Not too aggressive, not too weak, just “right”. How do you find your Goldilocks Voice? Here’s the double-bind for female speakers.
Not too cold-Not too weak
According to a recent study by Dr Judith Baxter, a lecturer in applied linguistics at Aston University:
“Women are four times more likely than men to be self-depreciating, use humor and speak indirectly or apologetically when broaching difficult subjects with board members in order to avoid conflict.”
Source: Women told to speak their minds to get on in boardrooms. –The Guardian
To men, being self-depreciating and speaking indirectly can come across as weak.
Not too hot, not too aggressive
“If women are as direct as men, they are often perceived, by both sexes, as being aggressive, rather than assertive.” Deborah Tannen, linguist. Author of “Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work.”
No wonder women get scared to speak in public! The choice boils down to being perceived as a “ravissante idiote” or a Dominatrix bitch.
‘‘Women who are considered feminine will be judged incompetent, and women who are competent, unfeminine. Women who speak out are immodest and will be shamed, while women who are silent will be ignored or dismissed.” — Kathleen Hall Jamieson (already in 1995)
This is an Old Story…
When I was a little girl, my father used to have his surgeon’s private consultancy at home, twice a week. During these afternoons, when his secretary would be away or busy, I was trained to answer the phone for his appointments with his patients. I would take my role very seriously, rehearse my lines and try to adopt an “adult” voice, always polite and very careful about my enunciation. I developed my listening skills.
One thing, however, had to leave a lasting negative effect on my communication. Whenever I was asked to make a phone call, my parents would always repeat to me, start with “excusez-moi de vous déranger” (“Please accept my apologize for disturbing you”)
You imagine? First I had to present my excuses, then I assumed I was bothering, disturbing people when I had to speak to them! For my parents and their generation, that was just a very normal way for being polite and well educated, especially for a young girl.
However, as an adult, I still hold on to that limiting belief that I have to apologize even before I open my mouth. I have fought it and become an executive speaking coach, because I could relate so much with those difficulties.
Does it also sound familiar to you?
This morning on twitter, I came across an interview by Liza Donnelly where she was asked what advice she would give to her younger self. “SPEAK UP”, she said! Lessons to my Younger Self, in The Daily Muse.
“One “female attribute” that was true back then and still lingers: failure to speak out. Women and girls still tend to keep their thoughts to themselves. I know I was scared as a young girl to speak my mind. I felt that I had to be a good girl and that meant keeping my mouth shut.This lasted into my thirties. I was frightened that I would “say something wrong,” or appear unintelligent. While this is not a gender-specific trait, I do believe that being quiet and subservient is a socialized behavior in women: we are taught, in very subtle ways, to be silent.”
Why do women, especially, apologize so much? Why do they take twice as long to make their point or use softeners and a lot of sorrys? Why do they speak indirectly and as if they were “walking on eggs”?…My next post, about being bold, will explore this further. Hint: it’s about being liked…
In order to inspire trust, we need to develop trust in ourselves first. To believe in what we say and in our legitimacy to say it.
So what’s the “Just Right” Goldilocks Voice?
It’s YOUR voice, true, assertive, not apologizing, not aggressive. It’s your ability to self-monitor or temper your behavior according to the situation.
A recent study from Stanford Graduate School shows that:
In the business world, women who are aggressive, assertive, and confident but who can turn these traits on and off, depending on the social circumstances, get more promotions than either men or other women.
The research suggests that for women to be successful they must simultaneously present themselves as self–confident and dominant while tempering these qualities with displays of communal characteristics.
Easier said than done!
Here are a few tips.
- Commit to your ideas. Be ready to be challenged to dive into a discussion.
- Use short sentences.
- Speak loud enough, but not too loud either!
- Be direct and go to the point. And listen too.
- Know when to shut up.
- KISS. Keep it Short and Simple.
- Stop making statements sound like questions. And when you ask a question, actually mean it and wait for the answer.
- Accept that some people may not agree with you and that’s ok.
- Accept that some people will actually confront you. Take that as a challenge and an exciting opportunity to develop your point and show what you have in your guts!
We must own our words, our talk. This is where our true power starts, our freedom of speech. Break free from the double-bind. Find your Goldilock voice.
- The Double –Bind Dilemna for Women in Leadership : Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t. Catalyst research to download here.
- Insead Knowledge: Unshackling the Double-Bind of the Female Leader. Here is the article.
- Knowing When To Display Masculine Traits. A Boon for Women. Stanford Business Magazine Online. Read the article here.
I would love to hear your own stories about your search for your “Goldilocks Voice”. Do you come across as “too weak” or “too aggressive”? How do integrate feminine and masculine traits? How do you untie this double-bind?