Last Fall I wrote about the idea that relationships do not need to be categorized. They are not a “work friend,” they are simply a friend. I fully embrace when my relationships blur the line between personal and professional. If you missed that post, you can read it here.
A blurred line is how I ended up as a called upon expert for my friend, podcaster Jordan Harbinger of the Jordan Harbinger Show. Those of you who’ve seen me in person know that I’m not the tallest person. So not surprising that Jordan reached out when a listener wrote in with this problem:
I’m a stereotypical feminine female with a petite build and a soft voice in my third year of medical school. Because of the way I present myself, I’ve had some… interesting encounters with male patients, colleagues and superiors. For example, I’ve had patients call me “sweetheart” or “darling,” people ask me “Are you old enough to be here?”, some mocking the strength of my strikes when I perform the knee-jerk exam, and others cutting me off or speaking over me. Outside my institution, I’ve had people laugh in my face when I tell them I want to go into emergency medicine, saying things like, “Are you sure? Are you strong enough to adjust a dislocated shoulder?” Because I don’t like drama, I remain silent in situations like these, but deep down, I feel defeated.
How do I not let others judge me by how I look? How do I thrive in a field where masculinity is deemed equal to competency?
I can definitely relate! When I started my career switch from finance to the front of a room, I worried that people would think I was not old enough to have any credibility, or, worse yet, “who is the pipsqueak telling me how to lead?”
We can’t control how someone will act toward us, only how we process and respond to their actions. I shared that she has a few different choices when caught in these scenarios…
1. Change Her Presentation. She may shift her shoulders back to showcase a more powerful stance. She could also get some vocal coaching so that she can speak with a little more emphasis. Her voice doesn’t have to be loud so much as it should be confident and direct. If she employs these tactics, people may not minimize the things coming out of her mouth.
2. Call Them Out, Diplomatically. Choice 1 is absolutely beneficial…but results don’t happen overnight. There are still many things she’ll regularly encounter on a daily basis. Therefore, call them out, and while this may seem harsh, there is a way to do this amicably while assuming positive intent (or at least projecting your desired intent). For example, if somebody calls her “sweetheart” she might say, “I trust that you don’t mean anything by that, but I prefer to be called _______.”
3. Use Humor and Bridge. By taking the comment lightly and responding with a sense of humor you diffuse potential tension. At the same time, you want to bridge to the message you want them to receive. If somebody says, “Are you old enough to be here?” she might say, “I’ll take that as a compliment for my great skin, but trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
4. Speak Over It. Taking up your space in the room or conversation will shift or at least pause people’s tendency to talk over you. Find your phrasing to let somebody know you are not finished speaking without coming off as angry. Pose it as a statement, not a question asking permission. The next time she’s interrupted, she might say, “I am so glad something I said inspired a reaction. Hold that thought and please allow me to finish” or “Don’t let my pause fool you, I wasn’t finished. Let me continue my thought.”
In any scenario, it’s important to analyze each choice and determine what’s right for the moment. You don’t have to take responsibility for how people are treating you, only how you respond to their treatment. You deserve to be heard. Don’t let anyone take that away from you!