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Book Review: “Now What Do I Say?” Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women


It’s sad to say, but even though it’s 2014, a lot of women are not getting equal respect or equal opportunities in the workplace. Women are still a minority of small business owners. Sometimes women in the workplace (unfortunately) have to deal with difficult misunderstandings, communication problems, or even mean-spirited or ignorant comments.

This is especially likely when dealing with people who aren’t accustomed to working with women in positions of power. Women at work often face subtle, sometimes unintentional, challenges to their authority, competence, and intelligence in a way that most men will never experience.

If you’ve ever had to have some tough conversations at work – whether with an employee, partner, or supplier – that made you feel disrespected or undermined, then perhaps the book, “Now What Do I Say?” would be helpful for you.

“Now What Do I Say?” was written by Anne Krook, a former technology executive at Her experience in the workplace has given her tremendous insight into how women can prepare, respond, and build better working relationships when they are presented with difficult situations.

If you’re a female entrepreneur, that means that you’re the boss – so most of these situations (hopefully) are not currently happening to you in your work life. But this book is still a good resource for companies, so you can share these ideas with less-experienced women who are trying to build a successful career. And these communication skills will help employees at your company build better teamwork and be more productive.

There are several common situations described in “Now What Do I Say?” that demonstrate how women can respond effectively and stay strong in tough conversations:
You’re Being Ignored
Sometimes women in the workplace get ignored – they don’t get called on in meetings, their ideas get overlooked, or they don’t get invited to special lunch meetings or training sessions that could benefit their careers.

If this ever happens to you, “Now What Do I Say?” offers a few good strategies, such as:

  • At a meeting, keep saying “excuse me” in a neutral tone of voice until you get recognized and invited to speak.
  • Ask “Mind if I join you?” or “Can we continue this discussion at lunch?” to make sure you are included at important meetings, even if you weren’t invited at first.
  • Proactively reach out in advance to be invited to special brainstorming sessions and supplemental meetings. Make sure your colleagues understand that you want to be involved in the “big idea” meetings.
  • Instead of asking, “why was I not invited to this?” phrase the question more positively: “What can I do to be included in future events?” This way people will not feel defensive; people might not be deliberately excluding you from opportunities. Give them the benefit of the doubt and avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.

People Don’t Respect Your Personal Space
Women tend to be physically smaller than men. Sometimes, men in the workplace (whether or not they intend to) will carry themselves in a way that is physically domineering or that violates women’s personal space. For example, men might raise their voice and point directly at your face, put their feet up on your desk, loom over you while standing too close, or lean over your cubicle wall in a way that feels invasive or uncomfortable.

Here are a few strategies to preserve your personal space and command respect:

  • Use humor. If someone stands too close and is looming over you, try saying “Ow, my neck hurts from looking up at you. Let’s sit down and chat.”
  • Be direct. “Please move your feet off my desk.”
  • Use body language. If someone hugs you inappropriately or shakes your hand too forcefully, step back and say simply “Hello” to show that you’re not receptive to that behavior.

You Get Overlooked in Vendor Meetings
Sometimes women in the workplace get overlooked in meetings with vendors. People might assume that the women are secretaries (even if they’re actually executives), or people on the women’s own teams try to cut them out of conversations with vendors.

If this happens to you, here are a few strategies to use:

  • Give the vendor the correct information. If you have been mistaken for a secretary, try to use humor. Vendors want to win your business and they will eagerly apologize and try to make up for any mistakes.
  • Talk to your colleagues privately. If a colleague seems to be disrespecting you or cutting you out of a vendor negotiation, bring it up with them privately after the meeting. Don’t air grievances in front of a vendor; keep it in-house.
  • Remember, sometimes your colleagues don’t mean to be disrespectful; they might just be feeling insecure or wanting to maintain an excessive degree of control over the vendor negotiations.

It’s unfortunate that many women still face such persistent disrespect and misunderstandings in the workplace. But fortunately, “Now What Do I Say?” provides great, actionable advice on how to be prepared if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation or a difficult conversation at work. Most of the time, it’s possible to use these moments as opportunities to assert your self-confidence, educate other people on how to communicate better, and ultimately establish yourself as more of a leader.

Have you ever had an uncomfortable moment in the workplace like the ones described here? Tweet us at @KabbageInc and let us know how you handled it. 


Kabbage Team

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