Have you ever had the situation when you’re in a meeting and you put forward a solution to something that’s being discussed, and it’s as if you were in a parallel universe, not actually the same meeting? No one responds to what you’ve said. It’s as if you hadn’t said anything. And then, a few minutes later one of the guys says exactly what you’d said. And this time it’s different. “Great idea Mike”, “we need to build that in”, “fantastic solution” “you’d better get started on that straight away”. Your jaw and your motivation is on the floor. Your idea, your opportunity gone.
If that’s happened to you, you are far from alone. In fact, you’re in great company. Most of the top women I’ve interviewed in the process of developing The Women’s Sat Nav to Success™ have recounted their stories of this happening and what they’ve had to do be seen, be heard and be respected for what they bring.
So what’s going on? The content of the suggestions was the same, but the gender was different.
There are some critical dynamics in human psychology – our behaviour and how our brains work – that explain why our voices are not heard.
Firstly, we see what we expect to see. If you’ve ever sailed passed a turning that you should have taken because it was on part of a route you use regularly, you’ll have experienced this. If you’ve ever put down your keys but not found them again although they were staring you in the face because they weren’t where you expected them to be, you’ll know what I mean.
And this is the way that our brain works. It’s an unfortunate bi-product of how it makes sure it’s not getting clogged up in details that we don’t need. And it applies to what we hear as well. We don’t hear what we don’t expect to hear.
I don’t expect my 11 year old daughter to know how to mend my computer, so while I’m swearing at it and fighting the urge to throw it out of the window I’m also dismissing “Mummy, have you tried clicking this?”. If I finally calm down and try what she’s said after everything the older and wiser Me can try – then, bingo, problem solved. So much time and temper wasted – if only I’d considered her worthy of listening to. If only I’d valued her intelligence, her experience with IT and her less limited thinking.
So that’s the second part – my stereotype of an 11 year old is that she can’t help solve “grown-up” problems.
The workplace schema* (in the majority of cases) is that men have the answers because they’ve been the only source of answers in the past, and therefore we expect to listen to them. They are the default setting. So we don’t pick up on what is being said by people we don’t expect to have the solutions.
I’d love to hear your examples of when and where you’ve struggled to be heard and in my next blog, “Making Yourself Heard”, I’ll talk about what to do about it.
* A schema can best be understood as a dynamic stereotype; a stereotype of an event or process.So, if the stereotype is a leader then the schema is leadership (how it is done). We have a schema of how a meeting works or what the experience of going to the cinema involves.