Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Being Mansplained To And The Opportunities That Are Missed

July 25, 2018

by Peter Zaballos

I’ve certainly been aware of mansplaining and am generally sensitive to it. But I have seen it happen less than I have had women remark on it. And they remark on it with a sincerity and authenticity that is breathtaking.

It was on a recent business trip when I experienced this myself, first hand. I was traveling with a woman who is on one of my teams, and we were visiting some of our sales regions to review our marketing plans and priorities to get feedback and engagement. One of those invaluable investments of time that ensure we develop campaigns that are relevant and have impact.

And before I go further, the story I am about to tell involves really talented, experienced, and caring people – we have an awesome culture and that’s one of the many reasons I love being here. But that is also the point. Even with talented people in a great culture, this can happen.

That’s certainly one way to approach this

At the first meeting we had a handful of sales reps in the room, and before I’d even gotten to the overview of our plans one of the reps spent literally ten minutes explaining how demand generation worked. Ten minutes.

How his prior company did it. The concept of a buyer’s journey. The need to ensure you have marketing plans directed all the way through from the top of the funnel to the sale.

Some of his pronouncements were on target — many interpretations of how marketing gets done from the vantage point of a sales rep. I sat there and every so often responded with “that’s certainly one way to approach this.”

But it was ten minutes. Of him explaining to me what I’ve been doing for more than 20 years. And I’m really good at marketing. A two-time CMO. The first CMO at my current company. But he explained it all to me.

When the meeting ended, my female colleague and I shared a laugh about it all. To me, it felt like a single occurrence.

No way, really? Is that how you do that?

Two days later we met with the entire sales team for the region. And as I was reviewing our plans for marketing, there was an active discussion and then a series of mini lectures on how to do our marketing well, which culminated with a discussion of competitive analysis and a sales rep reminding me “don’t reference our competitors directly in our marketing.”

At this point I lost patience and — in front of everyone — replied “no way, really? Is that how you do that?”

When the meeting wrapped up, I pulled my colleague aside and asked her “is this what mansplaining feels like, is that what happens to you?” And she rolled her eyes and said “yes, all the time.”

So when I saw the awesome tweet featuring an “Am I mansplaining” flowchart from Kim Goodwin I felt like I understood this a bit better.

Men, study that flowchart. Commit it to memory.

The opportunities missed

But what really happened in my exchanged with these talented salespeople here was a series of missed opportunities. By leading with explaining and not questions, it both annoyed me and focused my attention on being explained to, and not on exploring what we could all be doing together to ensure our marketing had the greatest impact possible.

It would have been awesome if these conversations had started with “can you tell me about how you’re going to approach marketing?” instead of “this is how we did it at my last company.”

And when you consider that what happened to me were isolated instances on this trip and that it happens to women systemically – the greater issue is how much opportunity is unexplored when men talk over women, when men lead by explaining and not by asking questions.

We lose all lose as a culture by letting mansplaining persist, but women bear the professional and personal consequences of confronting it every day, of having their ideas ignored or talked over.

As I have posted before, men just glide through life feeling little if any of what women feel every day — encountering obstacles, biases, and mansplaining and being talked over.

On this business trip, I visited this landscape but so easily could return to my male-centric journey through my career. Women are not so fortunate. Men can help here. When you have that urge to explain, ask a question.

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Bad news should travel faster than good news

February 11, 2009

I love this phrase. It was a core principle of Rob Glaser’s at RealNetworks, and I think I must say it to myself or repeat it to someone nearly every day. It’s simple, true, and universal. It applies to work, life, relationships, everywhere.  It’s a core principle that cements the relationship with my partners.

I also love noticing how other people have internalized this principle. The CEO of one of my companies is an incredibly experienced and pragmatic executive who articulates the essence of this phrase another way: that bad news and good news are just different types of data, and just data.  You can’t make good, sound decisions with only half the data. In fact, you will consistently make poor decisions with half the data.

She creates a culture on her teams of “no cost to sharing bad news, and the more rapidly the better”. There’s a second-order benefit too. By treating bad news as data, you build trust within the team, and you shift the focus off the news, and onto what can be done, and how should the team or person respond.  This is easy to say, and really, really hard to put into action.

It also helps you appreciate good news more lucidly. When an executive only tells me what’s working well, the great forecast, the customer wins, part of my mind spins up, wondering “what’s he/she not telling me, because nothing ever goes well all the time.” It gradually deafens my ability to listen to the good news.

Conversely, when someone walks me through what’s gone wrong or what he/she is struggling with, when we get to the good news, I listen so much more closely, because it’s so much more credible. It also tells me a lot about the executive. I know I’m having a real conversation, that I’m not being sold to. 

But this isn’t just about work, it’s about life.  For example, putting into action with your children follows a similar trajectory.  Once my children entered school, and report cards started coming home, we applied the same approach the CEO at my company has with her team.  My children have been told that “this is just a collection of data that will help you and us understand where you need to apply your attention in the next grading period” and “Let’s not focus on the grade itself, but on whether you and we feel you’re working to your potential”. 

My two oldest are in 10th and 8th grade now, where grades matter a lot, and not surprisingly these two children respond quite differently to reviewing “the data”.  The oldest has found it easier to respond matter-of-factly while her younger brother has been less comfortable engaging in a discussion.  There are some likely “birth order” effects going on here, but those aside, he’s struggled to not be defensive…and it’s not about raw intelligence; both of them are at or near the tops of their classes.

So, last month when reviewing the interim grade reports, my son’s math grade had really taken a tumble, it was clear that he was struggling.  But he so didn’t want to examine why.  He wanted to focus on the courses where he was doing well, and pushed back in ways only a 14 year-old can do about applying some objective scrutiny on the basis of his math grade.  But, I guess he listened more than I realized.

A few days later, he walks up to me and says “I’ve got a big math test coming up, and I think I need help with some of this, I just don’t get it.”  We spent the next two nights working together going through the finer points of the standard, point-slope, and slope-intercept formulas with him. 

It was a lot of work, but the transformation was palpable.  He seemed to have turned this corner and saw/felt the benefit of not judging the data, but using it.  By the time we were done, he was confident and relaxed for his test, and he did just fine, better than he expected.

Then again, of course he did, he got to look at all the data.