By Andra Mititelu, Sales Director, Permutive
These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps people find and finesse their public voices
The business world is often regarded as a heartless jungle. One that’s especially cutthroat when you work in sales. ‘’Swim or drown, this is how we work here’’ is a comment I’ve heard before, from management. “Just let them go if they think the grass is greener.’’
Now guess: do you think the managers making those comments were female or male?
You’re likely correct. In both examples, they were male. And with 95% (yes, 95%!) of leadership positions in the technology sector held by men (PWC UK), we need to seriously consider what sort of culture this can create at times, particularly in sales.
I am not the only one to experience such heartlessness. In fact, it’s quite common in companies where men sit at the top. Research from Harvard Business Review shows that within male-dominated leadership, women can often experience anxiety and self-doubt as they settle into their careers. It’s been suggested that this is because men have, historically, been discouraged from talking about emotions at work.
But that anxiety doesn’t need to be crippling. Certainly, employers can take steps to encourage women to overcome anxiety and self-doubt in the workplace. For example, exposing women to powerful female role models through mentorship is shown to be very effective (Sian Beilock, 2019).
There are also things that women can do themselves to feel happy and empowered in their careers. Personally, I knew that my ultimate happiness and motivation stemmed from connection, from collaboration and ultimately from love. I noticed that when I opened my heart and approached business with love, magical things happened.
Kindness and curiosity build healthy business relationships
I started with my customers. I decided to focus intensely on them. This was not about me, the company that I represented, the product, or my targets. This was about them. I used every opportunity to get to know them better. I made it my mission to understand and serve them.
How could I enable and empower them? How could I share knowledge in a truthful way? Within 12 months my bet paid off. My customers trusted me, enjoyed doing business with me, and were grateful for the love and care I put into developing and growing these relationships for the long haul.
With these types of client relationships in place, the targets took care of themselves. It felt like, when I was myself and focused on doing the right things out of love, the universe abundantly and spontaneously took care of my professional needs.
Research shows that we listen effectively only 10% of the time. We are often distracted by technology or even by our thoughts, and when we do listen we often listen to reply rather than to understand.
Active listening is an essential skill and one of the best ways to connect with another person (Caren Osten, Psychology Today). The good news is that it is a skill that can be improved with some awareness and an intention to shift to heart centric communication. Dutch writer and professor Henri Nouwen once wrote:
“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond…The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends.”
Before I jump into a new meeting, I find it really helpful to take a pause and three mindful slow breaths, while setting my intention for the next interaction or meeting, for example: I will create a safe and friendly environment for our discussion, and I will listen to understand. When I focus on the other person and listen from my heart, the chatter in my mind stops and real clarity emerges.
In 2016, Redbull and GoPro struck a partnership that was an adrenaline seeker’s dream. GoPro got access to more than 1800 Red Bull events and the two companies shared rights to content that would be distributed across both Red Bull and GoPro’s networks. The companies each gained from exposure to the other’s audience. The world got more high-flying, breathtaking videos. It was a very cool partnership — a win-win for the companies and also a win for us all. (Bradford Coffey, ThinkGrowth) Now that’s what I call a win-win-win.
I have made a vow to myself to only pursue win-win-win’s. How do I go about it currently? My employer’s mission is to rebuild data in digital advertising to protect privacy and restore consumer trust. We work with advertisers and agencies that have also made it their mission to only engage in responsible digital advertising that uses data smartly for precision marketing while respecting consumer privacy and choice. When engaging in these partnerships, we both win as with every engagement, we get closer to fulfilling our mission. And the world wins too because our privacy choices as consumers are respected and our data is protected and used sustainably.
The takeaway? Be like bamboo
In male-dominated leadership, as a woman it is often tempting to think that you need to be more ‘’masculine’’ but in my experience embracing my feminine energy and balancing it with the masculine has proven to be key to a balanced and happy professional life.
To remind myself this, I use a mantra: Be like bamboo – Strong but not rigid, while soft but without collapsing. Being like bamboo for me means focusing on doing business with heart: approaching client relationships with kindness, curiosity and a genuine intention to be of service, listening to understand, and only choosing to work on those types of partnerships that are win-win-win. So if you are ever feeling anxious or confused, particularly in male-dominated environments, why not give these principles a try to see how they feel and work for you?