Let It Go – Am I My Own Worst Critic?

There is a walnut-shaped area in the base of the brain that contains bad memories.  Brain scans have shown that female brains are very active and light up red in that area.  We all file away negative experiences.  The problem is that women keep opening the filing cabinet!  (audience laughter).  Men:

  • Learn from it
  • Drop it
  • Move on

This approach is internalized early in “boy culture”.

Tammy discussed a book called The Confidence Quote.  It outlines how women tend to over-prepare.  Ariane could relate to this.  She drew a clever and original analogy:  she visualizes a racetrack around which “perfect Ariane” is running smoothly, while regular, flawed Ariane gives it her best effort.  Ariane and “perfect Ariane” don’t always run in parallel.

Kaycee agreed that repeatedly visiting the filing cabinet is detrimental to our progress and emotional well-being, but how do we stop?  What worked for her is taking an actionable step from the negative feedback.  She knows that she takes criticism personally and handles it by saying, “Maybe this is about me as a person … but it doesn’t mean I can’t change!

Dawn cautioned us to be careful who we thank for their feedback because we may not want to encourage more feedback from that particular person!  The panelists agreed that it was important to separate feedback into two categories:

  • Business feedback:  You filled out the wrong form
  • Personal feedback:  Your style really isn’t working

Tammy returned to her studies.  It appears that men have 2 core fears in the workplace:

  1. She will cry
  2. I will get angry

Ariane humorously stated that she aspires to help her managers face their fears and grow as human beings.  This led to much audience laughter.  Ariane acknowledged that she is a crier.  She has made her peace with it.  She knows that it is because she feels so passionately about her product and her team.  This reminded me of my Lean In book club with the W.I.S.E (Women In Search of Excellence) employee resource group at Dell.  One of the chapters discussed crying in the workplace.  A fellow engineer mentioned that sometimes she has found herself with tears in her eyes for exactly the same reason as Ariane:  she feels passionately about her product.  I remarked that I have often felt angry.  Another participant explained that sometimes anger can mask sadness.

After an emotional discussion, Ariane handles the situation by sending her colleagues the following items in an email:

  • Breakdown of consequences
  • Action Plan

The above shows that although there were tears, Ariane was listening, she’s actively engaged, she’s involved and she wants to grow as an engineer.

Kaycee described an emotional interaction of her own.  She had her performance review with her manager and some of the feedback wounded her.  When she exited, she was visibly upset.  A male colleague asked her what happened.  She said, “I had my performance review and it got a little emotional in there.  I may have cried a little.”  Kaycee laughingly exclaimed that her colleague showed no empathy!  He just could not relate to her situation at all.  Since then, she has learned to embrace her emotions and move through them.  When she gets feedback such as “You’re not technical enough“, instead of feeling hurt and offended, she asks probing, specific questions on where she can gain the necessary expertise.

Tammy returned to her studies.  A group of adults, male and female, were given a specific task to perform.  They were then given their results (binary –  success or failure) and asked why they succeeded or failed.

Women attributed their success to:  effort, task ease and luck.

Men attributed their success to:  skill

Women explained their failure with the statement:

  • I tried.  I just couldn’t do it.

Men explained their failure with the statements:

  • You didn’t give me enough time!
  • The instructions weren’t clear.

This reminded me of Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk.  She asked some successful interview candidates why they landed the job.  The men replied, “Because I’m awesome!  (Like, why are you even asking?)”  The women replied, “I’m so blessed; I’m so thankful; I had a lot of help; I got lucky.”

Tammy shared a joke she had read.  A woman tries on a pair of pants and cannot make them fit.  She stares at the mirror and thinks, “I need to go on a diet!”  A man has the same experience.  He stares at the mirror and thinks, “There’s something wrong with these pants!

Ariane talked about fixing broken builds at her workplace.  When the build notification went out to everyone as “broken”, Ariane immediately assumed it was something she had done.  She sent out an email saying, “It’s probably me” and worked on fixing the build.  95% of the time, it wasn’t her code but she found out whose code it was and also noted the solution along the way.  She thought that falling on her sword was her “doing a nice thing for the organization“.  To her surprise, it was not perceived that way.  The actual effect was that everyone assumed, “Ariane broke the build and fixed the mistake she introduced.”  In actuality, Ariane was fixing the mistakes of the people who had broken the build.  She had doubled her workload and taken on an extra side of blame as well!  Ariane learned the hard way that when she says “It’s probably me“, her male colleagues are likely to think “Yeah, totally her” and her fixing the build re-inforced this notion.

Ariane is an external processor.  She has to talk though the problem.  She already has the solution but she likes to talk it through and validate her understanding, as well as have the people around her identify potential loopholes and pitfalls.  What Ariane found was when she did this, her colleagues did not realize she was an external processor.  What she saw as “talking it through“, they saw as “me having to leave my own work to help Ariane solve a problem; she doesn’t know what she’s doing!”  Ariane reframed her methods.  She is still an external processor but when she approaches her colleagues, she now prefaces her request with the following statements:

  • I’d like to talk over this challenge with you.  I already have the solution but I need to talk it through.
  • Can I have 5 minutes of your time?

She is cognizant of the fact that other people may be internal processors and strives to convey respect for their time.  Appreciate and value the differences in the workplace.

Kaycee’s major takeaway from Tammy’s statistics was, “Wow.  I didn’t realize not everyone looked inward.”  She had previously thought that everyone was like her.

My major takeaway from the session was the following mantra, which I missed out on by being a girl and not participating in “boy culture”!

  • Learn from it
  • Drop it
  • Move on!

I am already beginning to see improvements in my work and life 😉

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About Saranya Murthy

Voracious reader, aspiring writer, wordplay and personal growth enthusiast, English language and nature lover, 96.3FM fan, software developer
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