would be impacted. I needed to make my case. I did so in a manner that I thought was respectful. Oh, did I mention this person is senior to me in our organization? Did I also mention that she's a she?

To make a very long story short, the next day she basically scolded me like a mother would do, reading me a prepared list of statements, most of which revolved around the fact that she doesn't like to be challenged. She said she felt "attacked" - and that I had made her uncomfortable. I left the meeting feeling pretty low - as if I am now in a position to never disagree with her again for fear of making her feel attacked. Frankly, I think this is her issue. I have reviewed the exchange over and over in my mind and I don't know why she felt attacked other than I was disagreeing with her.

But, she did...and now I want to live on MARS!


Iguana Banana said...

I HATE that feeling. Why should it be our responsibility to take care of how others REACT to what we say? That's impossible. We spend so much energy and concern trying to predict how someone may or may not react.
The one thing that I firmly believe is this: The only thing that I truly have any control over in this world is how I react. It's my choice. Mine. Alone.
I am sorry to hear about your "superior's" example of leading with emotion rather than fact. If we try to lead by example and use the facts, we will avoid this ... nutty reaction of "feeling attacked."
Never change who you are. You are very respectful, and insightful, and compassionate, and probably right most of the time :-)
If we spend all of our time worrying how someone else will react to what we say, we'll never say anything! I think that this is your co-worker's issue. Not yours.
Unfortunately, it sounds like she can make it your issue. Stick to the facts, don't wallow in the emotional game that she'd like to play with you and you'll come out on top!

Bill said...

Yo Bro! Welcome!

If you want I'll share some stuff on that place you used to be. Make you feel glad not sad. I'm ready to move on myself. If I quote anything over 3 hours then they don't need it. And you know, I'm not really worried about how they will feel about it....

Miss ya. Marvin the Martian