Women managers, women business owners and other business women must sometimes contend with unenlightened behavior and attitudes from male colleagues.
You can either choose to get your dander up each time, which induces stress and health issues that hurt you (not the guy) or figure out how to deal effectively with it.
Business Communication That Excludes
Women in business sometimes find themselves in the situation where the conversation turns to subjects that exclude her, such as sports, hunting, etc. Now, while not all business women will feel excluded from some or any of these subjects, there are certainly times when they do get excluded in male-dominated conversations.
What choices do you have in these situations? Clearly, it depends on the situation. If you are traveling with colleagues and they get into a big conversation about Tiger Woods and you couldn’t care less, fine, zone out and re-enter the conversation when it’s more interesting to you.
However, if the conversation is taking place over dinner at a restaurant with clients and you want to be sure that the clients bond with you as well, you will need to make different choices.
For one, ask your golf-loving colleagues to steer clear of eighteenth hole stories. But, be prepared for an alternative strategy, especially if your client is also a big Tiger Woods fan. The business woman’s most useful tools in this situation are USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Review them before dinner with your client. Then, you will be prepared to make a sports-related comment, draw the client’s attention to you, allow him or her to expand, then change the subject. This strategy allows you to enter the conversation rather than being excluded then re-direct.
Business Communication that Offends
Even in the face of discrimination laws and potential lawsuits for inappropriate conduct and language, some people persist in making offensive jokes or prejudicial comments. Women business owners can also find this difficult to handle because they are afraid of losing the prospect or client.
But all women in business are in an excellent position to improve the business environment by taking positive action when faced with an offensive situation.
If you are present at a business meeting when someone makes offensive or prejudicial comments, just do this. Say, in a matter-of-fact but non-judgmental manner, “Hey, folks, we all know this line of conversation isn’t appropriate and has nothing to do with the business at hand so let’s move on. ” Then proceed on some point with the discussion at hand by drawing other people into the conversation. You have taken several actions at the same time.
- You have established that the comments are not tolerated.
- By using, “we”, you have included everyone in your statement.
- You have redirected the discussion and taken the spotlight off the offensive remarks(s), giving everyone an easy opportunity to move on.
- You have warned the offender without subjecting him or her to overt criticism or discomfort.
Although it may take courage, any business woman can use this strategy, whether she is leading the meeting or simply participating. Most people will be grateful that someone has the grace and style to handle the situation so well.
Realize some people are just plain ignorant
When men make remarks that are offensive or get off on conversations that have nothing to do with business, realize it’s their problem, not yours.
The kind of people that women in business want to deal with are the smart, enlightened ones. But not every male colleague, prospect or client is smart and enlightened. You getting upset about it is not going to change that.
The best way to handle dumb remarks is realize they are what they are and move on. Unless the guy is specifically trying to get your goat (which does happen sometimes) you have no real need to pay any attention to him.
If he is trying to stir you up, you can simply look calmly at him and say “Please stop. You are making yourself look foolish and wasting our time when we could be figuring out a way to …. (whatever you’re trying to do)” and then move quickly to discussing the topic at hand. He’ll most likely begin to feel like a fool and back off.
You can take control of the situation. Either choose to ignore them, calmly call them on it and move on or fire them. You’ll find your life is more stress free and more productive when you become the person with the real power.
Roxanne is managing partner of WomenCorp an international women’s leadership development company that provides experiential learning programs for women who want to succeed in business and life.
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