On a recent LinkedIn thread, my very talented ex-colleague (and friend) Andjela Kusmuk brought up the topic of interpersonal communication in the workplace. In the context of giving feedback to others, she talked about the imposition often placed on women, describing her experience of being labelled “irritable”, “difficult” or even “aggressive” when being direct, refusing to be more amenable for the sake of maintaining group harmony, or delivering her point of view without an accompanying smile. Hearing this made me sad. I’ve known Andjela for many years, and she is unfailingly polite, warm, and genuine.
It got me thinking about personal branding, and in the context of authenticity, if it’s ever OK to become the object of criticism when all you’re attempting to do is show-up as your most authentic self? The last time I looked, there was no codified set of behaviors that insist we celebrate men who are direct, assertive or confident, yet vilify the same attributes in others. For our colleagues who identify as women, why be held to a different standard?
Throughout my 20+ year career I’ve grown accustomed to being judged. Among the many labels I’ve had bestowed upon me include; suffering from “intellectual arrogance”, having “too high an opinion of myself”—or my personal favourite, being told not to get “emotional”. I admit I can be polarizing. I will never be apologetic about caring for the work I produce, no matter how many times I’m told by others to not get emotionally invested in the work itself (what does that mean anyway??). I don’t lack confidence, as I believe it’s an important component for building self-esteem, which comes from a place of staying well-informed, well-read and naturally inquisitive. Since I refuse to apologize for being all of those things either, I guess that means I’m OK with having opinions that don’t align with someone else’s view of the world.
What I learnt throughout all of this is to allow for self-reflection, but ultimately, not care too much about someone else’s opinion of me. I appreciate that may sound a little tone-deaf. But we can’t always see eye to eye with colleagues, nor should we have to hold ourselves accountable for managing the fragile egos of others. If you’re exercising your opinion professionally, with firm yet fair conduct, then the rest is on them, not you. And while I absolutely agree, women in the workplace are often held to unacceptably misogynist double standards, I think the onus is on oneself to stop feeling the need to conform to some made-up construct of what is considered ‘the right’ behaviour.
Just do you.