We are told that to rise to the top 1% you have to be very aggressive…cutthroat even. A week ago two billionaires –Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman – went at each other live on CNBC. It was re-aired several times, billed as the “Clash of the Titans” or “The Battle of the Billionaires”. It was ugly. Commentators decided that the battle was very personal. Is this the type of confrontation that they believe keeps women from getting to the top? Do personal attacks make you recede and give up?
During my construction career I witnessed a lot of these “battles” and have participated in my share of them. It is one of the things I hated the most about my job! They wore me down and frustrated me because I thought they were just a plain stupid waste of time and energy. I had more important things to deal with than arbitrary posturing. Eventually I learned better ways to react to these incidents.
Battles like this happen in the Blue Zone.
If you read a lot of my articles you know that the #1 Rule for women is: Stay out of the Blue Zone!
My best advice is: Don’t engage men when they act like this and try to draw you in. Don’t react – at all! But how do you keep from reacting and/or being drawn in? How do you hold it together when a man is yelling profanities at you? How do you keep from receding and wanting to quit?
Well, I am going to use an analogy that may be slightly politically incorrect but what the heck – it’s what I actually started thinking every time I witnessed this behavior.
But before I go into that I want to be really clear about one thing – most men won’t get as confrontational with a woman as they will with other men. Most men, especially older men are respectful. They watch their language and apologize to you if you are in the room when they blast a man in the room. Even if you are not offended, still accept the apology, encourage this respect.
Unfortunately, there are other men who don’t distinguish between men and women. But that doesn’t mean that every man who blows up on you is trying to intimidate you. In my experience men have acted badly either to intimidate or out of an extreme level of frustration. It is important to understand the difference.
I think of men yelling to express frustration as the equivalent of women crying. Several years ago, I had a 6’ 6”, 270lb man come into my office and completely unload on me. He was so loud everyone in the building heard it. Later, that day we found out his wife who was at their home 1500 miles away, was just diagnosed with a brain tumor and had an appointment set for the next day to find out how bad it was. Understanding that, it was an easy incident to forgive. Over time I experienced many men coming into my office to “vent.” And they may not think it manly but I started thinking of these incidents as a cry for help.
As a manager I paid attention to men who were under stress. If they stormed into my office and “vented” I knew they hit their limit. Usually the next day they would come back in and apologize and I took the opportunity to help solve the issue. Prior to that, the man felt he had to solve the problem on his own but now he was receptive to help.
Intimidation is a different issue. Again in my experience, intimidation is a tactic men use when they don’t want to do something or they want to make another man do something. I had a manager who was “retired on active duty” and he used intimidation routinely if you brought up an issue that would make him work.
I think intimidation is hard for women to deal with only because we don’t know how to deal with it. We see it as a threat. This is where my politically incorrect analogy comes in. If you don’t cross over into the Blue zone, then there is barrier between you and the intimidator – there is separation – what he does doesn’t affect you. You can stand back and just watch the intimidator like an animal in the zoo. Lions roar, gorillas beat their chests, and “jerks” act this way.
Like an animal in the zoo, there is a physical barrier that keeps you safe from the actions of the jerk. Because he can’t hurt you, you can stand there and just watch his behavior. That sense of separation keeps you from reacting and gives you power. A jerk acts like a jerk because he wants you to react. We think if we don’t defend ourselves we are admitting weakness. We are not.
What you are trying to do is prevent yourself from reacting within yourself. In dealing with intimidation, it is all about reacting right away – it’s about putting your thinking cap on and thinking strategically. That is why you can’t react emotionally – you have to react with intelligence. Using my previous manager as an example (he provides lots of examples) we were in a meeting and I asked for my prime contract completion date because he recently negotiated a change order. It was simple question for which he bit my head off. He got in my face and yelled that I didn’t need that information to do my job! Really? What alternate universe was he living in?
His statement told me that there was something I wasn’t supposed to know and he was trying to intimidate me to keep me from learning the truth. My response was to do some digging, lots of digging. I learned that he did not ask for the proper time (and the money that went with it) in negotiating the change order. He purposely set my construction team up for failure by giving us no time to do 25% more work.
My manager was being offensively aggressive. I successfully thwarted his previous attempts to make my team fail and now he was being more aggressive about it. Before I was assigned to the project, he didn’t let his “golden boys” run the project because he advertised that it would be a failure. So it had to fail – otherwise he let his boys miss out on a career making opportunity.
My reaction? I had to defend my team. I sure as heck was not going to let him get away with this!! I stood up to him.
People don’t stand up to an intimidator for fear of retaliation. My manager was a retaliator. This gave him power and let him abuse people. But he met his match.
How do we find the courage to stand up to an intimidator? I do it by forming my stand around a principle – it wasn’t about me as much as it was about doing what is right. (See my article on Hillary testifying about Benghazi) I put a principle or value that is larger than me out front. I find something more important than myself to defend.
Here’s the big point ladies – we may not be offensively aggressive – we may not go after a peer or a boss simply to promote ourselves, BUT we are defensively aggressive – go after us or what we stand for and watch out! (Reality shows love this drama!) In the old days we called it maternal instinct, females would fight to the death to defend our young. We can make other things more important that ourselves and have the strength to defend them.
Back to my example with my manager, I put together a time line of the project and the change orders. I discovered that it was not the only change order not properly negotiated. I found that my team was owed over 5 additional months to complete the project which added up to several hundred thousand dollars. Senior management may not care about the contract date and how it set my team up for failure but they sure as heck do care about receiving several hundred thousand dollars they earned that would be pure margin.
So, as a woman what did I do? I did a variation of the Rachel Letter. I spent several hours putting together a detailed report mapping out the issues. I sent it to my manager who dismissed it. We had a project meeting with senior management coming up so I reported my contract date as my #1 issue to discuss. I had a feeling my manager would leave it off the agenda (and he did) so I contacted the woman who was in charge of publishing the report. She had her own issues with the manager so she stuck it back in there for me.
Then I sent an email up the chain to senior management with my report attached. I simply told the senior manager that this was background for my #1 topic. (This was pretty gutsy to do!)
At the meeting my manager tried to skip over my issue. When I circled back to it, the senior manager cut me off with a directive – Get the money we are owed!! By getting the money, I got my time. I completed my project ahead of my contract and target schedules making the project and me a success.
I stood up to intimidation and came out ahead. Did my manager retaliate? Oh yes!! And I stood up to him again. He retaliated again. I stood up to him again. I think we went 8 rounds.
In standing up to him I didn’t try to elevate myself above him. Instead I just tried to neutralize him. I continued standing up for a principle, what is right, for myself and others. I spent a lot of time documenting and writing detailed reports. I never initiated taking him on one-one. I stood up to him in a way he didn’t expect and he couldn’t counter. I stayed out of the Blue zone and worked from the Purple zone.
The morale of the story is that we don’t need to be offensively aggressive to get ahead. We don’t need to tear down others to promote ourselves and climb to the top levels. We just need to do a better job of neutralizing men who use intimidation to hold us back. One of the most powerful things I learned is the power of saying “No.” A simple unemotional No.
No, you can’t intimidate me. Or him, or her.
No, I’m not going to waste my time yelling back at you.
No, you’re not going to get away with that.
Contrary to myth, women are sufficiently equipped to withstand intimidation. I still like this video a lot – You Go Girl!!
Empowered women are aggressive enough to get to the top and stay there.
I want to hear your thoughts and opinions so leave a comment!!
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