A while ago, I had the privilege of presenting at the Women Spanning the Globe WTCI Conference on a panel of female rock stars, including Monica Mitchell, Charisse Ford and Cynthia King. We addressed various topics around leadership styles, supporting one another and answered audience questions.
And then I put my entire foot in my mouth.
In front of 250-plus people, I stated that my leadership style is “selfish,” and that people should tone themselves down, not sell out, but blend in sufficiently to infiltrate, similar to a Trojan horse.
Selfish in the sense that if I don’t take care of me, I can’t be good to anyone else.
And then, silence.
Being different has its advantages and disadvantages. Like being ignored, unheard, demeaned and devalued. I can certainly get louder, more explicit and persistent, but that doesn’t often work. Especially if my audience has certain blind spots or biases.
Being ‘too much’
Back in the day, I realized that I intimidated my boss. I spoke with a lot of energy and hand gestures, fast and often loudly…. He didn’t know how to handle me, other than slowly stepping backwards and tuning me out. Obviously, whatever I was requesting was ignored.
Thinking this was my lot in life, I just worked harder and was successful. I just had to work three times as hard as everyone else to get my point across. But my friends, I’m not dumb. I started to track how other colleagues communicated with my boss and their effectiveness in getting what they wanted. PLUS, they worked less, since there was less friction and more support.
Never let it be said that I don’t learn. I started to emulate my colleagues, who were mostly men. I toned down my energy, my body language, even the pace of my speech.
Suddenly, the boss was leaning forward during our interactions, offering to support me, taking on my requests and resolving my issues. I was flabbergasted. I had to act like a man to be successful.
Not quite. I realized that my delivery was too distracting and different for my boss. He couldn’t focus on my message, my words, my ask. He had many other issues, but the issue of not engaging was on me. I was “too much.”
By removing the distractions, I was heard and got what I wanted. I was code-switching, which by definition is the process of shifting from one language code to another, depending on the social context or conversational setting.
I was not selling out. I was adapting to my environment. A similar analogy is our clothing choices. What you wear to a night out on the town, clubbing with your girls, is not what you wear to church or to visit grandma. You adapt to your environment so you would fit the part.
In strategic situations, this became my Trojan horse tactic. By being adaptable, in essence, being what was expected, I was allowed into meetings, committees and functions that are not always accessible. Maybe due to status, title or sadly, discrimination. Now, I have a seat at the table.
At the table, I can share my ideas and opinions, in a diplomatic and appropriate way, again, delivering the message without distractions for the listener to capture my context. Ensuring my message is delivered so a healthy dialogue can occur.
As comfort and familiarity increase, so does the ability to become less guarded and structured. Engagement increases, in essence, the trapdoor of the Trojan horse opens and the deeper, more innovative and less sugar-coated truths surface.
Not antagonistically, or battle-like bloodshed, but more like a diplomatic chess move.
Again, I changed my delivery so my message could be heard, acknowledging the biases and blind spots of all parties in the interaction. This is about engaging to arrive at an end goal.
Amigos, as you can imagine, I understand this could be a contentious issues, I’m curious, have you had to code-switch? Under what situation and what was the outcome?
Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a business management firm specializing in financial wellness and diverse segment marketing. Her column appears each month in The Daily Record and online. Contact her at Veronica@CoolAssociatesLLC.com. Follow her on Twitter at @verocool.