“The brain is hardwired to keep us focused on others, and on our role and status. When we’re not engaged in some kind of exchange, we’re often thinking about them.”
Marsha Shenk, a pioneer in business anthropology, consultant to leaders from the Fortune 50 to Solopreneurs, and founder of The BestWork® People, wrote those words in this slideshare. Her statement is particularly interesting when we consider that sometimes, we are our own worst enemies because of our focus on others, our role, and our status. How we manage those relationships can ultimately determine our career success. Women bring a unique point of view about relationships to the workplace. While we juggle work and family issues, we rarely spend much time or attention on what we think about ourselves, and how that translates into how we interact with others. We can sabotage all our professional efforts with thoughts about why we weren’t able to achieve a goal when we reason with our inner girly thoughts.
Our girly thoughts are those self-limiting thought and images of who we are, what we are capable of, what we are good for, how we should look, how we should act, and the consequences we can expect when we don’t fit within this very narrow and often unobtainable expectation. Girly thoughts are the subtle, outside messages we internalize that cause us to blame ourselves—even berate ourselves—for not achieving what we feel we should.
This is an especially fearsome problem in the workplace when we are dealing with interpersonal relationships. Because we don’t even realize we are thinking these negative thoughts, we look to external factors to blame for our unhappiness and lack of successful career relationships. Yet our professional failures aren’t found in a specific, unachieved goal—the promotion we didn’t get, the contract we weren’t awarded, or even the ten pounds we gained. And when we try to “fix” these problems, we do what all too often comes naturally: we blame ourselves for the actions of others.
For example, if your boss snaps at you, do you automatically assume it’s because you’ve failed in some way? It’s entirely possible that your boss was up all night with a sick child and is exhausted, or she is facing a major budget cut and has to figure out how to run her department with less money and fewer people. YOU are not necessarily the reason she lashes out, even if you are the recipient of her displeasure.
Using our girly thoughts to navigate relationships assures us that the difficult situations we find ourselves in must be our fault due to something lacking in us. If I’m too opinionated, no one will like me, or If I don’t lose ten pounds, I won’t be considered for that promotion. This is all nonsense, but the tendency for women to blame themselves for the ills that befall them is so widespread as to be considered almost universal. This is energy misspent in a negative internal dialogue that could be better spent understanding and achieving personal and professional goals.
In my book, The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power, I discuss how to overcome girly thoughts and consciously decide to use your resilience to deliberately challenge them. By addressing and challenging your girly thoughts, you position yourself to step into your power. Particularly in workplace relationships, your ability to access your personal power is paramount to every interaction you have and will ultimately determine if you stay at the bottom of the corporate totem pole or move forward in your career by embracing your personal excellence.
How to combat girly thoughts at work? Listen to an oldie but a goodie by Helen Reddy after the jump
Have you ever let girly thoughts affect a business relationship? I’d love to hear your story in the comments! —Patricia
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Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Albany, and Saranac Lake, New York, is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and funny presentations that make complex issues accessible and even fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations in preventative and clinical strategic planning including Lifescape Solutions in Delray Beach, Florida. Dr. O’Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and she has held positions ranging from clinical director of a child welfare agency to interim director of a crime victims organization to director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Learn more at http://patriciaogorman.com