Dr. Lois P. Frankel, President of Corporate Coaching International, is a bestselling author, executive coach, and an internationally sought after keynote speaker in the fields of career and leadership development for women. Among other media appearances she has been a guest on Larry King Live, The Tavis Smiley Show, The Today Show, and 20/20 to discuss her New York Times bestselling books, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich, and Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It. Recently Lois turned to capturing the wisdom of older woman with the release her latest book, Ageless Wisdom, Timeless Wisdom: Witty, Wicked, and Wise Reflections on Well-Lived Lives.
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Dr. Orma: Welcome Lois, it’s great having you here.
Dr. Frankel: Thank you for inviting me to be with you, it’s really a pleasure.
Dr. Orma: You’ve become very well known for using the word “nice” to describe women who don’t get what they want in their careers and life. Can you explain what you mean by a nice woman?
Dr. Frankel: I’m so glad that you asked me that question because often people tell me they didn’t pick up my books because of the titles. They say, “Well you’re right, my triggers tell me I have to be mean and nasty,” and nothing could be further from the truth.
When I talk about nice girls, I’m talking about acting according to the rules you were taught in childhood or appropriate for little girls. Now those rules are changing to some degree, and I say to some degree because some parents are no longer imparting that at all. But depending where you are geographically, culturally and somewhat socioeconomically, people still do give their daughters different messages than they give their sons. So where’s the sons may get messages like “be strong,” “don’t let anybody take advantage of you,” “stand up for yourself,” those kinds of messages that will serve you well throughout your lifetime. Girls get messages like “be nice,” “listen to other people,” “help take care of your brother,” “help out in the kitchen,” those kinds of things. Those messages, if you internalize them and don’t grow out of them are going to keep you from getting what you want as an adult woman.
Nice is necessary for success but it’s not sufficient. I think the message is that little girls get to contribute to their emotional intelligence but too often they don’t compliment them with behaviors that would enable them to achieve their goals. You have to say women have a challenge that men don’t have. When women tell people to “go to hell” they have to say it in a way that makes people look forward to the trip, because when they don’t, that’s when they get called a bitch. When women negotiate they have to do it in a relational way because when they don’t they get called greedy. Women cannot behave like men for the most part and get away with it.
Let me give you an example of how this might sound Steve. I could say to you, “Steve, I’m going to do this interview with you but I only have 15 minutes, it has to be on this day, and I only want to talk about these topics.” Now if I really only had 15 minutes and I preferred that we talk about certain topics, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if I had said that to you when you initially asked me for the interview what would your impression of me have been?”
Dr. Orma: I guess sort of stern and not really willing to give a lot of your time.
Dr. Frankel: Yeah, it would make you feel put off and if we worked together on a regular basis it would not be a way for us to maintain a strong collegial relationship. All I was doing though was stating the obvious, right? These are my parameters, that’s all I was stating but now listen to this: “Steve I’m honored that you would like to interview me on the day that you requested. I only have 15 minutes and if that’s good with you then great. In terms of the topics, I think in 15 minutes these would be the ones that might go over best.” Now what do you think?
Dr. Orma: That’s fabulous, I mean, you’re asking for the same amount of time but you’re doing it in a much more pleasant, yet assertive, way.
Dr. Frankel: Exactly. There’s no need to demolish a relationship before it gets started. What I did was I said the exact same thing in a way that it left it open for negotiation. Now what I didn’t do is ask permission. This is something that women do. They’ll often ask permission because they don’t know how to do what I just did. Which is to state clearly what you want, but stating in a way that the other person can take it in and can think about.
Dr. Orma: So this takes a lot of skill. I think most everyone isn’t taught good communication skills or assertiveness skills. Men sometimes tend to be more aggressive, and women can be more passive or less assertive, and of course there are exceptions to this, but most of us haven’t been taught these skills.
Can you give a couple more examples? Let’s say a woman wants to ask for a promotion or a raise, how would she do that in a way that’s not nice or aggressive, but assertive in the way you’ve described?
Dr. Frankel: One technique of effective communication is called Contrasting, and it’s contrasting what you do want and what you don’t want. For example, “Steve I don’t want you to think that I’m not grateful for all the opportunities you’ve given me, because I am, and at the same time I want to make sure that I’m being considered along with everybody else for the promotions as they come up.” So you see here, that’s contrasting. I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful at the same time here’s what I do want.
When you ask for a raise or promotion, you always go in prepared with a business case. It’s not just that you deserve it, a lot of people deserve it; it’s why do you deserve it. So you have to go in with your ducks in line and your points in order—that’s number one.
Number two, you have to go in having done your research. What do other jobs like this pay or what do other people who do what you do get paid? What are their job titles and what are their levels in your organization? If you’re in a big organization, you can look around the organization and say, “Okay, people who are doing what I do are at this level with this job title or this pay grade. If it’s a smaller organization you may have to do your research outside the organization.
So I need to come prepared and say, after I’ve done contrasting: “Steve I’d like to talk to you about considering me for a promotion in the next 30 to 60 days, and here’s why I believe I warrant it. Number one, when I was brought in I only had one person reporting to me, and now I have five. Not only are there more people, but because I’ve been able to deliver for you. Steve the scope of my work has broadened and has significantly increased. Again, it’s not that I’m not grateful for the work. I’m happy to do it. I simply want to make sure that I’m being compensated appropriately for that. Number two, I’ve done some research and in our industry people who are doing this job typically have a title of this and are paid within the range of 80 to 95 thousand dollars a year. I’m at sixty-five thousand right now, which is well below that range, and so I’m proposing that what we do is we go to human resources and we make the case for why this job should be bumped up one grade level with a change in title. That would put me in that range. Steve, do you see any reason why we shouldn’t do that?”
Dr. Orma: No, that’s very convincing.
Dr. Frankel: Now if you were to say no, or now’s not the right time, or I’m not comfortable doing that, take that as an opportunity to get more data that’s going to help them make their case next time. Women will often go away with their tail between their legs. Instead, you can say, “Steve, can you tell me what I need to do to make this a reality before the end of the year?” And then you may say, “You really need to get more skill in negotiating and dealing with vendors.” Then I’d respond, “I would love to do that too. Can we work on a plan that will get me those kinds of skills and the kind of work that’s delegated to me?” You answer it with a positive upbeat “okay.”
Now, if you came back with, “I just don’t think this company’s going to go for it. We have a president that doesn’t really like doing promotions.” I say to women you may have to vote with your feet. You may have to say, “Maybe this isn’t the right playing field for me. I may need to be working somewhere where they’re going to appreciate me more.” But I always tell women to give it your best shot first, because if you’re working somewhere where you’ve been for a while and they appreciate you, it’s a great place to at least practice.
It’s a real weak spot for women, this whole negotiation thing. Too often women see negotiations as confrontation and what they don’t understand is that we have to negotiate differently. For years, women have been saying when they negotiated for a raise or promotion they’re called greedy and needy, and when a man does it he’s seen as self-confident. They did research and found that when women negotiate like men, it’s a big turn-off.
An example is the burnt toast syndrome. You make toast for the family and one piece comes out burnt, and you eat that one, because you don’t want anybody else to have to eat it. What doesn’t occur to the person is that she can throw this piece out and make herself another piece. It’s factoring you into the equation, and that’s what women need to understand. That in order to get more of what you want, it’s about knowing what you want and factoring your needs into the equation.
This is important, because when we live a life for others, it’s not fulfilling. If I’m always for others and never for myself, my well is going to dry out. And what happens is women can become resentful, or depressed. They can start abusing substances. If you don’t live your most authentic life, and if you are not selfish, meaning factoring you into the equation, there’re all kinds of negative ramifications. That’s why it’s important that you consider what you want.
My experience, Steve, has been, and I don’t know about yours, that women often don’t know what they want because they’re rarely asked.
Dr. Orma: I find that both men and women don’t know what they want a lot of the times. One reason is that thinking about what you want is considered “selfish” or “self-absorbed,” and we’re taught that we’re supposed to focus on other people, to put everyone else first and ourselves last. No one really does this consistently in practice, but they feel guilty when they do focus on themselves. So they don’t really give a lot of thought to what they really want because guilt is a painful emotion. So I think it’s a problem with both men and women.
Dr. Frankel: My experience is it is more with women, and you’re absolutely right that there are many men who suffer from this too. I think that women, however, are socialized to give up more because it’s the right thing to do for the family, for the community. Women are supposed to take care of others in a more emotional way, whereas men are supposed to financially take care of others or at least try to.
I’m thinking of a woman that I met in a keynote that I did once and she was an Iranian Jewish woman doctor, and she was very successful. And she said, “Every Friday night when I go home for Sabbath, my mother says, ‘When are you going to give up this idea of being a doctor and focus on your family?’”
Some of this can be cultural, or geographic, or age-related, or socio-economic, so that messages are changing. I am not going to say it’s not going to change, because when I do a keynote and I ask people how many of you got the nice girl message, over the past 10 years that number of people who has raised their hands has gone down. But among young people, I’m surprised at how many still go up.
Dr. Orma: You said in an interview something I found really interesting. You said, “One of the reasons why women don’t have more wealth in this world is because they believe they have to be doing good. It’s why you see women go into professions like social work, teaching, and nursing. Because those are traditionally low-paying professions.” I thought this was really interesting. Can you elaborate on that?
Dr. Frankel: It goes back to that notion that I should be caring for others. When you consider going into high tech, for example, or business, until very recently women haven’t been getting the education they need to do that. It’s one of the reasons they’re trying to get girls into more STEM programs so they can compete for the science and tech jobs. So there’s that factor.
A third factor is that some women shy away from industries that are predominantly masculine, where men are predominant.
So, number one, women tend to go into these fields because they’re helping fields and they’re socialized to help. Number two, they go into these fields because they don’t have the education to get into other fields like business and tech. And number three, they often won’t go into high-paying male-dominated fields because they feel as if they don’t belong.
Dr. Orma: I believe women and men have the same intellectual capacity. Yes, women and men are different physiologically in many ways and that affects them psychologically. But in terms of their intelligence and ability to use their mind, women have just as much potential as men.
I think one idea, whether taught explicitly or implicitly, that’s been conveyed to women for so many years is that women are more emotional and men are more rational. I think this is totally false. If there’s a difference, I think it’s cultural, and not a true reflection of the actual capacities of men and women. What do you think?
Dr. Frankel: It’s interesting, there’s a keynote that I do with a colleague of mine, a male colleague, that’s called, “Why men are heard and women are liked,” and we talk about just that. I don’t want to paint everybody with the same brush, but stereotypically it’s true that men will tend to be more concrete and clear and direct about things, and when women are more emotional, what they’re sometimes trying to do is make sure that human needs are being met. Whereas a man might put out a proposal that says he’s going to need to lay off 10% of his workforce in the next 45 days, a woman might insert what the impact’s going to be on her teams if we do that. A man sees that as emotional, and the woman sees it as she’s just raising a question about what the impact is on human capital. The woman sees the man as being cold and aloof about it. Both bring something to the table that is important, that directness and making clear proposals, and on the other hand making sure we take care of other human beings.
It brings to mind Tom Watson, the founder of IBM, who, when he started the company soon after World War two, rather than lay people off, developed what was then known as the Full Employment Policy. The policy was that we’re not going to lay people off, but instead reduce everybody’s hours so that everyone still gets something. And when the war is over we’ll gear back up. Now that’s an example of understanding the importance of taking care of your human capital.
Dr. Orma: It’s about valuing your employees, which is a win/win.
Dr. Frankel: Absolutely and I think everything that we’ve been talking about is about creating win/ wins, isn’t it? There’s a quid pro quo in every relationship, there’s something in exchange for something else. Once I understand that and say, “Steve I’m happy to do this interview for you now,” and who knows, five years down the road I may be thinking of this guy Steve who interviewed me and said something that I would like a quote for my next book. And I may wind up calling you back and saying, “Steve, I would like to get more information about this, so would you be willing to meet with me?” This is where the quid pro quo is like money in the bank.
I’ve heard people say, isn’t all this a little manipulative? My response is that all communication is manipulative. All communication is designed to have you do what I want you to do, so let’s be honest about it.
Dr. Orma: One of the principles I’m trying to get across is that when somebody is selfish (i.e., self valuing, self-assertive) in a relationship it’s not about just trying to get what you want from the other person; it’s valuing the other person, respecting the other person because of their good qualities, and you also want to get something in return whether it’s a friendship or a business relationship. And when you do things like this interview, which benefits my audience and me, it’s also a way for you to get your voice out there, and hopefully everyone wins. That’s the way I think relationships should be.
And if you’re being honest in how you deal with people, it’s not manipulative. If you’re assertive and know how to effectively ask for what you want, and you’re honest, then I don’t see that as manipulative. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Frankel: I agree with it wholeheartedly. And yet the people who say it’s manipulative say, “Why don’t you just say it straightforward then?” I liken it to speaking another language. If someone spoke French and I can speak French, why wouldn’t I communicate with him in French so that the communication is smoother? Communicating in a way that makes my message heard and more likely to be accepted is just speaking another kind of language. That’s all and it’s one that we’re not often taught in school and so that’s what I do. I teach people this new language of influence.
Dr. Orma: And I think it should be taught in school. It’s amazing that we don’t have one course in communication skills in K-12. And that’s why you wrote your books, so those are going to be really good resources.
I think it’s been a great interview. Do you want to talk about anything you’re working on and how people can get in touch with you?
Dr. Frankel: Sure. Most people are interested in my book, “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” and many people don’t know that it was updated last year for a 10th anniversary edition. I added 30% new material and on the cover it says nice girls STILL don’t get the corner office. I have a new book called “Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom,” where I interviewed women over 80 around the world and I asked them, “If you had to give a piece of advice to a young woman today, what would it be?” I got these wonderful stories, things that were poignant, funny, inspirational and that book is also available from Amazon. If you want to get hold of me, visit my website http://www.drloisfrankel.com/