Like many self-help books for women, Playing Big covers topics like dealing with your inner critic, figuring out a way to break out of your self-protection to take big steps in your life and career, and so forth. You’ve probably read a lot of similar stuff. Mohr’s main difference is in her application of vaguely spiritual angles on familiar subjects. If you’re the sort of person who likes vaguely spiritual stuff, that might work for you. As someone who’s spiritual life is more defined by specific faith and beliefs, it seemed silly to me.
For example, it’s common for this type of book to suggest getting perspective by considering yourself 20 years from now. Thinking in terms of your 20 years down the road self, what will seem most important? What will you be glad you did, or sorry you missed? It’s a helpful point of view. Mohr takes this further by suggesting you do a guided meditation into the 20 years from now you and see what her/your hairstyle is, what you/she eats for breakfast, and what her name is. Wait, what her name is? Isn’t this me, 20 years from now? Why would I have changed my name? Maybe I read too many Frank E. Peretti novels as a kid, but that is veering a little weird.
However, that said, I did find some extremely helpful advice in the book about how I communicate. Mohr points out that, as a woman, you will not be liked or trusted if you don’t seem warm. Seem too clever or competent without balancing it with warmth and people will dislike you or brand you as abrasive or worse. I have seen this over and over again in many contexts. The key, Mohr says, is to watch your wording and walk a fine line between warmth and competence. And in my experience this a really, really fine line–I need clients to think of me as a competent expert because I don’t work for cheap, but I also need them to really like me so they want to keep working with me over the long-term. Mohr lists ways women dumb down or try to soften their competence in what they say. Several that stuck out to me as things I often do, especially in work emails include:
- Use qualifiers like “just” and “almost” as in, “I just wanted to ask if you think you might be able to get me those files by Thursday” or “I almost think we need a different graphic here.” I thought about it, and decided that I use qualifiers to try not to offend someone I’m disagreeing with, especially when I’m actually telling him how to do his job. But in collaborative, creative work like I do, that’s really part of the process. I should just own it.
- Over apologize. I can’t tell you how many emails I end with some version of “sorry” in another bid to make myself seem less intimidating. I’ve been told about a million times that I’m intimidating, so somehow I think that saying, “I’m sorry to bother you, but…” or “I’m sorry if I missed it, but…” or “I’m sorry I didn’t get this to you sooner” makes it more palatable that I’m asking for information I need or pointing out a missing piece or turning something in early.
- Ask “does that make sense?” or “do you see what I mean?” This sort of question is a bid for connected response when you know you’ve been giving a lot of information. But that type of question does tend to diminish your authority on the subject. So it’s better, Mohr says, to ask, “what do you think?” to get the other people involved.
After reading the book, I was inspired to get into different work email habits, adding in more warmth by softening openings and closings so that I don’t have to play down my main points. For me, this is primarily an email problem, but if you also have these issues in person, the book contains ideas for that too.
Overall I’m not sorry that I read Playing Big because I did get such a helpful take-away for my work life. Other aspects of the book may appeal more to others, and self-help books are such different products for different types of people that it’s hard to know whether to recommend something else. Personally, I got a lot more out of Make it Happen for things like goal setting and callings and taking big next steps, and Lean In resonated more with me on the women-succeeding-in-spite-of-being-women front. But again, these books are personal, so the tone and focus of this one might be just what you need to hear.
What do you think about the email language idea? Do you find yourself using those words and phrases too much?
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