On Friday at work a conversation transpired that I haven’t stopped thinking about.
Every Friday we have “Council Meetings” where anyone in the company is able to bring up something that is on their mind with “total amnesty.” This policy has only been in place for about a month, but it was put into place because people were unhappy with some things that the executive team was doing. In response the executive team said we hear you and we want to talk openly about anything bothering you.
Last Friday I brought up a topic bothering at least 50% of the organization. When the executive team tried to move past the topic with a generic response I pushed back.
My area of focus in both undergrad and grad school was rhetoric, and as such I completely understand the importance of delivery, word choice and audience. I believe I was assertive while not being accusatory. Being assertive was necessary because so many people in the company feel wronged by the current policy in place, and while the policy doesn’t affect me directly, it indirectly affects me. When my best employees leave because they feel mistreated I am left in a bad spot. I lost one such employee three weeks ago and it sucks.
After the meeting, my boss, who is a member of the executive team, pulled me aside and said while he appreciated the message my “tone was too aggressive.” I explained that my tone was chosen on purpose because it correctly represented the level of frustration currently felt by the employees who feel they are unheard and mistreated.
While the idea of an open forum with amnesty is appreciated, it’s should be obvious that some employees will not feel comfortable speaking up to the executive team about potentially controversial issues. I am lucky to be in a place in my life where I know I am valued by the executive team, and perhaps more importantly in this case, if I were fired, it wouldn’t affect me as greatly as some other employee who really relies on having this job right now.
I’ve analyzed this situation from all angles since it happened and I still contend that I was assertive not aggressive, although obviously both can be seen as one-in-the-same by some people.
When I got home I turned to Google for some insight, and by insight of course I mean some backing that I was correct. I mean I am human after all! But in all seriousness, I don’t want to be viewed as a trouble maker; however, I do feel it’s very important to speak up.
Google turned up two articles that I found interesting:
“When a woman speaks up in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.” – Sheryl Sandberg (in the NY Times)
“Passion is a key component of persuasion. The question is, how passionate can women be? That is how much feeling can they safely express? In our 360-degree feedback survey analysis we learned that when women said they felt “passionate” about an idea or opinion, their male managers and colleagues often perceived “too much emotion.” (in the Harvard Business Review)
I can’t say for sure that this applies to my situation because it’s possible that I was too aggressive, but I do think this concept of women being judged as emotional or aggressive is important for me to consider in future situations.
I will always speak up because I don’t want to sit quietly and work for a company that does things that I morally disagree with, but perhaps I could handle them in a different way.
I still believe my delivery was the right one. My goal was to be heard by the executive team, but more importantly by the employees. I want them to know someone is advocating on their behalf. This isn’t an unselfish act, I want to push for change because it benefits me. I don’t want to lose good employees because when that happens it makes my work life hell until I can find someone new and get them up to speed.
I apologize for writing a novel this morning, but this has been on my mind, and it always helps me to write things out.
Thanks for listening and if you have any advice or words of wisdom I would love to hear them in the comments.