I had a great first introduction session to Female Leadership Group Coaching in Vienna last night. Lots of wonderful stories were shared about what limits us in taking more of a leading role. We explored whether these limits were perceived as internal or external. Not surprisingly our list list of internal limitations we set ourselves was much longer than the external limitations. An interesting question that came up has stayed on my mind today: how can we manage the conflict between our wish for keeping the harmony and our wish for speaking out what we want?
Difficulty of speaking out in the moment
It’s not unnatural to wish to keep the peace or a nice atmosphere overall. Speaking out loudly about what we want may seem to disturb this balance. It’s just that afterwards, perhaps a week, a year or even five years, we realise it did not serve us best. But in the moment it seemed right: we feel good about work and the good relationships we have. What can we do to hear our own need louder (instead of those of others) and speak out in the moment?
I don’t know the answer to that, other than that I highly recognise this situation. I have stood in bars where I just smile when some men make a slightly negative remark – only to become angry the next day – way too late! Or speaking out what I want only after I have already given up on the job and not care too much about it. Then my message was clear where I wanted to take my career. Before that I just didn’t truly believe that my wish for my career was possible (or liked) in that organisation so I did not speak it out.
Is it a question of learned helplessness?
An image comes to mind of the mature elephant staying tied to a little pole in the ground to help workers in the jungle. The large elephant can easily pull the pole out of the ground and live a free live. But it doesn’t because it has learned, when it was small (and less powerful), it was fruitless, the pole wouldn’t come out. Therefore the mature elephant does not even try it anymore and has adjusted to the work environment in the jungle. In psychology that was named ‘learned helplessness’ (discovered by Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier). If you like to learn more, here is a short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87Vuqvp2V7w
I am wondering if, in a similar way, we, women, have learned to take on a caring role, adjusting to the (male) environment and silencing our needs – until we eventually stopped believing we could speak up and go our own way.
I think it’s time to pull that pole out of the ground!