A few days ago I had the pleasure of working alongside Dorie Clark. While the icy rain, wind and snow swirled outside the windows of our room, engaged minds inside were reflecting deeply on their leadership and communication style. Dorie asked the participants to think about what made them uniquely strong and powerful. Unable to resist the exercise, I got lost in my thoughts.
I smiled and thought, I am unapologetically assertive. I’m not in the business of diminishing myself. That’s my superpower, helping others step into their assertiveness by getting comfortable communicating more confidently.
Then she said something that jolted me back into the room.
She said, What makes you uniquely strong is oftentimes your weakness, when you do too much of it.
My body stilled. My smile was replaced with knitted brows. I nodded my head in agreement and thought, Of course she's right. I rewound the tapes of my memory bank in search of a situation when I'd come across too strongly. My breath caught as an incident from a few years ago played out in my mind. Had I really been too strong? Yes, because I had been perceived that way. Perception is reality.
I remembered how awful it felt to be accused of being aggressive. I remembered how I tried to convince the powers that be that I wasn't aggressive, but assertive. I remembered it as the day I realized that navigating that thin line between being seen as assertive not aggressive not only takes a skilled communicator, it also requires us to acknowledge the existence of the Double Bind effect.
Here's a quick review of the Double Bind from Catalyst.
Source: Catalyst, The Double Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned If You Do, Doomed If You Don't (2007)
The key question is how can our strengths remain our strengths irrespective of the situations and circumstances we are in.
For me, this means:
Accepting that too much of any wonderful thing will always be too much.
Acknowledging that unconscious bias exists in all of us.
Knowing which adjustments to my communication (verbal and non-verbal) I am best served making in order to positively influence others' perceptions without diminishing myself.
What about you?