Dr. Deborah Tannen: Modern Communication Challenges In Work And Life, Episode #19

Modern communication is a far cry from what we experienced even 10 years ago. As my guest, Dr. Deborah Tannen has noted, we’ve gone from a default state of consciousness that was one of solitude, to a default state of consciousness that is one of always-on engagement. Dr. Tannen is doing important work, of which every leader should take note. As communication methods and styles change it’s important to realize that the effectiveness of our leadership will largely depend on how effectively we leaders are able to navigate the new styles and ways of communication. Join me in this conversation with Dr. Tannen to hear how modern communication is working and not working in the 21st century.

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What conclusions are people making about you by the things you’re saying and the way you’re saying them?

Communication has never been a simple matter of stating what you mean, having the other person receive it as you mean it, and moving on in harmony. There are myriad places along the way that the simplest of communications can be misspoken, misunderstood, and misinterpreted. An important thing Dr. Tannen mentioned in our conversation is that people are not only listening to you in order to understand the information coming out of your mouth. They are also assessing you as an individual and making conclusions about you by the way you speak and the things you say. But you’re not doomed to the fickleness of other people’s perceptions. There are tangible things you can do to make yourself better understood and better perceived by others. Be sure you listen to this episode to hear Dr. Tannen’s tips.

FOMO and FOBLO impact the ways we communicate – and social media exacerbates the problem

Are you familiar with the terms Dr. Tannen has coined: “FOMO” and “FOBLO?” The acronyms stand for “Fear of missing out” and “Fear of being left out.” Both are elements of modern communication that have more to do with the things going on outside a conversation. In this interview, Dr. Tannen provides a handful of very practical examples of how our modern, digital communication makes the fear of being left out and the fear of missing out even worse for some individuals, and more importantly, gives suggestions for how we can better manage our own fears in these areas so that we can communicate more deeply and authentically.

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The “double bind” women often find themselves in at the workplace

A prominent area where Dr. Tannen has spent a great deal of time is in regard to the particular communication needs, styles, and habits of women. She’s discovered that women in the workplace often find themselves in what she refers to as a “double bind.” A double bind is when two things are required of an individual and the successful accomplishment of one of them makes the other impossible. How does this happen to women in the workplace? Dr. Tannen explains with great insight on this episode, so be sure you listen.

The 2 dynamics that are happening in every conversation, digital or in person

In every conversation, whether it happens in-person or digitally, two things are almost always going on in the minds of those involved. These two things also weigh in at varying levels of importance depending on whether men or women are involved in the conversation. These two things are both questions: “Who is on top in the relationship?” and “How close are we?” Can you guess which of the two is more likely to be the consideration of women and which is more likely to be the consideration for men? On a more practical level, do you know how keeping those questions in mind can help you become a more effective communicator? Dr. Tannen’s work has given her many insights into modern communication issues like these, so be sure you listen to hear her share them.

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Outline of This Episode

  • [0:45] Who is Dr. Deborah Tannen?
  • [1:49] Why Dr. Tannen was interested enough in the relationships of women to write a book about it
  • [6:12] The unspoken scale women tend to put themselves on when judging the depth of their relationships
  • [12:02] How the world of social media provokes anxiety in new ways
  • [16:10] The way women in the workplace often find themselves in a “double bind”
  • [21:21] How does dominance play out in a digital world?
  • [25:19] Managing apologies, showing gratitude, and doing it in person and from a distance
  • [28:57] Advice for those with bosses who have poor digital communication skills
  • [33:05] The impact of disruption: perceptions and realities
  • [37:15] Authenticity in communication is often motivated by concern for those listening
  • [40:38] What’s next for Dr. Tannen and what new rules do we need to think about?

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Erica





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The Biggest Gen Y and Gender Myths and Why Your Company Should Care

I recently published my Harvard study in Harvard Business Review: Busting Gen Y & Gender Myths and Why Your Company Should Care unleashing new research on the work-life aspirations of elite Gen Y women and men. Surveying a group of Harvard and MIT MBAs, I found that they hold more traditional attitudes about gender roles in the workplace than the rest of the Gen Y cohort. What is more, the driver for these traditional attitudes about the work-life balance was not personal belief, but the career structure and expectations of the high-level organizations they enter.

As a followup to this piece, many corporate leaders have asked me:

What does this mean for companies hiring Elite Gen Yers? And what should my company do about all these Gen Y & Gender myths in the workplace?

As Gen Y rises in the workplace, Gen Y men and women still struggle to balance work and home. Gen Y men still feel the burden of being breadwinners and women feel more responsibility at home.

This is a conversation that few Gen Y men and women are having–in companies. They need safe spaces to hash out these challenges – together. And your company needn’t make it a work-life issue; it can be coached in terms of leadership, performance, and strategy

Here’s what I think your company should do about it:

●      Navigate the leadership conversation with language like strategy, and leadership, not work-family issues. This type of language makes it easier for organizations and Gen Y men and women to discuss why family issues play a role in career strategy.

●      Understand the link between the bottom line and employee engagement of Gen Y: According to Gallup, engaged employees are “more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees.”

●      Know that the diversity of talent among Gen Y leads to better innovation. Dorothy Leonard’s concept of “creative abrasion” shows that innovative products and services derive from well-managed, diverse individuals across generations and genders.

●      Retain and engage Gen Y men and women – it leads to more effective innovations. Show your Gen Y workforce why this matters to their future.

For the full report and findings, sign up for my mailing listserve here and receive a free copy of the Busting Gen Y & Gender Myths report. For a deep dive at your company, check out Erica's talent development young professional program.

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Davos: Where are the women, again?

As CEOs, celebrities, and champagne covers the snowy streets of Davos this week for the 2013 World Economic Forum, the media is enjoying its own spin on the world’s most exclusive event. While the mix of people at the event is slowly changing with the rise of World Economic Young Leaders, Global Shapers and technology entrepreneurs, there is one population that remains quite the same—the overwhelmingly low ratio of women to men at the event and the whispers of the quota system in the air.

With women still only making up only 17 percent of Davos, we are moving closer but we are not moving fast enough. There is still a long way to go.

This week in Huffington Post I share some facts about quotas as "controlled experiments" and what it might look like in the future. Read the full article here.

How are you tackling quotas in your workplace? Do you have strategies to recruit a pool of diverse talent—diversity of backgrounds, experience and ideas? We might not be able to change Davos, but we can change our own teams and companies to generate better ideas, leaders, products and services.

Women Can Have It All: My take on Slaughter’s Piece

Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece has reached over 200,000 recommendations on Facebook and an absurd amount of reactions on blogs everywhere. It is the most well read piece in The Atlantic history.

Beyond my leadership consulting and coaching work, I’m a Harvard researcher on the work-life aspirations of Gen Y women and men. I didn’t think Ms. Slaughter was saying anything we haven’t heard before, but her piece rippled and shocked millions of people, largely due to the absurdity of the title.

I believe that women can have it all…over the course of their life. Work-life balance is a unfair term in today’s age—it’s never a weighing scale between the two, it’s an ongoing process.

For those of you who skimmed or half read the piece (you know who you are), here’s a quick summary: Slaughter argues that maybe there are constraints that make women lean back (as opposed to Sandberg’s popular ‘women need to lean in’ argument). She further says that its society that needs to change, not marriage. Here’s a reader’s digest version if you need one.

Most of the critics of the piece had two main arguments.  First, women does not mean mother. Many women felt a broader set of issues could have been explored. Second, the phrase ‘having it all’ is a 1980s term. It was used back then as a perspective of what women wanted to be doing, but the negative framing has driven people crazy. It has positioned the issue as an HR work-life problem rather than a conversation on leadership.

The real challenge in my eyes is that this piece was setup as a woman’s problem, not a man’s problem. It sets up men as the norm instead of parents as the norm. Working women are not a special case—working parents are.

And most importantly, what I care about most is how this piece affects Gen Y women and men. The response I heard from some Gen Y women was one of dismay and despair, which upset me. The language and the way we frame this issue can make young women lower their aspirations, feeling like they will inevitably have to sacrifice.  I deeply hope that this piece does not become a reason for women to say ‘it’s not worth it’ or ‘I am not going invest in my career because it will ultimately come at too great of a cost to my family life.’

As 20 somethings, we are still trying it figure it all out, so we should see this piece as a guiding light, not a call for help.  At the end of the day, everyone has to define what it means for them to ‘have it all’. Having it all, for me, is to have what I want. And I believe I can have it all because I have what I want.

So ladies and gentlemen, let’s not make this piece an excuse to not continue to focus on the real barriers and hurdles that still very much exist in the workplace that prevent women from moving up the corporate and political ladder. Let’s stop being so hard on professional women and support them like we support men in our culture. I believe we can create collective change for the better in business and politics, but first we need to reframe this dominant narrative to a conversation on what women’s leadership might mean for our world.


Business schools don’t prepare women for leadership roles in the workplace

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

This week’s Sloan Women in Management Conference on ‘Innovating Through
Adversity’ poses tough questions about the systemic gender inequalities that still
exist in business today. Marissa Mayer of Google, Jennifer Siebel Newsom of Miss
Representation, and Fredericka Whitfield of CNN will take the stage to share their
insights on women’s advancement in business. Behind the scenes, a fantastic team
of ambitious MBA women are organizing the conference at one of the nation’s top
business schools.

But do business schools really prepare women for senior leadership roles with

As a graduate of Wharton’s undergraduate program and an MBA candidate at MIT’s
Sloan School of Management, I’d say no. Here’s why.

Business schools primarily think about female and male students as future
employees rather than as women and men with complex lives for whom
employment is a significant, but not the only, activity. If MBA programs truly want
to develop principled leaders, they need to address the different sets of concerns
students can expect to encounter in the classroom, as well as when they graduate
and enter the workforce.

Women in MBA programs often feel like they have to “do it all”, and that the
frequent tradeoffs inherent in a busy work and family life (often leading to a high
level of stress and anxiety) are something to be overcome, not managed. Imagine
the possibilities if business schools give the private concerns of their students a
genuine place in the planning of work through courses and programs on gender and
life issues, such as a talent management course for both men and women, a case
study in all leadership courses on the impact of diverse groups on career and home
dynamics, and continued support for gender-related conversations and discussions.

“The last frontier for women’s advancement at work is understanding how men
and women re-define roles at home,” says Anne Weisberg, head of Diversity
at Blackrock, a global financial management firm and author of Mass Career
Customization: Aligning the Workplace with Today’s Nontraditional Workforce. She

emphasizes that MBAs should be discussing life and home issues as part of the
planning of work at the business school level. Currently there is no place for these
issues, but these topics need to be integrated into the curriculum.

The after-effects are clear. According to Harvard Kennedy School Professors
Barbara Kellerman and Deborah Rhode in their book, Women and Leadership: State
of Play and Strategies for Change, “one in three women with MBAs are not working
full time, compared with one in twenty men. A large portion of these women do,
however, want to return to work, yet generally do not without significant career
costs and difficulties.” Both men and women need to be made aware of these costs
and difficulties starting in business school, they’re going to lose good employees and
face major transition costs.

Aside from future concerns for women, there are many areas in current business
school environments where women face different challenges than men do based
on age, participation, and who they consider role models. The implications of not
addressing gender-specific challenges in the workplace end up hurting both men
and women’s recognition of gender differences in leadership positions.

”On average, women are younger than men in top ten MBA programs,” says MIT
Sloan Dean David Schmittlein. “This may lead to a negative perception of their
experience in the business school environment.” What’s more, he cites research
that “has shown that women aren’t called to participate as proportionally as often in
the classroom. When women are called on, the next person is less inclined to build
on their comments.”

According to a study entitled Wives of the Organizations, by Leipzig Professor Anne
Huff, women tend to volunteer more often for maintenance-level roles such as note-
taking, opportunities that they may not get recognition for. Huff’s research shows
that gender is an area to be further investigated in MBA programs.

There are also clear differences for women in terms of role models and faculty at
business schools. “Some of the most well regarded and least well regarded faculty
are women,” says Schmittlein. Yet women still make up a much smaller proportion
of faculty across business schools.

While I believe hosting women in management conferences at the nation’s top
business programs is an important first step to building a female talent pool,
women senior leaders and business school leadership must recognize how gender
differences in business school play a major role in and out of the classroom as well
in future careers. In today’s age, this issue is not just for women, but is crucial for
both men and women to reach their individual and often shared potential in work
and life. There is a need for new dialogue across MBA programs that address how
gender plays a role in business school environments and subsequently in building a
pipeline of female leaders in companies and on boards.

Davos 2012 is in action

The conference has begun. Blackberries, black suits, and BMWs have taken over the streets of snowy Davos. 3,000 leaders have across the world have flooded the halls and sessions sharing their opinions on the debt crisis, emerging economies, health reform, technological innovations, diversity, and more.

A key conversation has been on the role of business in society. CEOs have been challenged to break the view that there is no ‘them’, there is only ‘us.’ We live in an increasingly interconnected world and many of the conversations have questioned the decision-making practices of CEOs. Business leaders have been called to personalize their role in society, openly share their tax payments and how they make an impact in their community. Matt Bishop from The Economist spoke of the failure of shareholders to focus on long-term sustainability, called for ethical capitalism, and advocated that atleast 1 person under the age of 30 to be on each company board.

My most inspiring moment of the day was the opening plenary with Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of Cape Town, who said “we need a revolution led by women. I think women ought to be saying to us men: You have made a mess, just get out and let us in…let us re-align forces, let us ensure that women have a significant part in the decision-making process.” His speech came shortly after German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world’s most powerful woman, gave the keynote address at Davos.

The push to promote women and youth at these forums has been exciting and inspiring to me, yet there is much more work to do in this domain. The Global Shapers delegation is an incredible set of 70 leaders, yet it isn’t entirely representative of all young people today. However, for me, truly being of service is about stepping up to the opportunities here and engaging with people who are very different from me. We need more Gen Y leaders to step up (in December, I called for more Gen Y women to take the stage). This is an evolution that will be happening for the next century.

More to come! Follow @davos @wef and #4mygen for leaders from our generation.

ForbesWoman: How Women Executives Who Leave Their Roles Affect The Next Generation of Women Leaders

It’s been over three years since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the downfall of CFO Erin Callan. Yet the underlying unfair media portrayal facing women executives who leave their roles continues in cases like Carol Barsh and Sallie Krawcheck this year. What I care about most is how the media’s disservice to women executives given the portrayal of them when they leave powerful positions affects future generations of women leaders.

Check out my most recent piece in ForbesWoman entitled How Women Executives Who Leave Their Roles Affect the Next Generation of Women Leaders. I hope you can share your perspective and thoughts as well.

Highlights from TEDxWomen

This post was cross-published at Levo League.

TEDxWomen was an inspiring day packed with female change agents and innovators. More than 100 TEDxWomen gatherings convened all over world, including the first ever TEDx event in Libya. The themes of the day were Resilience, Relationships, ReImagine, and Rebirth. My favorite speakers were many of the Gen Y women who took the stage: Claire Sannini, a 8th grade girl who spoke about her experience with girl bullying alongside Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, and Busisiwe Mkhumbuzi, an amazing 17 year old girl from Johannesburg and V-Girls action team leader.
Here are some of my most memorable quotes from the amazing group of speakers:

  • Gayle Lemmon, writer and journalist: “If you see the word micro finance most people think women. If you think entrepreneur most people think men. We must move beyond micro hopes and micro ambitions for women…Women can no longer be both 50 percent of the population and a special interest group.”
  • Jennifer Newsom, producer of Miss Representation: “The media is killing our daughters’ ambition and destroying empathy and emotion in our sons..3 percent of decision makers of media are women, 97 percent of decisions are made by men. For the 97 percent, I challenge you to mentor women up the ladder and help promote them. Let’s demand a media culture that uplifts us all, inspires our daughters to be president, our sons to be empathic partners.”
  • Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: “In a 2006 study, 74 percent of girls were under pressure to please everyone. If we want girls to be resilient, we have to give them the skills to navigate.”
  • Shahira Amin, Egyptian journalist: “Women are the future of the new Egypt; they will lead, and men will follow.”
  • Gloria Steinem, author and feminist activist: “My generation thought life was over at 30 and your generation feels like you have to be successful before 30.”

This is just a small dose of an incredible set of women and men that came together to hear groundbreaking ideas to advance women and girls. Stay tuned as TEDxWomen will publish the various talks online in the coming days!

Share your personal brand

This post was cross-published at Levo League and Sloan Women in Management blog.

On Thursday Nov 3, Suzanne Bates, an expert on personal branding and author of Discover your CEO Brand spoke at the Successful You! Women’s Leadership Forum sponsored by Microsoft. She asked the middle and senior women managers in the room, “What is a brand? What is your personal brand? How do you figure out what your brand is and leverage value in your career and business?” When asked how many people knew what their brand was, about 25% of the room raised their hands.

Suzanne says, “a brand is the conversation people have about you.” A personal brand is not a first impression, it is a consistent message that builds over time. The very effective great leaders not only know who they are, but also they know what they stand for. As people understand who you are and what you stand for your value grows. For example, Amazon is one of the most trusted brands in the world. Every time you go there you have same experience and they give you preferences of items to buy based on what they know about you.

Two personal branding tips from Suzanne are:

1) Communicating your brand drives exceptional value, it attracts people and opportunity. When the right leader is matched up with the right organization at the right time, the results are spectacular. Be bigger-a brand can always be more.

2) Connect your values to actions and results.  She describes that sharing a personal story is a powerful brand builder. Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox says, “Never be a victim, circumstances don’t define anyone, where you are is not who you are.”

At first, I was hesitant to publicize my brand and expertise on women, leadership and movement. I soon realized that it’s not about me. It’s about my work in the world and I am just a vehicle. If I get nervous before a speech, if I hold back in my writing, if I don’t share my personal brand, I’m not serving my purpose. Forget the imposter syndrome—share your personal brand!

The Girl Effect: Invest in Girls

Today is the launch of the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign, a collaborative effort of hundreds of bloggers coming together to write about The Girl Effect on Oct 4, 2011.

To start, watch this 2 min video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53yuF64UgSM&w=420&h=315]

It’s clear. The studies show that investment in women and girls can change the world and the way we live.

Growing up in a South Asian family of physicians, there was always a ‘conventional path’ for a girl to take. When I was 17, I attended a global entrepreneurship program where I met non-traditional women entrepreneurs and innovators who expanded my own view of my possibilities. The next year, I founded a high school Young Women’s Leadership conference where I invited female business leaders to tell their stories to girls in Pittsburgh.

Soon after, as a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, I turned my passion for women’s leadership into activism and began to work with Choice USA, a national women’s rights organization.  I became one of ten national leaders who mobilized the largest youth delegation of over 3,000 college students to attend the March for Women’s Lives on April 25, 2004, a gathering of over 1.15 million people in Washington, D.C.

As an organizer of the March, I worked tirelessly in college to find ways to further the causes of women’s health and reproductive freedom. I fondly recall the image of thousands of sleeping bags around me in Union Hall in Washington DC. Standing together wearing orange shirts, our youth contingent stood out in the sea of one million people on Capitol Hill. This unforgettable image was captured on the front page of the New York Times the next day. For my work organizing the march, I was named one of Teen People’s “20 Teens Who Will Change the World” and one of “15 Students You Don’t Know But Will” in Newsweek’s college edition.

When I look back at these formative years and my activism work, I can’t help but think about the investment that was made in me by women leaders. Now it is our turn to invest in the next generation of girls and women around the world who don’t have the same choices and possibilities.

Choice is not just a privilege, it has a moral dimension. The Girl Effect campaign is helping us invest in girls to change our world.

So, what can you do?

Follow or blog about the Girl Effect Campaign, join the conversation on Twitter/Facebook, donate to a women’s organization, or just be a MENTOR to a girl or young woman. Often, the biggest differences that we make are in our daily lives are to the young people we can touch in our everyday encounters.

And here’s a few more stats for your next conversation….

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990.)
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man. (Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.)
  • One girl in seven in developing countries marries before age 15. (Population Council, “Transitions to Adulthood: Child Marriage/Married Adolescents,”  www.popcouncil.org/ta/mar.html [updated May 13, 2008].)

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