Female Business Leaders Need to Support One Other, But We Also Need to Argue!
We can all agree on that, right? But now here's the tough part: being supportive isn't always easy when women are competing against each other to climb to the top of a corporate ladder.
It can be a tricky situation. I lead a team alongside another tremendously smart woman. We are very, very different. She's a "farmer," who oversees and builds the internal team. I am a "hunter," spending my time remotely landing deals with partners and working my external Rolodex. Those different strengths and focuses have sometimes put us at odds in our approaches to problem-solving, but we've learned to stop avoiding our differences and started embracing them. We are figuring out how to fight fair.
Here are the rules I try to follow when disagreements occur.
1. Make the time for discussion.
A business partnership is like a marriage -- you need to make time to work on your relationship. If my co-worker and I have something we disagree over, we schedule some time to privately push through our issues. You spend 70 percent of your time at work -- you need to make the same effort toward creating harmony at work as you'd do at home.
2. Use safe words.
When my co-worker and I upset one another it is typically because we took something personally or we thought far too deeply about what the other one wrote in an email -- or even what they meant with a simple glance. Sometimes, the anger is real. But most times, it's just something in our heads. So we've started using "safe words" to indicate to the other person we aren't upset at them and are merely frustrated by the situation. I call her "Anna". She calls me "Elsa". (And yes, it's from Frozen because it's a film about sisterly love above all else and it makes us smile when we say it.) This may seem a little odd, but it takes the pressure off and we are immediately reminded this is not a personal criticism.
3. Never disrespect each other.
It is one thing to disagree and quite another to attack. Fighting is expected in business. Aggression is awarded among men. It should be the same for women. I firmly believe you should own your ideas and stand by your opinion, but at the same time be open to shifting as needed and hearing your dueling partner out. Demonstrate to your team how to respectfully disagree and more importantly, how to reach a resolution. For example, I used to quickly and loudly object when I didn't agree with an idea someone presented me. Now I try to hear that person out and write down the notes on my issues rather than blurt them out. So when they are finished making their point, I can counter them in a way that demonstrates that I've listened and value their opinion. I'm not going to say that I am great at this just yet, but I'm making an effort to be better every day.
4. Apologies are always accepted.
I am always willing to admit it when I am wrong. I am also always open to hearing someone else explain their side of the story. Sure, you can hold a grudge but it's not productive in any way, shape or form. Say your piece, own up to your part of the argument and then do what's best for the team. Love may be never having to say you're sorry, but this isn't about love -- it's about getting a job done.
5. Make mistakes and move on.
Fighting is fine. It's normal. Different opinions help you learn and help your business grow. You need the best of dueling partners to truly ever be good at chess. The same is true in life. You win some, you lose some and in the best cases, the outcome of a debate is a better solution moving forward. Check your ego at the door, but always speak your mind and bring your experience to the battle.