How Women Undermine Their Credibility
You may have seen Secretary of State Hillary Clinton respond on Meet The Press Sunday to David Gregory’s insistent attempts to pin her down to support for Egypt’s President Mubarak. When he said, “But you’d like to see him stay in power,” Clinton replied with conviction: “David, you cannot keep trying to put words in my mouth. I’ve never said that. I don’t intend to say that. I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future.”
If you heard her reply, you know there was no equivocation. She conveyed her thoughts clearly and left no room for Gregory to try to put words into her mouth again. That’s how conversation is managed.
Compare this and Clinton’s entire interview to the tendency many women have to smile even when the subject at hand is serious, to laugh slightly after making a statement, to nod when men speak as if to say “go on” though it’s taken as “I agree,” and to answer questions merely because they’ve been asked
Disclaimers are another way that we women undermine our credibility. “I hope this doesn’t bother anyone, but…” or “This may sound stupid, but…” are the types of phrases women often use to introduce ideas. Then there is “I think,” which women use far too often. If you think it, say it! An occasional “I think” is fine, especially if used to purposefully nullify defensiveness on the part of the other person, but not as a steady diet. Women are not the only ones who fall into this pattern, but they are the ones who tend to feel the need to align a strong view with a negating action. If you do this, it’s time to take notice and to do far less of it. When a man says, “I think” it’s because he’s thinking; when a woman says the same thing it often taken to mean she’s unsure.
When responding to people, it’s important to know how you’re expressions are being received. Not everyone has the experience or comfort zone of Hillary Clinton, and certainly she smiles at times to offset what might otherwise come across as aggressive.
When you’re serious, you should look and sound serious. If you’re insulted, a pleasant smile is the wrong response. A pensive or firm look is a better comeback to practice for such occasions.
“Why aren’t they listening to me?” women often ask when I’m coaching them. The answer is usually in the messages being inadvertently conveyed. If you want to be leadership material, to have people pay attention and for your ideas to remain your own, it’s important to know how you’re expressing yourself and to develop a toolbox of communication mannerisms and comebacks that convey what you intend. That’s how credibility is insured.