What I did when he called me “Sir”. Lessons in self-acceptance.

I rented a car last month at the Philadelphia Airport.  As I drove up to the car rental booth to leave, the gentleman in the booth said, “Good afternoon Sir…I mean Ma’am.”  This is not the first time I have been called “Sir”.  But it is the first time I actually didn’t get upset and decide to grow my hair out to at least Julia Roberts-length, wear fake eyelashes or put on low-cut shirts.  My lame attempt at pushing my woman-ness to the forefront so that not another soul on the planet will ever get my gender wrong again!

self acceptance

I remember distinctly the first time someone called me “Sir.” I was at the Concord Mall, home for Christmas Break from college in the middle of my senior year.  I had just gotten what we referred to back then as the 80’s “corporate do”.  It was a short haircut to help make one look more like a professional and less like a co-ed.  I was milling around a Thom McAn shoe store and a guy came up behind me and said “May I help you, Sir?”  I was mortified.  He caught his error almost immediately but as we can see by this post, I have not forgotten it.  Ever. And this is some 30 years later.  In my twenties, my solution was to look for something to “prove” I was a woman At.All.Times.  Happily, that is not my solution now.

So you are probably wondering how I can react differently now.  Here are my lessons in self-acceptance:

  • Stand in their shoes. It’s really embarrassing to call someone by the wrong gender (unless it’s what they want to be identified as).  I imagine that the guy at the shoe shop and the guy from the rental car place were just as embarrassed as I was.  Empathize for their embarrassment and it makes it easier to let go of your own.  That sounds counter intuitive but give it a try.  I think you’ll be surprised.
  • Tap into the energy. I reflected on the mistake as I drove away.  Perhaps I was exuding power.  The attendant felt that power as I approached.  As Amy Cuddy’s work has shown, when someone sees a non-anatomical figure walking powerfully, 80% of the time they assume it’s a man.  I remember in my final coaching class with CRR Global, I was facilitating with a tall, charismatic man name Michael.  At the end, I remember the insightful instructor Marita Fridjhon said, “This is a power couple.”  I realized that I had taken on Michael’s power. So take that testosterone driven energy and tap into it. Own it.
  • Test your assumptions. I had taken note at the airport about how many more men travel solo than women.  In fact, I rarely see women traveling alone, sitting in restaurants alone and checking into hotels alone.  I don’t know that many women who are comfortable eating in restaurants alone, heck, I wasn’t comfortable with it when I first started traveling for business some 25 years ago.  So for all I know, that attendant assumed a solo driver was a man. Check your assumptions.
  • I have been practicing meditation for over three years. I have learned to separate from the reaction and make space for a pause.  This helps me get off the self-critical talk that thirty years ago was, “OMG, he thinks I’m a man.  I am too tall.  I am too fat.  I am unlovable.” Crazy talk.  I am sure that I ruminated about it for months as I desperately sought to be more less masculine.   But now?  I can easily respond with a friendly smile and say, “Oops.”  I love Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, where he says that meditation is like “…getting behind a waterfall.”  All those thoughts are flying by but you can step back and not get attached to it.  Practicing mindfulness helped me stay out of the drama and it can help you.
  • I will never be petite. It is impossible to be 5’2 when I am 5’8.  It is what it is.  I’ll also never be an astronaut, or ballet dancer or president of the United States.  I’ll never be a father, or a judge or cowboy.  But what I can be is a great author, fabulous mother and most importantly, make a difference in people’s lives every day.  This is not dependent on me being more petite or less masculine.   I’ve learned that I can accept myself as I am.  I am perfectly imperfect.  Freckles and all.  Accept yourself as you are.  There is less of a battle that way.

I am me.  Can you be you?

Sit Up Straight. How to Take Up Space.

I had the pleasure of hearing Amy Cuddy speak last week at the WorkHuman Conference.  Amy has the second most viewed TedTalk and there is a good reason why.  She has terrific advice on how to be able to handle pressure without succumbing to fear and anxiety.  It was quite the thought provoking talk on how to be “Present.”

The interesting thing is that Amy models what she speaks.  She walks the talk in front of a crowd of some 1000 onlookers.  She is a petite woman but regardless she is a power house on the stage.  In addition, she points to the science to back up her claims and I’m going to outline them here.Sit Up Straight

Sitting up straight and other advice on being more powerful:

  • The 2 Minute Power Pose. I’ve been giving this advice to my students at Duke University for the last few years.   Right before we take the final exam, I have everyone stand up and pose like Wonder Woman or Super Man (whichever makes you feel more powerful) and we count to 120.  Studies have shown that doing the power pose for 2 minutes increases testosterone which makes you more assertive, confident, risk tolerant and competitive.  In addition, your cortisol drops with makes you less stressed, less anxious, more secure, and less fearful.  One of my students said after doing the power pose, “I’m going to do every day.”  What’s two minutes if you can go through the day more powerful? So I’ve been working on how I sleep as well.  It’s not like your mind isn’t reading your body while it sleeps.  No more fetal position for me!  I’ve been working on the power pose while I sleep.
  • Sit Up Straight. Turns out your mother’s advice was correct.  As Amy said, your mind and body are constantly conversing.  So whatever your body is emulating, the mind is readying.  She didn’t like “fake it till you make it” but rather “fake it until you become it.”  She asked everyone to look at their posture.  Suddenly we were all sitting up in our seats.  I’m sitting up straight as I write this.  When I sit up straight I feel more alert, more authoritative, more powerful.  One small change can make the difference in your entire day.  So imagining a string at the back of your neck and pull yourself up.
  • Don’t Cross Your Arms. This one is SO difficult for me.  It makes you appear defensive.  I am constantly crossing my arms, especially if a room is cold.  But when Amy modeled crossing her arms on stage?  She looked smaller.    Timid and weak.  So now I imagine myself in that important interview or project meeting.  If it happens to be in a cold room?  Or just by habit I cross my arms?  It’s not likely to be successful.  So habit or no.  Cold room or no.  Keep those arms open.
  • Think about how you walk. A power walk has more of an exaggerated swing to the arms.  Your legs have a longer stride. You posture is tall and erect.  Walking with purpose tells your body that you are powerful.  You are bold.  You are in control.  I’ve recounted a story before from my twenties where I was lost in Harlem one summer evening and being followed by some young men.  I turned on my power walk (I didn’t realize at the time that it would have a powerful effect).  Nobody was messing with me.  My fear and anxiety were dampened down and I got to where I was going safely without incident.
  • Own your space. I’m a tall woman.  I’ve spent a lot of life trying to appear petite.  To deny my presence if you will.  I’d find myself around petite women and I try to shrink myself.  This is not productive.  I remember in my final coaching class with CRR Global, I was facilitating with a tall, charismatic man name Michael.  At the end, I remember the insightful instructor, Marita Fridjhon said, “This is a power couple.”  I realized that I had taken on Michael’s power.  I owned my space, my taller than the average woman body.  Accept your body large or small and own it.
  • Don’t fill in the void with your voice. Another huge learning experience for me is to accept silence.  Powerful people don’t fill space with their voice.  They lower their voice and speak slowly.  As Amy says in her book Presence, “When people feel powerful or are assigned to high-power roles in experiments, they unconsciously lower their voice frequency, or pitch, making their voices expand and sound ‘bigger.'” Our voices are affected by anxiety and threat- both of which cause us to speak at a high pitch.” Power up and lower your voice.

Be powerful.

How to Instantly Connect. The Basics of Emotional Bidding.

When I think of bidding, I think of poker. So I didn’t immediately connect when I heard Marita Fridjhon, CRR Global, introduce the idea of a “repair bid” in terms of making a movement to try and repair a relationship. So if you are in conflict with a co-worker, you redirect the conversation by making a positive connection by saying something like, “I can see you put a lot of effort into this report” or “I so glad you’ve taken this project on.” It’s like stopping and offering a gift of grapes; sometimes known as a peace offering. The silent message is, “I know we disagree but I still value and respect you.” But there are more than just repair bids.Repair Bids

The idea of emotional bidding was developed by John Gottman and is outlined in his book, The Relationship Cure. “Introducing the fundamental unit of emotional connection he calls the “emotional bid,” Dr. Gottman shows that all good relationships are built through a process of making and receiving successful bids. These bids range from such subtle gestures as a quick question, a look, or a comment, to the most probing and intimate ways we communicate.” So the act of bidding is something we all need to understand and develop in order to connect with others. It’s the nuanced give and take between two people that lets the other know that you care while it strengthens your relationship.

So here are the ways we bid and instantly connect with others:

1. Question. As Gottman espouses, a question can be simple. “Did you see the World Cup game last night?” or “Can I get you some coffee?” or “What time are you leaving?” A question is easy and almost demands connection. This brings up a memory from traveling across the country with my family in a 22 foot trailer when I was eight years old. My father probably met a thousand folks on that trip, largely because he would ask questions whether standing on line at a gas station, restaurant, national monument, ice cream stand or rest area. “Where are you from?” “How long have you been on the road?” “What do you do?” Invariably my dad would be delayed and we would all roll our eyes in unison and say, “He’s probably talking to someone.” But he would always come back with some interesting story about the guy from Minnesota who is a trout fisherman with twelve kids. The point is he knew how to connect. Ask questions.

2. Gesture. Perhaps the easiest gesture is a wave. But any positive gesture is a way to connect. I remember when we first moved to Goldsboro which is a small town in Eastern North Carolina some 14 years ago. My husband and I would be driving to our rental house and a guy sitting on his riding mower would wave at us. We would look at each other perplexed like how does he know us? Turns out that’s what you do in a small southern town. You wave at people if you know them or not. I have to say I have felt more connected since I moved here and now I wave whether walking or driving. Connect through a gesture.

3. Look. So much can be communicated in just one look. A wink. A grin. As Gottman cites in his book, when someone is gauging your communication 7% is based on the actual spoken word, 38% is on tone and pace of voice and 55% is based on facial expressions and body language. One look speaks volumes over what you are actually saying. It’s engaging. And it’s so simple. Communicate and connect by simply looking.

4. Touch. In my opinion, this is the fastest way to connect to someone although in the business setting this can be risky. It’s not like this has to be an embrace. A dear friend of mine, and the editor of this blog, used to be a cocktail waitress at the San Francisco airport (MANY years ago). I can remember her advice as we were waiting on patrons in the Sunset Bar: “Touch the customer on the back of the shoulder.” My tips went up. Literally connecting with the customer had a huge impact. Such a small bid with terrific results. Try it in an argument if you can pull it off without it being obvious.

5. Express. Express your feelings. I know I have recommended this when I facilitate the DDI training “Essentials of Leadership” which recommends, “Share thoughts, feelings and rationale.” My Baby Boomer managers cringe at sharing their feelings. Like we need to sing Kumbaya or something. Feelings are not necessarily those of love (although in bidding with a love interest, it certainly could be). Feelings can be apprehension, fatigue, uncertainty, anger or excitement. “I’m nervous about giving you this project” or “I’m tired and I’m not thinking clearly.” For me it shows authenticity. Express yourself. Contrary to what you might think, it shows confidence and trust.

Connection can be fleeting if the other party does not reciprocate. Perhaps they are on their smart phone and ignore your attempts at a gesture. Gottman refers to this as a bid buster called being mindless. So make sure you are receiving as well as giving bids. Pay attention and acknowledge the connect. How do you bid?