The Jerk Gap
Recently, I heard on KQED’s Forum about the finding that aggressive men (and women) earn almost $10,000 more a year than nice guys (listen to the story). It brought back so many memories that I have to share my journey from being a nice-yet-often-ignored girl in my first-year graduate school to a respected, even advisory role by my third year.
When I started in grad school, I worked with one other girl and ten guys in my lab. I had the hello!-Am-I-invisible? moment around them daily. Things I said were either a joke or ignored. My opinion was so trivial that it became invalid. Maybe it was because I was still fresh to the lab. Let’s admit it, we all once had that “you are still young, what do you know” attitude towards new graduate students. But some of these guys are in the same year with me. And they get along with the older ones just fine. So, it was not just a school-age thing.
Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office
At the time, I was living in a house with eight women who were all in humanity majors. Constant psychoanalysis of every single human behavior was a norm around the house. Being brought up in Chinese culture (and probably for most women in every culture), the concept of being humble was constantly beaten into my head while aggressiveness was perceived negatively. My housemates’ investigation of my misery of being invisible yielded the conclusion that it was me being too nice. My “niceness” in a testosterone-dominant lab was setting me back. “What? So I had been sabotaging myself?”
My researcher instinct struck. I quickly looked for books about workplace sabotage for women and came across Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois Frankel. Although skeptical, I gave the book a try and completed the self-assessment chapter, which determined the kinds of behavior that set me back. Then I went to the corresponding chapters that gave concrete steps on how to correct these behaviors. After putting the prescribed plan to practice, I slowly saw changes in the way my colleagues and my advisor interacted me. My opinions topped the respect chart. My voice was being heard without a decibel raised. I highly recommend this book if you are experiencing the same kind of difficulties.
A frequent assumption when talking about women in power is that they have to lose their femininity, i.e. dress like a man or cut their hair short. A great male friend from France shared with me his thought on this subject. He thinks that women do not need to dress like a man to be powerful. He once had a very good-looking and well-dressed female boss. She got a lot of respect not by acting like a man but by being assertive, sensible, and standing up for herself without being offensive. As Frankel puts it,
“Success comes not from acting more like a man, as some might lead you to believe, but by acting more like a woman instead of a girl”.
Thank God for humanity majors!
How To Get What You Want
Aside from being aware of how I behaved, I’ve realized that it is easier to get what you want when you are aware of how others receive your message. Amy Hertz’s article Get What You Want By Improving Your Communication Skills talks about her difficulty in getting cooperation from her colleagues at a new work place where her requests fell to the bottom of others’ priority list. She consulted a communication coach, who shared with her the four types of communicators and tactics to deal with them. Being able to identify the type of communicators you deal with will help you get what you need more effectively.
These four types of communicators are – the Feeler, Sensor, Intuitor, and Thinker. They operate at different frequencies:
- “ The Feeler uses language to express emotion. “
- “The Sensor is driven by the drumbeat of constant deadline; she’s interested in getting things done quickly.”
- “The Intuitor thinks in terms of the conceptual and long-range plans; he’s a problem solver but not necessarily interested in sticking around to implement solutions—he’d rather move on to the next puzzle.”
- “The Thinker operates on logic: She loves organization and systems, and unlike the Intuitor, she likes to see projects through to the bitter end.”
I hope this post will help you further your personal life and get the credit you deserve in your career. Share your experience with me in your comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. In closing, I will leave you with Alice Cooper’s No More Mr. Nice Guy. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or ask me questions about a specific area of my experience. Until next post, keep on speaking up!