Do you have trouble speaking up for your needs in the workplace?
How about pushing back and saying no when you need to?
If so, then Dr. Lois Frankel is someone you need to know. After all, she has helped tens of thousands of women each year succeed in work and life.
Her book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office was a New York Times bestseller and she is President of Corporate Coaching International.
Recently, Dr. Frankel published the latest book in her Nice Girls series, Nice Girls Don’t Speak Up or Stand Out, which gives women practical tools and scripts to navigate sticky situations and advocate for themselves more effectively.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Frankel to learn her tips for becoming a more impactful communicator. The best part is, her advice doesn’t involve becoming someone you’re not. In fact, she teaches women how to step into their authenticity with strength.
Melody Wilding: What inspired you to write Nice Girls Don’t Speak Up or Stand Out as the next book in your Nice Girls series?
Lois Frankel: I wrote this book for two reasons.
First, at the end of my keynotes, what people most often came up and commented on was the models that I provided for communication. They’d consistently say, “I wish I had you on my shoulder when I had to say something.” I thought about it for a long time and finally realized, “Oh, maybe I can be on your shoulder, if I write this book!”
When I began writing the [Nice Girls Don’t Speak Up or Stand Out], I realized it didn’t lend itself to paper and would be so much better if readers could hear it. And then the light went on and I thought, “Oh, am I making an audio book?”
I called the publisher. I said, “I know I promised you a written book, but I think this begs to be heard and not written.” That’s exactly what we did. We put it out first as an audio book. It came out January 2020.
The second reason I wrote [Nice Girls Don’t Speak Up or Stand Out] is because people asked me for recommendations for books on communication. I could find books on different topics, like on negotiation or headline communication, but I couldn’t find anything on assertiveness. I couldn’t find anything that put it all together. I wanted something that was an all-in-one primer on communication, so that’s what I wrote.
Wilding: What common barriers and challenges do women face when advocating for themselves?
Frankel: Three come to mind.
The first one is being able to speak clearly and concisely. Women tend to use more words than necessary. The more words you use, the more you soften your message, consciously or unconsciously. I think women don’t want to come off as too abrasive or strident, so they add a lot of words, and in the process, dilute their message.
The second challenge would be dealing with men who constantly interrupt them. What we know is that men interrupt women far more than women interrupt men. As a matter of fact, they’ve done studies on the Supreme court that show male Supreme court justices interrupt female Supreme court justices more than vice versa. Every time you’re interrupted, you either feel as if you have no recourse and you acquiesce, or you do a slow burn [and try to finish what you’re saying unsuccessfully]. It’s a lose-lose proposition.
The third challenge is negotiating. For years, women said that they knew when they negotiated like men—hard and straightforward—that they got called names. Then the research came out that said, “You’re right. People don’t like it when they see you negotiate like a man.”
So what we’ve learned is that women really need to use a series of relational accounts in their negotiation, as opposed to the kinds of negotiation tactics that men use. Now more than ever in this remote environment where you can’t see the people around the table, it’s very easy for one person to dominate the conversation.
Wilding: Women often tell me they have a hard time getting heard in meetings, especially when remote. What can women do to get their voices heard?
Frankel: There’s a couple of things you could do. Number one is to be the second or third person to speak. Early speakers are seen as more self confident than later speakers. Another reason is the longer you wait, all the good ideas are on the table or people have already checked out, especially if you can’t see them. I don’t say to be the first person to speak because I think if you’re always first out of the gate, people will see you as strident or they’ll see you as trying to grand stand.
When you do speak, don’t feel as if it always has to be to give your opinion. If you have an opinion, give it, but don’t pony one up just because. Speaking up could be to ask a question or to affirm what someone else said, particularly what another woman said, which is called amplification. For example, “You know, Melody, I’d like to second that. I’ve had the same experience and I could support going in that direction.” Ask a question, answer a question, clarify, make sure someone else’s voice is heard. There are many ways to play a role in the meeting.
Number two, when you do speak up, if no one comments on what you say, they just kind of go on, let the next person speak and then say, “You know, I didn’t get any feedback about that idea. I just would like to know, is it on target or not?” When you just let your idea drop, somebody else may say the same thing and get credit for it.
A third technique, and this sounds so obvious, but particularly if you’re in virtual meetings, it’s about showing up. It’s about letting people see who you are, because if you’re not at the table, literally at the table, you’re not in the meeting.
And remember that you need to prepare every communication. And every time you open your mouth, it’s a communication. It’s an opportunity to market your brand. So be conscious about how you’re speaking.
Wilding: Women typically worry they’ll be perceived as big-headed if they showcase their achievements. How can women make their value visible in an authentic way?
Frankel: The first thing that I would do, for example, is about six weeks before performance review time, I would send my boss an email that summarizes my key achievements during the last review period. It could be as simple as saying, “I know you have a lot of reviews to do”, or “I know you have a lot on your mind”, or “I know this isn’t something that people usually like doing so let me just provide you with a summary that might be helpful to you now.” That’s code for, I’m trying to do you a favor here. Then list three to five key accomplishments. Don’t expect the boss to remember your accomplishments.
Number two, I would erase “it was nothing” from my vocabulary and replace it with, “thank you for noticing.” A lot of times we get compliments and they make us uncomfortable, but it is much better to say “I really appreciate the feedback” than “Oh, it was nothing.” That stands up to the feedback and lets the person know that you’re proud of what you’ve done.
When it’s your turn to speak, make sure you factually list achievements that you can attach figures to because facts are friendly. If you say something like, “I’m pleased to report that my team and I brought that project in, under budget by about 13% through our collective efforts.” Saying something like that does not sound strident, it sounds confident, you’ve used numbers and it’s factual.
When you introduce yourself, make sure you introduce yourself factually as well. You need to have your elevator speech, and have it be clear. Use some numbers if you can. It gives the other person something to latch on to and makes it more concrete.
Wilding: How do you disagree with someone diplomatically?
Frankel: There’s a wonderful technique that I highly recommend called contrasting, and it can even work with people who are senior to you. You contrast what you don’t want someone to think and what you do want someone to think.
So let’s just say that you had asked me if I would do an interview and I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t just tell you, “I don’t have the time, or I think it would tarnish my brand a little bit.” Remember, the fewer words you use, you strengthen your message. You don’t always want to do that. So with contrasting, let’s use a few extra words. For example, “I don’t want you to think that what you’re doing is not important because I think it is extraordinarily important. At the same time, I’m working on a book proposal right now and it’s really taking all of my time.” How much different would you feel after that?
Apply the same to a disagreement with your boss, for example, “I don’t want to contradict what you just said because there’s a lot of truth in it. There’s one piece however, I want to clarify because if I just leave it open, I think it’s going to lead to confusion down the road.” Now there’s a way to disagree without being disagreeable.
Wilding: Do you have any tricks for communicating concisely when you’re taken off guard and don’t have time to prepare?
Frankel: There are three things people can do, and you’ll notice something that I’m doing here is using numbers, right? That’s because as I number them, you’re listening for each one, and it helps me track my thoughts as well. When I get done talking about number three, I know I’m done addressing the question.
Number one, you can say, “let me think out loud for a minute.” I’ve had to do this so many times from the stage where people ask me a question where I just hadn’t thought of it before, and I know I’m not going to be able to give a clear cogent answer. That way people aren’t expecting a polished answer.
Second thing you could do is you could say, “You know, I’d like to give it just a few seconds more thought. Could we go to someone else and then come back to me?”
The third thing you can do is say, “You know what? I don’t want to give you an answer that would be misleading. I’d like to get some data to support that. So let me do that and then get back to you later today.”
Wilding: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life? (credit for this question goes to Tim Ferriss)
Frankel: I’d say it had to do with perfectionism. It had to do with letting go, truly letting go, of this belief that I will ever be perfect. I think some of it comes from the work of Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, and really coming to terms with when I am less than perfect. It doesn’t make me less of a person, it makes me more human.
One of the ways I’ve done that is to often develop more of a sense of humor about my foibles. Like one day I was on the stage, and I had been doing so many keynotes, I kind of forgot where I was. I was going through my intro and thought I was in Jacksonville, FL, but when I said that, everybody just started laughing. I looked out and thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m in Houston.” But aloud I said, “I’m in the state of confusion!” I just laughed at myself.