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21407 Jen Causey: Communication – What, How, and When

Communication – What, How, and When

Article by 21407 Jen Causey

My earlier article, “How Should You React,” was in response to a discussion about benevolent sexism. I make mention of the difference between women in positions of power, versus women of influence. Specifically, to have true influence, you need more than just positional power. You need to also have personal power. Adam Grant talks about this in his book Originals, How Non-Conformists Move the World, except what I call personal power, he refers to as status. He says, “Power involves exercising control or authority over others; status is being respected and admired.” That particular chapter of his book is focused on when to speak up, and how to speak up in a manner in which increases credibility, vice detracting from it. Learning when to speak up is important, and in my experience, it can be the most frustrating aspect of communication.

Have you ever made a suggestion that failed to gain any traction, only to have the very same idea lauded when it came from someone else? Have you ever been absolutely frustrated that your voice isn’t being heard? That you cannot seem to make headway on a particular idea? I cannot recall the exact scenario for me, but I do vividly remember early in my career being completely annoyed at the ridiculousness of the fact that the very same thing that gets praised as a senior lieutenant, gets you admonished or dismissed as a junior captain. It is all about expectations. With the promotion from lieutenant to captain, you lose your ‘get out of jail free card’ meaning, the chain of command has determined that you’ve spent your allowance of mistakes and that you are now held to a different standard. At the same time though, you lose your voice a little, and it happens almost at every rank you progress. By the time you are about to be promoted, you have likely earned status or personal power to compliment you in that rank or position. However, in the next rank or position, you haven’t yet proven yourself. It is not so extreme that you are literally starting all over, but there are nuances to the expectations that have an impact on your effectiveness, especially when it comes to communicating new ideas or dissenting opinions. And it can be frustrating, but if you want to succeed, you need to come to terms with it. You need to accept that when you communicate matters, when in the literal sense, but moreso, in the context of when you have acquired the status to be taken credibly.

Rank and position will only get you so far. Your credibility, the respect you have earned, is what enables you to have true influence. Consequently, the direct approach may not work. You may have to finesse things a little more. You may have to take an indirect path to achieve your aims, most especially if your aim is to steer things off of a predetermined path. A dissenting opinion, bucking the status quo takes courage, but it also takes clout, or status, power, influence, whatever word you prefer. If you do not have it, you need to get it. To continue your efforts in the absence of it is not only counter-productive, I would suggest it is unhealthy. It is counter-productive because it can foster a perception that you are difficult, or other similar negative reactions. You may quickly find yourself in a vicious cycle where your resentment and frustration builds, and your colleagues’ patience and willingness to work with you wanes.

What are your options when you find yourself in this situation? Well, unless you are prepared to leave, I would say you can either get frustrated, or you can get smart. You will not be able to change the situation if you allow your frustration to mount. You need to recognize the need for a different approach. Maybe how you are communicating needs to be adjusted. Maybe what you are saying needs to be tweaked. Maybe when you attacking the problem is off, your timing is wrong. Backing off is not accepting defeat. It can be conserving resources (or your sanity perhaps?) while you reassess. Increase your arsenal, so to speak, by garnering credibility and personal power so that you can have more of an impact. The strongest and smartest will find a way to have true and meaningful impact, and if it is necessary to bide your time until you have positioned yourself properly with both the authority and status to do so, then so be it.

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