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  • Raina Brands

This Year Instead of Giving, Take Something Away

How many articles will be published this winter and new year on what you should start doing? Each year, as the holiday season approaches and the new year beckons, we are told to set resolutions or (more recently) intentions: lose weight, begin a new hobby, start exercising, upskill, or <insert the latest wellness or business trend here>.


Our advice is the opposite. This year, instead of deciding what you want to add to your life, use the holiday season to decide what to take away. This post is based on the brilliant work of Dr. Gabrielle Adams whose recent research on subtraction neglect showed that when people come up with solutions they mostly add, which means they overlook subtractions that would solve the problem.


No matter how you are ending the year - emotionally worn down or energized, thrilled with all you have accomplished or not - we have one suggestion for something to lighten your load and ensure that 2022 starts a little brighter. Next year, put down the burden of others’ biased expectations.



 

Have you ever caught yourself apologizing to a work colleague for your competence? Making yourself smaller in a discussion because you can tell it makes the client more comfortable to speak with the men on your team? Constraining, or adjusting, your views and self-presentation to avoid coming across as the ‘angry woman’ or the ‘cold Asian woman’ or the ‘butch lesbian’? One of the core messages we hope to share through Career Equally is that it’s not your job to make other people comfortable by fulfilling the stereotypes they have of you – so it is time to subtract them.


We all want our interactions with others to go smoothly. That’s why we are always adjusting our behavior in minor ways, depending upon who we are speaking to. However, sometimes these adjustments are abrasive because they ask us to fit into a stereotyped cookie-cutter that does not fit our preferences or desires for how to act.


During your break, think about those moments where you feel the pressure to succumb to others’ stereotypes to make the interaction go better. Write them down and ask yourself: where the pressure is coming from? Is it coming from what they say, or subtle aspects of the way they treat you?


If it’s coming from things they say, check out our previous post on how to confront these stereotypes. You’ve spent weeks and months adjusting to their stereotyping comments and bearing the burden of having to reshape how you think, feel, and act in response. But they may not realize how problematic their comments are, and they might not realize how much you have been feeling pressured to change. Talking about it can be hard, but if they are truly a good colleague (and person) they should want to adjust their behavior even if it takes a few tries to get it right.


Subtle aspects of our behavior can communicate stereotypes. Sometimes, a person has said nothing specific that could be considered a biased comment or joke, but their everyday behaviors still communicate that stereotype. This can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Imagine a colleague has the view that women need protection, and so they step ahead or in front of you to take criticism from the boss, or they put themselves between you and any conflict in the team, etc. At first, it might have seemed like they were being a good, supportive colleague. But over time it can start to grate to be treated like the ‘little lady’ who cannot handle her own battles in the workplace.


If this person is your ally, mentor, or sponsor, you can have an honest conversation with them about the dynamic that has emerged. Be appreciative but firm in asking for a behavior change – remind them that it’s a chance for you to practice and learn leadership behaviors that they have so nicely role-modeled for you. If you are not close enough to have a conversation, we suggest disrupting this self-fulfilling prophecy by changing your behavior. Stop adjusting and see what happens. If you change your behavior, you might find that they reciprocally adjust theirs. Brace yourself for – and be ready to address – any friction that comes up, knowing that you can simply say “I’m being more of myself, now that I feel more like we know each other.” Very few people will disrespect that.


 

In closing, we wish you a joyful end to the year. Thank you for being part of the Career Equally community in 2021 – we look forward to continuing our conversation with you in 2022.



As usual, we invite you to get in touch – let us know how this exercise worked for you, what you are still struggling with, and what questions we can answer in our upcoming newsletters.


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