Tag Archive for Workplace

Career Comparisons, the Road to Discontent

“Frequent social comparisons may, in the short-term, provide reassurance.  But in the long-term they may reinforce a need to judge the self against external standards.”  Judith White, Ph.D.

It starts early, the comparison trap.  You are on top one minute and are on the bottom the next.  You are the shortest kid in your class; the tallest; the kid struggling most with math; the player who hasn’t made a basket in any game, on and on and on!  Teenage years come and you KNOW what kind of judgment we place on ourselves.  Fast forward to the world of work and it continues to ramp up.  The fastest route to career discontent is the game of comparison.  This tendency to compare ourselves to others is called social comparison, and it is a natural way for us to evaluate how we are doing.  Unfortunately, it can be quite destructive, make you feel dissatisfied and maybe even sabotage your career!

I currently have a client who is struggling with this issue, and it has almost derailed her career.  We are going to call her Marti.  Marti came to me for career rehabbing because her sister saw the self-sabotaging path she was taking.  She was consistently complaining to her boss that she hadn’t received a raise, a promotion or a conference speaking opportunity like a colleague had.  Her boss was getting a negative impression of her.  Now don’t misunderstand me, I consistently prod clients to advocate those very things.  However, Marti did not have the evidence needed to self-advocate for any of those.  All Marti could see was she was BEHIND her work friend.  As we began to explore, I was to learn the colleague had been at the company longer, with stellar performance reviews, she had far more experience in the industry, and she consistently worked 60 hours a week!

The first insight Marti had was she has a family history of intense comparisons.  Her parents had consistently compared Marti to her siblings:  academically, socially, and physically.  She began to realize how automatic this response was for her.  Together we began the process of self-career definition, evaluation, and development.

If you are a coaching client of mine, have attended a keynote I have presented, have participated in a training of mine, or just read my articles, you have likely heard me use the phrase, “This is your game, and you get to play it any way you like!”  Not only in your career, but the game of life is more satisfying playing by your rules.  The first step for Marti was to remember a couple of important rules of HER game. 

  1.  She had taken a year off between high school and college.  As a result, in comparison to her friend, she would always be somewhat behind time wise.  This was set in stone, there was nothing Marti could do about this.  It had been the smart thing for her to do, as she just wasn’t ready socially or academically for college.
  2. It had taken her six years to graduate because of changing her major twice and she had worked full-time to afford her schooling.  Once again, in comparison to her friend, she was behind.  Marti was quick to affirm her final choice of a major was what was right for her.  Plus, working was necessary to augment her financial package.  She said the skills she learned while working were essential to the success of her college career. 
  3. Marti acknowledged she had health issues that made extremely long hours not wise for her.  She also commented that her buddy was having health problems because of the struggle for work/life balance.

What about you?  Have you slipped into the comparison game and come up short?  Are you feeling very dissatisfied with your career as a result?  Are you making a position that you could possibly love a miserable one because you are playing by some else’s rules?  You are unique, you and only you can determine how a successful career is defined.  Using standard rules of the game will likely result in a sub-standard career!

Are you perplexed by both how you got to this career dilemma and even more perplexed as to how you are going to get out?  Don’t resign yourself to being in a career that is not satisfying.  Remember, we work an average of 55,000 hours in the average career, that’s a great deal of misery if you are in comparison mode.  Time for a chat?  High-Heeled Success offers 45-minute complimentary telephone consulting, email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call (513) 561-4288 to set a time to see how you can get out of the comparison game and into loving your career.

Understanding Attribution Theory for Success

It is critical that you see your thumbprint on your success.  Without owning and internalizing your successes, it’s challenging to raise your self-esteem, feel confident, believe you are worthy of higher pay, promotions, respect, great opportunities, etc.  There is an entire field of study around what you attribute your successes and failures to at work and in life.  Drumroll, please, we are talking about Attribution Theory.  Research has found that gender strongly impacts the way in which we explain our successes and failures.  Many studies have found that men tend to blame external forces for their failures and women assume the failure lies within them.  Men may say they were terminated because of the economy, a non-appreciative boss, or office politics.  Women are more prone to say it’s because they were not smart enough, skilled enough, or savvy enough.  Just NOT ENOUGH!  An interesting study was conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina. Program participants were asked to respond to the statement, “Tell me about a time you tried something and failed.”  All the women responded in detail, but half of the men said they could not come up with a single example.

What about successes?  Gender plays a role here, as well.  Often men own their successes, their result is great because they are smart, skilled, and savvy. Women frequently will attribute the success to luck, help, or hard work.  Hard work is a slippery slope. On the surface hard work would seem like a positive attribute but compare it to being smart, skilled, or savvy and you will see the difference.  I currently have a client who is a perfect example of not seeing her thumbprint on her success.  Let’s call her Lindsey.  Lindsey works for a large Fortune 500 corporation.  She has been performing the role of the leader in her department, without any perks.  She had not received a raise, the title of the leader, or any authority.  Together we have been positioning her successes to increase her credibility, increase her visibility, and increase her clout.  She emailed recently, she was overjoyed to report that she had landed the raise, the title, and the accompanying authority.  When I congratulated her, her response was, “It’s all thanks to my boss, he advocated for me.”  Where is her thumbprint?  Yes, he did advocate for her but without her skills, leadership, and smarts he would have had nothing to “sell” about Lindsey.

If you wonder, how did we end up in this success/failure gender discrepancy?  One origin can be found in our education system.  Groundbreaking work by Dr. Myra Sadker and Dr. David Sadker shows teachers often explain away boys’ poor performance by suggesting they were tired, distracted, or having a tough day, etc.  Rarely did the researchers find the teachers excused the behavior of girls in the same way. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the gender research done by this pair.  For an eye-opening read, get your hands on the book Failing at Fairness:  How Our Schools Cheat Girls.

Does all this mean we should never be appreciative of the efforts of our employees, team members, colleagues, bosses, sponsors, mentors, or coaches?  Of course not, but we certainly deserve at least equal ownership of having our thumbprint on successes. The belief that we have efficacy, that ability to produce a desired or intended result, gives us confidence in creating outcomes in the world. Outcomes not just once, but over and over.

Don’t stop reading here.  Kay’s Corner will give you a step-by-step plan for impacting the negative effects of gender-skewed Attribution Theory. 

To what you attribute your successes and failures can make and break your career.  These tendencies are deeply rooted and if you fear changing this may be daunting, perhaps guidance in this area would be impactful for you.  Let’s do a complementary 45-minute phone consultation and determine if coaching could change the tide for you!  Email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call the office at (513) 561-4288 to set up a complementary 45-minute consultation.

Using Reflection for Career Success

Women need real moments of solitude and self-reflection to balance out how much of ourselves we give away.” Author Barbara De Angelis.

You may find that you are always the last on your list and you consistently have far too much to do!  You need to create a presentation for the board on Tuesday; your son has a basketball game tonight you want to attend; you realized this morning you are down to your last pair of panties; and your parents are coming for dinner Tuesday night AND it is only Monday morning.  Now you are telling me, Kay, I need to pause to self-reflect!  What kind of world are you living in?  The world where you take care of your needs and your career.

Reflection is an impactful tool for your professional growth.  Without self-reflection you are on career auto pilot.  Being on auto pilot is a sure-fire path to hating your job; not using your strengths and experiencing burnout.  Reflecting can help you learn what changes you want to make in your career in an intentional way, instead of just cruising along.  Besides being busy, why don’t you ever get around to career reflection?  I would propose to you that often it is because you are scared to death, scared of what you might hear!  If you get quiet, you may have thoughts and feeling come to the surface.  Pushing thoughts and feelings down are often our way of coping, just putting one foot in front of another.  If you got quiet, you might hear:

  • I have really made a ton of mistakes lately
  • I was a jerk today with Tony
  • I have not had a raise in six years
  • My boss dumps work on me and always get the credit
  • I am not moving up in this organization
  • There is not another position here I aspire to
  • I have been here too long


  • I have never felt more respected in my career
  • My talents and strengths are being used every day
  • My manager really cares about my professional growth
  • I love my team
  • I see a clear path for promotion here
  • My employees are the best
  • Every project I work on is creating growth

Who knows what you might hear!  Indeed, the #1 job site in the world, proposes the following as possible benefits of quiet self-reflection:

  • Reducing negative thoughts
  • Increasing understanding of yourself and your coworkers
  • Emphasizing your strengths and improving your weaknesses
  • Clarifying your intentions for your time and talents
  • Defining professional goals and being strategic with opportunities for growth
  • Developing creative thinking skills
  • Encouraging engagement in work processes
  • Building confidence

I am not proposing you just get quiet and hope a lightening bolt of new awareness hits you.  Instead getting skilled at asking yourself great questions is the key.  Open-ended questions starting with the words: what, how, when, why, who, which, etc. will get you reflecting. Included below are some great questions to get you started.

  • What steps do I need to take now to advance in my career?
  • What professional changes do I want to see in my future?
  • Which of my work relationships need improvement?  What steps do I need to take to make them better?
  • What achievements am I most proud of this year?
  • How can I better reach my goals this year?
  • When will I take the first step to get those goals moving?
  • Who is the key person for me to get in my corner now?
  • How would I feel if every day were like today?

It’s time to move from auto pilot to planned, intentional, strategic career enjoyment.  You certainly deserve to have the career that fulfills you, uses your skills and talents, and makes an impact.  Self-reflection is a powerful tool in digging up the answers you need for your professional journey. 

If this self-reflection journey feels horribly daunting, you are not alone.  Many of my clients initially didn’t know the questions to ask or how to implement the answers when they did get answers, that’s where I come in.  My career maximizing coaching is based on asking the right questions at the right time to right you on your right course.  Unsure if this would make a difference?  Let’s find out by doing a complementary 45-minute phone consultation to see if coaching could maximize your career.  Email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call 513-561-4288 to get the ball rolling.   

Self-Discipline for Success

Discipline is the ability to make yourself do something you don’t want to do, in order to get a result that you really want to get.

Andy Andrews

Even as I write this, I can feel the urge to postpone it until later. When I think about self-discipline, I must smile. My journey to self-discipline has been lifelong. I grew up in a family where there were no expectations of me. I didn’t have to do anything, not make my bed, not wash the dishes, not take out the trash. Not a particularly good environment for learning self-discipline. I developed no self-discipline muscle. My discipline and work ethic were strongly influenced by the role model set by my husband, who has an incredible work ethic and self-discipline. It has been a lifelong challenge to develop and maintain self-discipline. My definition of self-discipline is doing what is necessary when you don’t want to or when you don’t feel motivated. In fact, if you wait to feel motivated the action may never come!

When I became an entrepreneur and started my business, it was essential that I develop self-discipline, as I no longer had a boss. There was no one to monitor what I did. The only demands were the ever-present deadlines for sending proposals, creating programs, and presentations. Self-discipline is critical for every aspect of one’s life! Self-discipline is necessary to succeed in your career, to eat healthy, to exercise consistently, to keep organized, to be a responsible parent (human and pet) etc.

I worry about children raised today, especially those with helicopter parents. When a child has all their actions monitored, they never learn to create their own self-discipline. If mom and dad are responsible for you sitting down and doing your homework, what’s going to happen when you go off to college? Flunking out of school is a difficult result of no self-discipline, one that has ramifications far into the future.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the “carrot” when it comes to developing self-discipline because it’s darn hard! Here are some “carrots”:

  • People who have strong self-discipline are people that reach their goals. It’s so much easier to stay focused on your goals when you are performing the actions necessary. There is no doubt that when you reach your goals it can make you a happier person. One goal reached, leads to multiple goals reached. Discipline is the antidote to procrastination.  I’m not saying there will not be setbacks and failures but when you have stayed the course that gives you time to shift when necessary. 
  • People with self-discipline consistently have higher self-esteem. When you do what you say you’re going to do, you are likely to be proud of yourself. When you see yourself as a person who has good habits and character, the result is a stronger sense of self. When I do my Fast Five (five-minute review of the day), and my discipline has been in gear, I hear myself saying aloud “Way to go!”  This pops up for my clients, too.  They are eager to share that they have been on task and succeeded.  They love hearing me exclaim, “Way to go” for them.  It’s fantastic to celebrate these wins with them.  When someone else knows how challenging your successes have been, it makes it even sweeter to celebrate together!
  • You will find your energy level soaring as you develop more self-discipline. It is incredibly energy sapping to constantly be thinking about what needs to be done and not do it. Often you put more energy into the worry and concern about it than it would take to just get it done. When you do what is in your plan, it can free you for time for yourself and that’s a great payoff. If I am not doing what I know I need to, I hear the loop in my head all day long admonishing myself to do it that’s exhausting.
  • Finally, life looks better on the other side. Small sacrifices now lead to better outcomes in the future. I think about everyone I know who has ever authored a book. Sitting down at their keyboard chapter by chapter has ultimately created a book. That book is a fantastic ticket to credibility and Guru status in your industry. Plus, it can be a huge revenue generator. Having written four books, I assure you it has taken tremendous self-discipline for me and everyone else I know.  This applies to all your career goals. For example, with clients who are looking for that next great position, it means redoing their resume. Discipline allows for the time to reformat, tweak, and polish their resume. It’s unsettling to see a job posting and know your resume is not the best it could be.   

Wow, discipline has a ton of benefits, right? If there is such a huge payoff, why don’t you do it? Well, it’s just darn hard but if you want to start strengthening your self-discipline muscles, read Kay’s corner on how to get rolling on this important skill.

If you are painfully aware that self-discipline is a roadblock in your career success, don’t despair. It is possible to create this behavior no matter what stage of life you are in. If you would like assistance in creating the self-discipline you need, email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call (513) 561-4288 and we can set up a complementary 45-minute phone conversation to see if my coaching could be valuable for you.

Reaping the Benefits of Rewards

When you read the word “reward,” I am betting your mind immediately went to you rewarding employees, or rewards you might receive from your employer, or rewards you might give to a client for a referral. Did rewarding yourself jump into your brain? The perspective of rewarding yourself may be foreign to you. Maybe you grew up in a family that espoused making your bed, doing the dishes, or taking out the trash were chores you should either want to do or do because you were a member of the family.  Being rewarded for doing these things was not something your family valued. Regardless of the source, somehow you may have received the message that you do not deserve rewards, accomplishing the goal is all the reward you should need. In a utopian world, that might fly but you live in the real world in which changing habits and reaching goals can be tough! There exists a mountain of research for using rewards to reinforce positive behavior. You may long for kindergarten, where you a received a gold star for not eating paste! Rewards can be one of the most powerful gifts you give yourself and others. Today’s parents have used rewards with children very effectively and we can use them as a model for ourselves.  There are many parenting websites that focus on changing children’s behavior through rewards. The Verywell Family parenting site sums it up well:  https://www.verywellfamily.com/behaviors-that-respond-well-to-reward-systems-1094749. Adults can use the same concept. I have a client, who is a business owner, with some new sales goals for her business in 2022. The one major obstacle is getting to the paperwork she hates. That paperwork is necessary to keep the business running and to reaching those goals, but it is boring! She’s an extrovert who is excited and energized by others, being alone doing paperwork is drudgery. We have developed a reward system to get that necessary task done.

Every behavior you want to change, every new habit you want to develop, every goal that you seek can be reinforced by rewards. However, for this to work there may be beliefs you have to let go. You deserve to let go of the belief that to reward is juvenile and to reward is self-indulgent. Why fight what works? Here are components that are part of the system we have devised for her. She is not unique; I have created a similar type of system with many clients. Our first step was to identify what would feel like a reward to her. Then she identified that an hour of paperwork a day will be necessary. She plans to track that and at the end of the week she will assess how she has done. For each daily hour of paperwork, she will give herself a star. If she has five stars at the end of the week, she will go to T.J. Maxx and purchase an outfit; three stars and she’s off to purchase a desk accessory; one star earns her a new eyeliner.

Here are three components to remember when setting up a system like this:

  • The rewards must feel important to YOU! This is your plan, and you don’t have to justify it to anyone.
  • The rewards must be timely, the shorter the gap of time between the behavior and the reward the better.
  • The rewards must be consistent, skipping a reward will diminish the effect of the reinforcement.

This is something I do myself. I own a Michael Kors purse that was purchased as a reward. It is a constant reminder of reaching an important goal.

There are all sorts of challenges you have in the workplace. A toolbelt full of tools is an asset in overcoming those obstacles. Using rewards is one more tool at your disposal.

If you are facing many challenges in your career and not reaching your goals in the workplace, guidance is only a click or a phone call away.

Email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call (513) 561-4288 and we will set up a time for a complimentary 45-minute telephone consultation.

Obama vs. Sandburg: Embracing Both Perspectives

Following a recent interview with Michelle Obama regarding her new memoir, “Becoming,” there was a news cycle firestorm regarding her comments on the ‘Lean In’ movement that began when Sheryl Sandberg authored the book with the same title.

What struck me most about the controversy was the intense backlash surrounding who is right and who is wrong – Sheryl Sandberg or Michelle Obama.

Unfortunately, this is a reflection of the all or nothing thinking that typically permeates the human condition, yet is exacerbated by our polarization around every issue these days.  As politics becomes more polarized, we see the same intense approach to taking sides in every segment of our society.

Rather than thinking in terms of Either/Or, we need to move toward embracing the concept of Both/And.  For example, a very well known quote from Alcoholics Anonymous summarizes Both/And thinking beautifully:  Take what you need and leave the rest.”

Obama is recognizing the reality of the struggle.  Sometimes, it’s just not feasible to lean in.  There may be personal or family health issues, divorce or concerns with the kids – all are possible among the myriad of life crises that we endure.  On top of the additional stress these life issues manifest, it’s critical to reduce our own personal self-shaming during these periods.  It’s okay to say to yourself, “Right now, it’s just not realistic or feasible to be all-in for a promotion at work.”

Let me be clear, this does not mean that during the other times, when your personal life is chugging along smoothly, that we embrace some of the concepts that Sandburg addresses in her book, “Lean In.”  Once again, polarity causes us to think in terms of Either/Or, such as changes need to be made at a policy level OR we need to take personal responsibility and change our own actions.

“The most common way people give up their power is by believing they don’t have any.”

–Alice Walker

One of my favorite quotes by Alice Walker is very appropriate when talking about personal responsibility.  In other words, if we don’t assess our own behavior, possibly we have abdicated control of our own life.

The Lean In movement doesn’t promote that we can always have it all.  The reality is that we can’t have it all at the same time.  The myth of being a superwoman is not just unrealistic, it’s ridiculous.  Often, we can’t have it all; however, rather than shaming yourself, learn to recognize when now is not the time and don’t use bad timing as an excuse to tell yourself “I can’t.”

In other words, let’s figure out what you can do, when you can do it and have a plan.

Please give me a call at 513-561-4288 or connect with me via email at kay@highheeledsuccess.com, so we can empower you to achieve your goals.


Don’t Let Women’s Unique Vulnerabilities Get in Your Way

It’s February, the middle of winter…blah, blah, blah, am I right?!   While we’re plugging along at work and also juggling the many roles women have, we often struggle to take care of ourselves.  Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Month remind me that this is the most important time to be sure that we value and love ourselves first.  My mentor mantra for women is: Take care of yourself, so you can be the best version of yourself with your family and in the workplace.

Throughout my decades-long career of coaching women to achieve the next level of success, I have become very aware of the fact that women have their own unique vulnerabilities.  While we strive to achieve c-suite level careers and equal pay in both the corporate and non-profit sectors, along with increased opportunities to start our own businesses, we cannot ignore that women’s life stages and ever-changing roles are unique.

My High-Heeled Success® list of women’s unique vulnerabilities is below.  Please read the list and honestly assess which of these eight characterize you and don’t flip out if they all do.  That’s not uncommon.  Think of this as a self-assessment, and maybe pick one or two that you can work on right away.

Women’s Unique Vulnerabilities

  • Tendency to belittle and de-value themselves
  • Strong need for perfectionism
  • Allowing emotions and feelings to color their experiences
  • Doing more than one task at a time
  • Assuming much responsibility from role overload
  • Difficulty relinquishing control
  • Difficulty nurturing self
  • Taking stress everywhere they go

Now that you’ve taken time to focus on yourself, to assess yourself, you’ve taken a high-heeled step or a track shoe leap in the right direction.  The beautiful thing, the loving thing is to care for yourself this Valentine’s Day and every day.  When you take this time for yourself, hopefully doing for others – whether it’s volunteering at the local homeless shelter, helping a child with his or her class valentines, planning a night out or caring for parents or in-laws – will bring you more joy.  Without time for you, the caring can reap resentment.

As long as you acknowledge what our unique vulnerabilities are, note them and think about how you can manage them, you will be surprised by how the results will also impact your work-life balance and your career success.

If you are eager to make a greater impact in your career, it would be my honor to be part of that process with you.  Please give me a call at 513-561-4288 or connect with me via email at kay@highheeledsuccess.com, so we can empower you to achieve that goal.

©Copyright 2018.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Can You Hear Me Now? Are You Listening?

It’s important to be heard, so much so that we go to great lengths to do it; finding the right ‘spot’ for our cell phone connection, posting on social media, repeating ourselves, even yelling at times!  Companies use commercials, coupons, online ads and all sorts of media in order to be heard.  But, is anyone really listening?  Are you listening?

It’s no secret that our digital age attention spans have shortened right along with our patience.  What I don’t think most of us realize is that our listening skills have withered as well.  In fact, sometimes we can’t even remember ‘where’ we ‘heard it’.  How many of you have told someone a story, and finished with; “I think I read that on Facebook, or Google news, or maybe it was in the paper.  I’m not sure, but I heard it somewhere.”?

Likewise, with online digital consumption, are you really ‘listening’ to what you’re hearing (reading), or mindlessly partaking in a time-wasting habit?  We only have so many hours in a day, and frankly, so much time on this Earth.  Listening, and being really present when you do it, is very important for our own development, and the building of relationships with others, but more on that later.  Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of listening.

True listening entails many factors, but I believe at the heart of it is a combination of true desire and compassion.  I have a whole toolbox of techniques and skills to share with you about how to listen, but first you must desire to be a better listener.  You have to ask yourself if you really want to listen to your relative, neighbor, co-worker, family member, or if you’re just waiting to respond and talk.

Active listening begins with a blank slate.  If you truly desire to be a better listener, and receive the message or words someone is trying to communicate, you have to first let go of many things:

  • Your preconceived ideas
  • The urge to talk
  • Surrounding distractions
  • Your agenda
  • Time

After letting go of these barriers to truly listening, you begin to realize it’s like an art form, much of which centers around the eyes rather than the ears.  Intentional use of our eyes, our body language and our mouths, are the three physical components comprising an active listening mindset.  You can really improve your listening skills (and many relationships) by really hearing the person talking to you.

An active listening mindset includes effectively using:

Your eyes –

  • Give your undivided attention and focus.
  • Look the person in the eye.
  • Avoid looking at a clock.
  • Don’t fidget with something or doodle.

Your body language –

  • Use positive body language to affirm the listener; a nod of the head, a smile, an expression that matches their emotion.
  • Let the person ‘see’ you listening as if you’ll be tested or quizzed on the conversation.
  • Make mental notes (or physical) to which you want to respond
  • Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you listen.
  • Really think about your response before talking.
  • Keep your facial expressions in check.

Your mouth –

  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Refrain from asking about small details while someone is talking – save it for later.
  • Begin talking only when the person is done, or at a natural pause.
  • Resist the urge to ‘relate’ by sharing a similar story that is the same or ‘better’.
  • Allow the person to finish their own thought rather than completing their sentence.  You may be surprised at what they say versus what you anticipated to hear.
  • Respond with conversation that reinforces what you heard.
  • Don’t criticize or demean the person with negative feedback.

Active listening is challenging.  We all have a story to tell, and want to be heard. However, the payout is great on many levels.  On a basic level, you will truly receive and process what you hear, and benefit from it either professionally or personally.  The upside could make your job easier, or help you understand a friend better.

An often unanticipated benefit of true listening is the incredible validation you offer to the speaker.  Providing undivided attention; making a facial or emotional connection to their words; and speaking words that affirm what they said are all gifts to the listener.  Together, they build trust with the listener, create a positive foundation for new relationships and bolster existing ones.

Another positive product of active listening is self-growth.  The discipline it takes to actively listen will make you a stronger person, enable new learnings, and promote strong relationships and friendships.  Combined, these benefits contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle, both on the job and on your own.

I encourage you to choose one thing to let go of, and one thing to engage in your next conversation and discover what the benefits have to offer.  After you’ve tried it a few times, let me know how it went.  I promise, I’ll listen.

©Copyright 2016.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

How to Thrive and Advance in a Male-Dominated Workplace

From day one, male babies are dressed and swaddled in blue, females in pink.  Boys play with trucks and like to wrestle, girls play with dolls and learn proper manners.  Young men play to win on sports teams, young women do things in groups where everyone tries to get along.  Yes, there are exceptions to these generalities like girls who play sports, or young men who focus on academics or the arts.  Even in these scenarios, there are learned behaviors that carry through to adulthood and the workplace that shape the way males and females interact; and it can be confusing, because they are vastly different.

If you work in a male-dominated setting, you must understand the environment in order to thrive in it.  Similar to adapting to a new culture in a different country, or learning a new language, we have to understand the world around us before we can fully engage and participate.  This is not to say that after a year of living in France (for example), or learning their language, that we become French!  However; we would learn how to get along with and interact with the French better than if you held onto your American ways.  Similarly, if you work in a male-dominated company, and that is still the construct of most American workplaces, to learn the customs, manners and speech that goes with the culture will not only help you be a part of it, but even lead within it.  If your hard work is going unnoticed or unrewarded, if you are frustrated because your voice or ideas are not heard, or worse, if you find yourself complaining about your situation, it’s time to learn some strategies and get in the game.  It’s not about relinquishing yourself or your feminine side, rather, it’s about using what you have and what you know to successfully survive, strive and thrive.

It is important to remember that, just like the French were the first people in France, men and the male culture of the workplace have been in business for centuries. Globally.  It surprises me sometimes that women are miffed or incredulous that we haven’t changed this culture in the last 50 years, when the rules and behaviors of men in business date back to the days of barter and trade, and when you had to sometimes fight and even kill to survive.  Think about history.  Shifts in civilizations and cultures take centuries if not millenniums before change occurs.  If we are to succeed in a male-dominant culture (workplace), we need to shift our efforts from changing it, to improving our circumstance within it.  Indeed, the optimal outcome is that equality in the workplace prevails, but for now, we need to focus on this point in time and our place within the grand shift.   If we pursue success with this mindset, rather than the thought that we aren’t being granted a fair shake, we will get a lot farther a lot more quickly.  The three keys to success lie within adapting these styles to survive, strive and thrive within the world around you:

  • Communication
  • Behavior
  • Leadership

Communication Approach

Imagine you are in a business meeting in Paris.  Speaking in English will not get your point across (I know many are bilingual, but stay with the example).  Of course you are frustrated because English is all you know.  Similar to speaking to someone hard of hearing, perhaps you shout in English to get your point across.  This accomplishes not your goal, but instead succeeds in irritating those around you, and worse, their disdain or disregard for you.  In essence, you are a nuisance, even if you have a meaningful or even life-saving point to make.  You’ll never get your point across with this approach.  What do you do?  Learn French and try again.

At this point, I know you’re wondering ‘what is the language of men in business, the language that they hear, understand and respond to?’  Well, it’s not so much a language, as it is a communication style.  Whereas women are masters of rapport building, men want to get straight to the point.  Women are congenial conversationalists, men report and declare information and ideas.  Generally, women speak in turn, whereas research has shown that men interrupt and dominate the floor.  Tone and intonation matter also matter.  In your business communication, stick to facts, steer away from feelings.  Keep on topic, and by all means avoid drama at all costs.  You might be cringing at this point, thinking back to certain communications gone bad.  You can change and move forward.  It is possible.  Communicate as if you are on a mission, with a limited amount of time to accomplish a very important task, and that it’s imperative that everyone understand your vision.  Because, in fact, you are.  Your mission is that of staking your professional ground and advancement.

Communication – Survival Strategies:

  • Avoid chit chat and rapport building.
  • Get straight to the point and stick to it.
  • Declare your points versus posing them as questions or ideas for pondering.
  • Avoid your high-pitch voice, and drama.  Communicate with a strong even tone that exudes confidence.

Behavior Modification

Using France as an example again, the culture has a certain set of values and etiquette that apply in all situations.  To immerse into the culture, you must strive to understand your environment, and adapt in order to be a part of it.  It’s not about abandoning who you are, or changing your ways completely.  It’s about gaining knowledge of how things work in the world around you, making adjustments to become a part of it, and ultimately effectively contribute to its betterment.  The goal is to change how you are perceived and understood, so that you will assimilate into and be accepted into the culture.

In this case, adapting to your environment means being a team player, but according to the male definition of ‘team’.  From a young age, boys learn that to be a team player you must sacrifice for the good of the team, sometimes break the rules, and not take things personally.  You don’t necessarily like all the players on the team, but get along with them anyway because they allhave the same goal, which is to win with an organized strategy.  These learned behaviors are engrained and come into play again in the business world.  Conversely, from girlhood, females like to be friends with everyone on the team, make sure the outcome is best for everyone involved, and work to support the team by following the rules.  These concepts are at odds with each other.  If you find yourself in a male-dominant business team as a minority, it’s necessary to play by their accepted rules – whether or not you agree with or like them.

Following on the communication style differences, relationships men have with co-workers is quite different than those of women.  For starters, and in most cases, discussion of interpersonal topics are not for the office.  When someone (male or female) is friendly at a given point in time, it doesn’t mean they are your friend.  You can get along well in a meeting, or on a team, but understand that it doesn’t mean you now have a buddy, or that someone that has your back.  You have to have your own back.  Period.  Know your boundaries and act accordingly.  These rules are not true for every office, or every company, but if you’re reading this and experiencing an ‘ah ha’ moment, it is probably true for your office, and you are now aware of it.

Behavior – Strive Strategies

  • Get to know and understand the rules in your office.
  • Play by the rules, and understand you might lose a ‘friend’ in the process.
  • Get along with everyone, even if it hurts.
  • Fair is not always in the playbook.  Realize this, and accept it, but not to the point of compromising integrity.
  • Make frequent, meaningful contributions to the team, always with the end-goal in mind.

Leadership Style

There is no one or right way to lead, but there is a wrong way, which is trying to reach unanimous consensus among the team, or worse, sharing an idea and asking everyone’s opinion before making a move.  Some women try to apply their social rules of female relationships when in a leadership role; play nice, get along, everybody’s happy.  That’s doesn’t work in the office.  Not everyone is, nor can they be, on equal ground.  As a leader, it is inevitable that some decisions you make won’t be popular or liked by some members of your team.  How you react could be the linchpin in gaining the respect of your team.  If you have a high need to be liked by all, or want to assuage any and all dissonance within your team, it will be your downfall.  In sum, you will lose the respect of your team.

Many men, especially those who played team sports, inherently understand and operate this way by default.  They lead with their head.  Heart rarely plays a role at the office.  This is not to say that men are insensitive, it’s just that they are conditioned to compartmentalize emotions in the decision making process.  The higher up you go, or want to go, this type of strategic decision and action tends to get more intense.

Leadership – Thrive Strategies

  • Review the facts, formulate a strategy or decision, and be direct with your delivery.
  • Don’t agonize, assuage or apologize.
  • Stick to your guns. Backtracking is perceived as being weak or inconsistent.
  • Accept some dissension as normal and move on.  Eventually employees will too.
  • Understand that people want a leader to lead and coach.  Act accordingly.

These male-focused strategies of communication, behavior and leadership may seem cold and without regard to relationships.  Cultivation of relationships as a team player, or leader is a fundamentally important part of team building.  This observation may seem to fly in the face of the strategies I’ve outlined, but let me assure you, it does not.  Acting as the Lone Ranger won’t get you very far.  Workplace relationship cultivation has the goals and objectives of the business or organization are at the heart.  In a friendship outside of work, seeing a movie, shopping or chatting over coffee is appropriate.  At work, activities and behaviors that strengthen and further both the individual and the company are the core activities that cultivate relationships.  Examples include mentoring a younger employee, picking up a project for someone in dire need of help (not chronic need), showing up to all meetings (even the boring ones), or recognizing someone’s contributions or praising their work in front of a group.  These actions will gain the respect of your co-workers, set an example for others to follow, and in most cases, benefit you in some way.

Adapting your communication, behavior and leadership style, using the methods outlined within will help you survive, strive and thrive not only in a male-dominated culture, they will take you far in an all-female, or equally mixed environment as well.  I liken these methods to the environment one would expect in a higher-education classroom setting;

  • Direct, no nonsense, fact-driven, communication.
  • Appropriate, calm and participatory behavior.
  • Principle-based, direct and unwavering leadership

Has any of this advice struck a chord with you?  Did you find yourself identifying or struggling with some of these areas in your work life?  I’ve coached hundreds of women through challenging situations, freeing them of encumbered beliefs or behaviors, setting them on a path to success.  I can help you too.  Please contact me for an initial consultation to explore the possibilities of working together.

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Resolution Reframing

So, how’s your New Year’s resolution coming along?  If you didn’t cringe at that question, you among the elite 8% of the American population.  A 2013 college study found that 92% of people don’t follow through on their resolutions.*  These statistics should not be a surprise.  Throwing everything you’ve got at a new way of doing things once a year, and expecting results is a monumental task and hope.  Instead, I believe our resolutions should be a weekly event and check-in.

Our self-renewal must be a continual process; a work in progress. If we want to improve ourselves, it must be done in an ongoing, disciplined way, not in a ‘throw-everything-you’ve-got-at-it’ once a year event.  Consider the effort it takes to get an education, work through a project at your job, raise a family, or plan a trip.  It’s not a one-time event.  True, it starts with one decision, but continues with ongoing commitment and work.  So it is with ongoing renewal.  It’s for the long haul.

Instead, I encourage you to reframe the way you think about your life.  Reframing is a new way of looking at something with the goal of approaching it in a better way (see my thoughts on reframing conflict in Kay’s Consulting Corner in my November newsletter).  To reframe your life, I’d like to suggest putting it in buckets such as family, health, professional life and development, friendships, spiritual, daily responsibilities, and recreation.  This method is very similar to the Franklin Covey approach of organizing your priorities, with one additional step, which is formulating your personal mini mission statements.

By creating mini mission statements, you move from an idealist approach of hope, to an action-oriented reality of what you are really willing to do.  I would categorize most New Year’s resolutions in the ‘hopeful’ category, often made without a lot of forethought and a plan to move forward.  A well-written mini mission statement will naturally produce action-oriented goals and to-do lists for each of your buckets.  The basic framework of your mini mission statement is this: “I want to go from X to Y by Z.”  No, it’s not an algebraic equation.  It’s a way to put a start, end and achievable measurement on your goal.

For example:

  1. “I want to go from a level 2 manager (X) to level 3 manager (Y), by the end of the year (Z).”
  2. “I want to go from 170 pounds (X) to 130 pounds (Y) by December (Z).
  3. “I want to work less (X) and spend more time with my son (Y) each week (Z).”

Notice these mission statements are all in different buckets; work, health and family.  They also have reasonable timeframes. Example 1 allows you 12 months to work on projects to reach your promotion goal.  Example 2 focuses on losing just 3 pounds a month to reach your goal weight by the end of the year.  And, example 3 can be as simple as carving out a weekly half hour of time to play a board game or go out for an ice cream.  Small steps toward a larger mission.

The thing I like most about the mini mission statement is that it sets realistic goals, and gets rid of the perfectionist problem.  You know, the one that often plagues women who think they have to ‘do it all’, ‘be it all’ and ‘give it all’?  Mini mission statements for each bucket takes perfectionism out of the equation, and brings your goals into focus.  However; you must commit to reviewing them weekly.

I like to take Sunday afternoons or evenings to reflect on the week, review each bucket and see what I’ve done to fill up the mission.  In 2015, carve out time for yourself each weekend for self-renewal.  Begin this weekend with the following steps:

  1. Identify your buckets
  2. Reflect on your mini mission statement for each bucket, and then write it down using the from “Go from X to Y in Z” framework.
  3. Break down the steps you need to take to get to Z. (Like in the above examples; 3 pounds a month or ½ hour per week.)
  4. As you plan the coming week, refer to each bucket and see how you might make the first step for each mission statement with the things you already have on your plate.
  5. Your first step needs to be small enough that you could it immediately, or at least tomorrow.  These leading tasks will get you going.

The following weekend, review your buckets and goals. How did you do for the week?  The most important part in this process is to refuse to indict yourself.  Each week, there will be something moving you closer toward some goals, chances are it will be the momentum of success.  There’s always more we ‘could’ do, but the focus needs to be on what we ‘have’ done.  Celebrate that and move forward instead of beating yourself up.

The key here is to be intentional, and really think about what you want out of life, rather than letting life toss you around with unnecessary obligations (finishing that Words with Friends game, or having all the laundry done), and sudden enticing opportunities (spur of the moment shopping outing) that can sidetrack us.  I use some of the following tools to help with mini mission statements and tracking.  Some have been recommended by colleagues:

Wunderlist – Simple list of things to do – https://www.wunderlist.com/
Trello – Aligns with the bucket strategy, mini goals and list with deadlines. Allows other people to work with your projects. https://trello.com/
Irunurun – Helps with goal writing and ‘gamifies’ goal tracking with scores for completion. http://www.irunurun.com/
Google Keep – Like Pinterest, but for your thoughts, links, lists and ideas. https://keep.google.com/
SmartSheet – Intuitive project timeline creator with dependent due dates. https://www.smartsheet.com/
Inbox and Calendar labels – Use colored tabs and folders to organize your messages and appointments.  Gmail and Google calendar have this feature, as do most other email and calendar apps.

These helpful apps and tools will help organize your goals, and hopefully make it easier and a little fun as you make progress on each mini-mission.  If you feel like you need ongoing help to reach your mission statements, and some coaching or accountability as you move toward your goals, give me a call to discuss professional coaching.  I’d love to help you meet your High-Heeled Success® and then some!

*Source: University of Scranton. Journal of Psychology study, January 1, 2014.

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.