MANAGING YOUR CAREER
How to Stop the Snubs That Demoralize You And Your Colleagues
By Joann Lublin
7 December 2004
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2004, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
New Brunswick , N.J. — SWEAT THE SMALL slights. At a workshop here last month, leadership coach Brigid Moynahan was teaching 20 female executives about “microinequities” — the subtle putdowns, snubs, dismissive gestures and sarcastic tones that can sap motivation — when she inadvertently exhibited demoralizing behavior herself.
She praised another facilitator for preparing an exercise to promote inclusion, then forgot the associate, Judy Francolini, was supposed to run the drill and led it herself. Ms. Moynahan, president of Next Level, a consulting firm in Montclair , N.J. , quickly apologized. In trying to avoid microinequities, she sheepishly told participants, “you will make mistakes.”
Microinequities, a pervasive though often subconscious phenomenon, hurt everyone’s career. Receive too many, and your productivity suffers. Send too many negative messages, and your team’s performance lags. These cumulative little acts of exclusion “can make an organization unsuccessful,” Ms. Moynahan observes. “People leave organizations because they don’t feel valued there.”
No wonder microinequities training like hers is gaining in popularity. “This is this year’ s ‘ in’ thing,” says Mary Rowe, the MIT ombudsman who coined the term in 1973.
Ms. Moynahan’s “Count Me In” workshop was part of her six-session leadership program hosted by Rutgers University ‘s Institute for Women’s Leadership. Casually dressed executives from numerous industries spent one whole day learning to handle microinequities and steer clear of inflicting them on co-workers.
The women had no difficulty recounting instances of feeling devalued or excluded on the job. “When a boss or someone else takes credit for our work,” one participant volunteered. “Not being included in small talk,” chimed in another. “Being interrupted by someone talking big, encroaching on your space,” a third woman recalled.
Workshop members devised skits to illustrate exclusionary situations. In one, a drug-company senior manager portrayed a timid worker conferring with her male superior. He cut her off when she tried to speak and ignored her to take his wife’s call about which sexy dress she should wear to a dinner party.
“I’m flashing back to bosses like that,” this woman said afterward. “It’s like you’re not there. Your time is not important. . . . You feel angry.”
Any time we feel hurt “about not being recognized, we take it personally,” Ms. Moynahan agreed. “But taking things personally is a way to get stuck.” On the other hand, she said, ignoring subtle slights is just as bad as retaliating with an explosive personal attack because “you start feeling that you’re no good.”
IDEALLY, YOU SHOULD react immediately by affirming the value of your relationship with a microinequity sender — perhaps by saying, “I want to be part of your team,” Ms. Moynahan advised. Give the benefit of the doubt; assume the behavior was unintentional. Next, she continued, pose a nonthreatening question. Ask, “Did someone forget to put my name on the distribution list?” Or “Did you put your e-mail in all caps because you’re mad?”
The workshop leader distributed a toolkit with additional tips. Among them: Describe the offensive behavior factually. Express how it affected you and others. Suggest specific changes that require feedback. Spell out the changes’ potential benefits for all involved.
It’s equally important to keep yourself from sending negative minimessages that wall out co-workers, Ms. Moynahan emphasized. When you rush down the hall so fast that you fail to greet a colleague, you may make enemies, she warned, so “go back and reconnect,” with an apology for being busy.
A major bank vice president admitted that she sometimes listens harder to her star players than B+ ones. That’s a mistake, Ms. Moynahan believes. “The person who is not categorized as a high performer needs to feel valued” as well.
Participants then paired up for an exercise to widen their perceptual lenses so they could see beyond associates’ age, ethnicity, accent, rank, tenure, likability or other factors that might cause their colleagues to be ignored. In paying closer attention to people you consistently overlook, you will discover ways to turn their differences into advantages, Ms. Moynahan suggested.
During a closing circle, each executive agreed to act more inclusively at work. A senior manager for a big accounting firm promised she will treat her latest team member better, despite the newcomer’s reputation for being slow to finish projects. “I already have devalued her,” the manager conceded. But thanks to the workshop, she will ask the staffer, “What other things can I do to make you feel more included?”