Book Excerpt: Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It

Nice Girls Just Don't Get It: 99 Ways to Win the Respect You Deserve, the Success You've Earned, and the Life You Want I know many readers are huge fans of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers (Business Plus)(affectionately known among commenters as NGDGTCO). I’ll be honest here: I haven’t read it yet myself! But I knew enough to sit up and take notice when the author, Lois P. Frankel, PhD, emailed me personally to see if we would be interested in running an excerpt of her new book, Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It: 99 Ways to Win the Respect You Deserve, the Success You’ve Earned, and the Life You Want (coauthored with Carol Frohlinger, JD).

This excerpt is on a topic near and dear to my heart: people who don’t write or speak in brief, to-the-point messages. One of my biggest pet peeves is having to weed through someone’s email message or voicemail to get to what they want, what the answer is, or what they’re trying to sell me. I hope you guys enjoy it!

Excerpt of NICE GIRLS JUST DON’T GET IT

Readers, what were some of your biggest take-aways from NGDGTCO?  What do you think the best way is to craft meaningful messages to people?

Comments

  1. (I think you mis-titled the link to the excerpt. It should be “…Don’t Get It” instead of “…Corner Office.”)

  2. SF Bay Associate :

    The NY library has fifteen copies of NGDGTCO (call number 158.1082 F) – http://bit.ly/eLL4J5, one currently available at the “Muhlenberg” location, and many of which are due to be returned within the end of this month. Go read it Kat so you’ll know what we’re all talking about :).

  3. Gosh, I can see *so much* of myself in Frankel’s example (more-so in the spoken word; I’ve worked hard on the email monster). I can say that as a black woman lawyer, I’ve felt the need to be *thorough* and explain everything in exactitude, for fear of being seen as superficial. Of course, I’ve then gotten dinged for being long-winded and tedious. Thoughts to ponder, for sure…

    • AnonInfinity :

      I am really bad about leaving long, rambling voice mails. There are definitely some things I can learn from this.

      • Francie Nolan :

        I see myself in this as well. I somehow think the more facts and information I provide the more credible what I am saying will sound. From the excerpt, the reality is the opposite.

        Now at least I have a way to develop an action plan.

        • Anonymous :

          I find it extremely helpful to first write my message in Word before I put it in an email (or calling, even). It lets me get the brain dump out of my system and edit to clarify my message. It’s amazing how often I write a paragraph or two only to realize that I really just needed to say “Do you need this today or tomorrow?”

          I developed this habit while working with someone who wouldn’t read an email if it was longer than two sentences. Seriously.

          • Sydney Bristow :

            I don’t put it in a Word document before I email, but I don’t put in the email address I’m sending it to until after I have edited it. That way I don’t accidentally send it before its ready. I’ve even gone so far as to delete the “To” line when I am replying to a message.

          • SF Bay Associate :

            Sydney – I do that too. I always delete the “to” and “cc” fields when replying, and leave them blank until I’m satisfied with my message.

          • AnonInfinity :

            That’s a really great idea!

          • I do this too–has saved me many times!

          • If I’m leaving a voice mail or making an important phone call, I will generally write out what I want to say first so I don’t get lost or use too many ‘ummms’ or ‘ahhhhs”. When I’m writing an e-mail I will just leave off the ‘m’ if it is a .com address so I don’t accidentally send it.

    • Yankee-Peach :

      The timing of this post couldn’t be better for me. We just this minute had a staff meeting in which our boss told us we didn’t need to be quite so wordy in our emails to her. I really have to start thinking of emails as a Twitter feed with one follwer: my boss.

      I may run out and get this book tonight.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I feel the same way. I think I write emails well, but when it comes to speaking out loud I tend to have more issues.

  4. Maybe not feedback they want, but I find the title really horrible and insulting. I’m actually not one to get insulted at most superficial things but I hate the message it sends. Really? ALL nice girls don’t get it? Maybe some of us do. Maybe some of us get it and play the workplace game really well. I really dislike giving girls/women these negative messages that insidiously can infect your psyche, like “girls are not good at math.” I never questioned my math ability until someone said that to me late in high school. Maybe I’m reading the title wrong but ugh…

    • Based on “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” I think Frankel is trying to draw a distinction between “girls” and “women” and argue that behaviors we’re taught as girls are often not advantageous to women in the workplace. But I see how it reads badly without that context (and perhaps even with it).

    • Yeah, it’s an analogy. That’s a problem with just posting an excerpt – you don’t get the author’s long explanation of why she’s using those terms. It is meant to be helpful, not insulting at all.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Part of the book’s schtick is that while nice WOMEN can and should get the corner office, women who act like GIRLS cannot. We corporettes are adult women, not childish girls.

      We all learned behaviors in girlhood about pleasing authority figures, especially male authority figures, not making too much noise, not acting too smart, not acting in ways that would make men less attracted to us, basically the necessity of being “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Boys are often taught to be strong, to lead, to excel, to get dirty outside, while girls are often shunted off to supporting and secondary, indoor roles. “Girls are not good at math” is one of those negative messages we heard in childhood. We as Women we can recognize that as a message designed to hold us down, reject it, and proudly demonstrate as false. NGDGTCO is about recognizing these messages exist, recognizing how we may have internalized them and are still acting in ways that comply with these messages, and consciously rejecting them to change our behavior to a way that is more empowering for ourselves and our careers.

      There was an interesting post in Jezebel recently about messages children receive about gender roles from toy advertising that circles back on the message of NGDGTCO: http://jezebel. com/5791235/how-toy-ad-vocabulary-reinforces-gender-stereotypes (space before the .com to avoid being stuck in moderation).

      • Just a note, we didn’t all grow up that way. I never had any of those messages when I was a child, and there is no one more proud of me than my dad and uncles.

        • Agreed. I certainly wasn’t raised this way, and my husband and his sisters weren’t raised that this was the expectation of gender roles either. I’m sorry if that’s how you were raised though!

          • even those among us who were lucky enough (myself included) to not get these messages from our parents or families probably got them from school, childhood friends, those friends’ parents, tv, etc. etc. etc. i think that having a supportive family that doesn’t buy into these ideas (“boys do x but girls should do y”) definitely helps a lot, but it can’t undo or counteract the weight of an entire society’s norms.

      • I think “we all learned” is somewhat strong language. I never learned that as it was not something valued in my family. One of my great grandmothers had 4 girls and they were all taught that they could do whatever they wanted, and since then all successor generations of women were taught the same thing. My dad was the one who made my doll clothing as a child and my best friend and I typically were out playing around in the dirt or with the all boys’ groups.

      • When I heard posters talk about NGDGTCO before I was also put off by the title and tuned out. But your explanation makes a lot of sense and I think the book sounds really helpful. I also didn’t grow up with a lot of messages about being a “nice girl.” Both my parents consider themselves feminists – they encouraged me to lead, and compete with my brother and I definitely didn’t feed me these messages at home. That said, I certainly was exposed to them in school, with some of my friends’ mothers, through media and entertainment and in other areas.

        Sounds like this would be worth reading!

      • SF Bay Associate :

        CFM and MelD, I’m sorry if I implied that “we all learned” negative messages only from family. It’s wonderful that you have such supportive families. I meant to say these messages are pushed upon us from many directions, from family or elsewhere. Even if our family is empowering, teachers, the media (see the Jezebel post on toy advertising to children), our friends and their families, social groups, other students, and colleagues can all be sources for these negative messages. I think it is very, very hard to avoid any and all exposure to these messages.

        I also don’t mean to say that the book is perfect. I found that a lot of the listed behaviors didn’t apply to me at ALL, but a few of them were true facepalm moments upon recognizing something I was doing. That’s why there’s a quiz at the beginning of the book – there’s probably one or two areas where a corporette is strong, and one or two areas where she is weak, and many where she is just fine. In those weak areas, the corporette may be able to use the book to recognize some behaviors and make empowering changes. The book is not a list of mandatory do’s and don’ts – it’s a tool to help polish aspects of our professional presentation.

        • SF Bay Associate – Right on.

        • I think women who are brought up in empowering/stereotype-free environments within the home tend to brush off other influences more easily. Especially when you are young child, what you see in your family is what you consider normal. If I was exposed to anti-feminist messages, I just brushed them off as a bit of an oddity.

          I don’t doubt that everyone has weaknesses, but I have problems with books that assume that these are problems particular to women. I have one male coworker who seems to have a lot of the problematic behaviors mentioned here. Why can’t we just have books on behaviors generally that are undesirable instead of labeling as a female trait?

          • Anne Shirley :

            You have male co-workers who fiddle with their hair, giggle, make the coffee, and bring cookies to work all the time? I was raised in a feminist house-hold, went to a women’s college, and generally consider myself a kick-ass confident woman. I found most of her book I was already doing- but the piece about always introducing yourself with your first and last names- total duh moment for me and worth reading.

            I find many women (and certainly not suggesting you!) just don’t see the gender differences/discrimination. Which is why when the Chief Justice spoke at law school, 14 of my male classmates, and NONE of my female classmates, got up to ask him a question.

          • Aside from the hair, I would say that yes, I have male coworkers who do all the other things. I started out working in male dominated environments that were extremely sexist (weekly strip club outings, anyone?), so I am hardly oblivious to discrimination. I saw gender stereotypes at my law school more so than I had ever seen them previously (I went to law school a little late) and it was pretty surprising to me. I tried to go to a few women’s groups there and just found that they were reinforcing the stereotypes and quit.

          • Oh and I was referring more to the rambling problem that everyone was discussing in this thread. Most of the big-time ramblers at my work are men. I have one coworker who requires almost an hour for any phone conversation.

      • At a crossroad :

        Oh, that helps. Thanks. I was seeing the emphasis on “nice,” rather than on “girls.” It made me think she was arguing that I needed to be mean to be successful–a price I’m not willing to pay! But being a woman rather than a girl? I can get on that bus!

    • Anonymous :

      I’m unfamiliar with these books, so all I know is from the excerpt above. But I had the same reaction to the title. My issue isn’t with the use of “girl” but “NICE.” The title implies that women must be MEAN to succeed, whereas the author seems to (correctly) outline what women (everyone, really) can do to be professional and effective. I believe that one can be professional, effective, AND nice.

      But I suppose “Unprofessional, Ineffective Women Don’t Get It” isn’t such a catchy title.

      • At a crossroad :

        Yeah, that’s what I meant to say. This, exactly. Now that I know the title overstates the book, I may need to read it.

    • I think given the subtitle, “it” refers to respect. Unfortunately, it’s all too often true that that’s one thing nice girls don’t get. Perhaps we could think of this as a way for nice girls/women to stay that way and still obtain respect from others?

  5. I totally check out of long-winded emails, speeches and, the worst, never-ending voicemail messages. I remember learning these concepts in my college speech communication course, so either a lot of people didn’t take the course, absorb much, or it’s not something that occurs to them. I’ve actually found it to be very widespread among male bureaucrats who like to hear themselves talk. They are “verbose” for self-important reasons.

    • Anonymous :

      Or they’re hiding something nasty in between the boring bits. (I have a supervisor who does this — hides important, unpleasant stuff in boring emails so no one complains.)

  6. Is it too much to wait for the day when men are expected to read books telling them what’s wrong with them, and how they need to change their behavior/assumptions?

    Or, is it even too much to ask that this book be entitled something which doesn’t imply that professionally employed and educated women are “girls” who are just too dumb to figure out basic communication skills?

    It’s 2011, and I still end up hearing about that nasty supervisor who was staring at Jane’s breasts through a conversation, and comforting Mary for being all but forced out of her job after she became pregnant, and commisserating with Amy that if she is as assertive as her male co-workers she gets nasty reviews and overhears somebody calling her a “b!tch.” At some point, it’s not a problem with US – it’s a problem with THEM. We’re dealing with an entrenched system which is still sexist, very anachronistic, given to sexist/classist/racist stereotyping of employees and using sexist/classist/racist behavior markers, and, yes, doesn’t get it.

    Either write a book helping women navigate a system which is set up against us from day one (while acknowledging that it’s unfair and sexist, and not acting like we’re idiots or pandering to us) or just write a gender-neutral book.

    I realize that a gender-neutral book may not sell as much as a sexist one. After all, we nice girls have been conditioned to believe we have a whole host of things wrong with us and therefore act self-effacing and self-defeating, right? … And ergo will buy a sexist book which further tells us all the things which are “wrong” with us, and how we can “fix” ourselves.

    But at least then you wouldn’t be making the problem -worse-.

    • AnonInfinity :

      “Either write a book helping women navigate a system which is set up against us from day one (while acknowledging that it’s unfair and sexist, and not acting like we’re idiots or pandering to us)”

      I feel like that’s the point of NGDGTCO. I read it to be saying “If you do x, then people will view you as a ‘nice girl,’ consider doing y instead.”

      SF Bay Associate, above, gave an execellent description of why the books use the term “nice girl” instead of “competent and educated women who might have some habits that are socially ingrained or bosses who buy into society’s messages about how women should act and those habits are holding them back.”

      Having said that, your point that the work environment and society should be expected to change is a good one.

      To gender neutral guides — One of my male friends at my lawfirm just passed along “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law,” so there are a few of those types of books out there.

      • BigLaw Refugee :

        The Curmudgeon’s Guide is actually quite a good guide to being successful as a young associate in a law firm, I think, tongue in cheek though it is.

        • AnonInfinity :

          I read through a lot of it that same night. I think I’m going to try to incorporate a lot of the tips he gives!

    • Original Lola :

      Sei, your point is exactly the author’s point in the “Corner Office” book. She *did* “write a book helping women navigate a system which is set up against us from day one (while acknowledging that it’s unfair and sexist, and not acting like we’re idiots or pandering to us).” It’s called Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.

      You criticism may be different if you read it.

      • As someone who did read it, I think she did act like we’re idiots. She did acknowledge that it’s unfair, etc. but I do think it became EXTREMELY patronizing.

        To each her own.

    • *Sigh* excellent point, we are often made to feel “broken” as women in a way that is fundamental to our gender and thus must be addressed as such (trying being a woman of color, it’s even worse). At the same time, I think that SF Associate’s description is apt from reading the first two books (Nice girls don’t get the corner office & rich) in terms of this woman not writing from a sexist place. Authors don’t get to pick their titles, and this title is certainly appealing to female insecurity, which is a shame, but she did a great job of turning that title on its head in the intro of the other book. Too bad most people don’t get that far when they are initially turned off by the title (as I was, but ended up reading it anyway due to the recommendations here).

      • Agreed; it’s too bad the framing of this excerpt and of the rest of the marketing surrounding the books isn’t better. I’m sure you’re right that the author has little control over it though.

    • Yes, this.

    • Regardless of whether it is a problem with ‘us’ or ‘them’, it is still a problem that negatively affects women rather than men. The qualities that are valued in the business world are those that boys are taught while girls are taught to be nice and play house. We still need to deal with this problem regardless of whose fault it is, us or them.

      • I think you meant to say “the qualities that men value in the business world…” Someday, I’d really like to see men start caring about the qualities that women value in the business world.

        I don’t expect it to ever happen, though.

        • Anne Shirley :

          In my office there are 24 partners. 23 of them are old white men. I hate it, but I also want to become someone they value, so their opinion matters.

          • This! Unfortunately, the opinion of those old men can significantly affect your career or at least your current job. Women can sit around and complain about how it is unfair, but that’s a waste if that’s all they do. We have to play the game according to their rules until we are in a position to make the rules. I think the same goes for men entering the work place, too. They have to follow the same rules whether they like it or not, and I’m sure they feel similar pressures.

    • I am amazed at how bad it seems to be in other work environments. I just don’t encounter detectable sexism within my professional circles (DoD military service). People just expect other people, regardless of what they look like, to pull their own weight. The leadership training of my service, though, is gender-blind (to the extent it can be) and 18 years of women flying fighters and bombers has done a lot to help change the culture- like “no big deal.” This overall issue is like the old adage, “you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.”

      On the childhood messages, I think for many of us born in the late ’60s and after, our parents were more supportive and encouraging of our goals. However, the peer pressure weirdly countered that. I could bring home straight As, but if that boy didn’t ask me to dance, forget it. When you spend at least 8 hours a day with that, and there’s no real “girl achievement” messages from school staff or others, it’s tough for the parental message to stay in there. One of my Brownie merit badges was for macrame! And what do the cheerleaders who get the boys do? Look cute and support the football/basketball team.

  7. I tend to speak directly and find that it gets confused with bluntness or rudeness. “This is what I need from you” or “this is what I don’t want” are not value judgments or critiqes but are taken as such, and in my experience, more often by women colleagues, who react as though they have been criticized despite any tone or connotations. For example, I had a slightly junior colleague proofreading a brief for me who bristled when I explained in direct terms what I needed (Bluebooking, typos, etc.) and what I did not (stylistic suggestions). Nowhere did I say anything that could be construed as not valuing her opinion, not thinking she was a good writer, etc. It was just that it was a final-final-pre-filing proofread. But she reacted so insulted that now I am more hesistant than I otherwise would have been to give her more substantive work.

    On a related note, I get impatient when people preface their statements with a pre-apology or explanation. I prefer a bottom line, first, and then the qualifications/background/life story so that I’m in a better position to determine how much context I need. Example: instead of asking a question outright, saying “I was wondering if…”
    I’m speaking in the professional context only. My friends can take as long as they want to spit it out:)

    • This. I work with a host of women who must be placated, reassured, etc before I can ask of them what I need. Simple request, clearly and politely stated isn’t “okay” – it’s brusque and might hurt someone’s feelings. I get all sorts of pushback if I feel the need to say anything to one of our vendors about the quality of their work, lest they be offended. (Hello! WE are paying THEM!! There are no men in our office, so nothing balances it out or suggests that their behavior is not normative. As I am in the clear minority, I just remind myself to do the female genuflection before I make a request or suggestion. One other woman in the office “gets it” like I do and if you hear us dissolve into laughter it is because one said to the other: “You’re so pretty and I like your shoes. Can I have the Smith file please?”

      • I’ve experienced what you describe in terms of having to placate people ridiculously before asking for something. And, of course, I don’t know you and have no idea how you or AEK come off to people.

        On the other hand, whether you’re paying someone or not, a please, a smile, and a thank you goes a HUGE way towards making people happy to do something for you – there are a couple of people in my office who don’t do either of those things (one woman, one man) and honestly, they’re nightmarish to work for and wreak havoc on the entire office dynamic by putting everyone who deals with them in a bad mood. And I’m sure both of them would say exactly what people are saying on this thread, that they’re direct and succinct. And they are that – and they’re not directly abusive – but that, by itself, isn’t enough. It’s not weak to be pleasant to people you’re asking to do things for you and expecting to make your life and your job easier.

        • Totally agree. Being polite (even friendly) and being direct are not mutually exclusive, though. And sometimes people seem to think they are.

      • Me three! I also work in an almost-all-women industry, and am constantly re-assessing my emails before I send them to make sure they aren’t going to sound too “blunt”, and have enough social lubricant to not somehow sound like I’m angry. But what can I say? I’m usually a very direct and concise person when it comes to work (if I’m actually needing/wanting to chitchat with someone about vacation or shoes, NSM!)

    • I think I can understand where the associate is coming from based on the possible way that you presented it. The difference between,

      “I’d like you to review this document that is in the final stages for bluebooking and typos.”
      and
      “I need you to edit this document. I don’t want stylistic suggestions, just types and bluebooking.”

      is stark to someone who takes things personally. I know that the response is usually, “well don’t take things personally” but in reality very few people can be as detached and “professional” as to not associate bluntness/directness with a lack of respect, trust, etc. If you are having lots of issues with this you may want to alter your conversation style to reflect more sensitivity (while still being straightforward and direct).

      • Ameila, are you seriously saying that you would feel offended if someone said one or the other you? Which one is offensive? I actually couldn’t see any emotional difference at all between those sentences, other than the second one is clearer than the other and would save me a lot of wasted time and effort if I got the assignment!

        • EC-yes, the first sentence is better for me. The second sentence is too brusque. “I need” and I want” statements present rude and overly demand to some people. The emphasis when making such statements is that your wants/needs are paramount and final. Rather than asking for help, it’s demanding it and it can offend.

          “I’d like” or “Please” goes a long way for some people. It’s a cultural/personality thing, and I’m not saying one is better than the other, but that we should try to accommodate each other to make working together easier. A verbose person should learn to be succinct, and direct person to be polite, and everyone leaves the meeting feeling valued (something that is apparently rare in the legal world.)

          • BigLaw Refugee :

            Also, the context is important here. If you ask someone to review something and tell them you don’t want stylistic suggestions, it’s not surprising that they’d hear “I don’t value your opinion – you are just a lowly functionary.” With the context very clearly explained, that reaction would be less likely to occur.

            I think it’s important not to confuse this type of issue with what Frankel’s excerpt is talking about. Her excerpt refers to communications with peers and/or superiors – presenting your ideas, etc. The issue she is addressing is rambling and not being to the point.

            When dealing with people who are working for you, you still don’t want to ramble, but just as Frankel suggests a “tag line” to soften the directness of your pitches to peers and superiors, when speaking to subordinates it is very helpful to come up with a structure where you affirmatively try to provide context, indicate your availability to answer questions and provide support (or apologize if you will not be available), and recognize the value of their contributions. With that happening, your direct “want” and “need” statements should be taken appropriately. As a woman who is not generally oversensitive, I can say that the male and female superiors who took the small bit of extra time to do this won my loyalty and best efforts. (I think this is important when establishing a new relationship or for spot assignments – in an ongoing relationship you don’t have to do this every time.)

            In the example of the late stage brief, I would have said something like “I’m sorry I couldn’t get you involved at an earlier stage, when we were still working on the substance and style of the brief. At this point, we are just about to file and all we need is some additional eyes to review it for typos and bluebooking. Thanks so much for pitching in on this last minute task. Since you’re new to the brief, you’ll be able to look at it with fresh eyes and hopefully spot some things we would have missed.” It sucks for a junior person to be called in solely for such a ministerial task, instead of it being part of a broader involvement in the case, and the way I spoke to the person would reflect that I understood that. Or if the person *had* previously reviewed for style, I’d mention that and say that the previous comments were helpful before saying now we need to focus on typos and Bluebook.

            Also, assuming there are others on the case, I think “we need” always comes across better than “I need” or “I want.” It makes the person feel more like a part of a team.

            I would not take offense at someone saying I need or I want, but I do think that regardless of gender, the way the assignment is presented can be part of an overall dynamic that leaves me feeling either like a valued team player or like an undervalued servant. I’m more likely to go the extra mile in the first situation.

          • Such good points, BLR!

          • recently preggers :

            The problem here, though, is that if you dont tell people what you “need” done, they often push your assignment to the bottom of the pile and assume its less important/time sensative than others (even with a firm deadline)

    • NOT so NICE :

      “Most women can’t get away with short, pithy
      messages the way men can—we’re accused of being aloof or rude,
      whereas men are just assumed to be busy and effi cient.” I am terrible with the nicey nicey that seems to be required with email conversation. Glad to hear other women have the same problem. This book was not written for us, ladies.

    • Divaliscious11 :

      Oh, man. I am dealing with this now. I have a person on my team who is seriously under performing, yet her complaints are that I’m mean, or I am a itchbey. I have talked to my boss, because that is who she is complaining to, but the only ” mean” thing I have said is you aren’t performing at the level of expectation! I completely believe the whole, you aren’t nice to me, is subterfuge for I can’t do my job, but you are supposed to cut me some slack because you are a woman! Completely frustrating!!!!!

  8. I don’t think this chapter is incorrect, but I think it fails to address WHY women in particular struggle to get to the point, and why men (and other women) have such little patience with us when that happens. Women try to prove themselves by flooding the conversation with information, and men assume that means they don’t know which parts are really important.

    The diagram and model are pretty familiar to anyone who has ever taken a composition or public speaking course. Another version I’ve heard is: “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve just told them.” I think it intellectually makes sense, even if some people don’t apply the same logic to their day-to-day communications. But I don’t think it hits the underlying problem for the “nice girls” the book is directed at.

    I am definitely a “nice girl” and have found many of the previous hints in NGDGTCO helpful in crafting my work persona in the year since I graduated. I can write a coherent essay and prepare a set of Powerpoint slides that make sense and have little extraneous information. But when I get nervous, that’s when the verbal diarrhea strikes and I start to babble. I’m aware of it when it happens, and I suspect it occurs in conjunction with other nice-girl no-nos like a high-pitched voice, and playing with hair. It’s stage fright maybe caused by “imposter syndrome.” I’ve seen it happen to other women too.

    To me, the solution to the problem is not structuring every email and conversation around that diagram. That’s nothing new to most readers of this blog, I imagine. The solution is believing (or convincing yourself) that you DO know what you’re talking about, and that whatever you are trying to say will stand on its own merit. You don’t have to try so hard and explain away every little detail. It’s a mental trick, but it gets easier the more you do it. I don’t think it’s a problem of “women don’t know how to be succinct,” but instead, “women don’t trust themselves to be succinct.”

    Trust yourself.

    • I love this response. “Trust yourself” may become my new mantra. I have the same “verbal diarrhea” problem, especially when around older professionals who I feel even more like I have to “prove” myself to, but don’t feel I have the knowledge or skills to do so. I find that when I’m talking to people younger than me, or people who are in a stage in life I’ve been through (like law students for example), I have this calmness and confidence because I’ve done it and so therefore I can trust myself to sound intelligent enough. But when I’m talking to someone with more experience, I overcompensate for my lack of experience with too much information (presented poorly).

      • The problem is when others don’t trust you and always ask for information that isn’t really relevant to the task at hand (to ensure that you have done your research, etc…). I can understand this early in a career or at a new job, but eventually it should shift. I feel that men gain that trust so much sooner than women. And then you end up adopting that rambling style instead of being allowed to be more succinct and direct.

    • Yes! Like the common advice about interviewing: respond to the question, and then *stop talking*!

      It takes some practice to become comfortable with the silence that may follow, but I find it so much preferable to a long-winded, meandering answer. And this practice forces people to organize their thoughts in their head/ in the email before sharing them.

      • Original Lola :

        Or what I was trained to do as a trial lawyer: “State your answer and then S.Y.A.D.” (Sit Your A** Down)

      • Sometimes when I fear I am approaching babbling stage, I’ll shut up and “say” in my head “stop talking stop talking stop talking stop talking…” It seems to help me feel more comfortable with silences.

    • This is so true and very insightful.

  9. I think one of the most helpful things I’ve done in this regard is to count the number of words I can easily read on my blackberry screen without losing attention or feeling put upon (~125). I then figured out how many lines of writing that was in my Outlook screen when typing a message (less than five). I now make sure that there is a summary at the beginning of every email I write that is under this word/line count containing the key info — including deadline.

    • Financette :

      Brilliant! I know that many partners will only glance at their BB to see if it’s something that needs to be dealt with now, or can wait. I’ve been relying on stressing an action item in the subject line (i.e. “PLEASE REVIEW: Client X Draft Response”) but I’m going to adopt this, too :-)

  10. I’m generally succinct in emails, but in person, I tend to go on an on. Part of it is because I want someone to “get it quicker”, and so instead of giving them time to think and process what I’ve said, I try to “help” them by giving more examples/information/supporting evidence. I’m trying to learn to just shut up and let them process for a few minutes before I jump in and “make it easier” for them. So difficult, especially for a naturally verbose person!
    On another note re: nice girl tendencies, I caught myself writing a bullet point list of requirements, and starting each line with the word “please”. Sigh… I already wrote “please” in the instructions to send it to me, so it’s just silly to keep writing that for all 10 points of a list! When I commented on this to my mom, she replied, “Well, you should always be polite, there’s no need to be rude to get your point across.” I know she means well, but that right there is the exact perpetuation of “nice girls”!

  11. Ugh. This chapter reminds me so much of NGDGTCO. I find it so offputting that the author assumes my writing might sound anything like that opening paragraph. If it did, sure, that would be a problem worth discussing. But it doesn’t, and neither does the writing of any of my female coworkers.

    Even though I may personally feel validated, reading a string of “you may be making this horrible mistake, and if not you, then lots of your female professional peers” is actually quite awful. If I let it, this type of message can make me think less of women, and therefore myself.

    • BigLaw Refugee :

      Interesting point. I see what you mean – I don’t actually see most women engaging in most of the behaviors Frankel highlights in NGCGTCO – and yet I do recognize a few in myself and in other women. I certainly have seen the rambling (albeit not to the extent in her example) and more often in women.

  12. In 2008 during her presentation to the Women in Law Conference sponsored by our state Bar, Lois Frankel was asked about the choice of title for Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. It seems that when she submitted the manuscript to her publisher, it had a more serious academic title. The publisher insisted on changing the book name to NGDGTCO. Ms. Frankel shrugged and said that the book had gotten a lot of attention and a lot wider distribution due to the change of title.

    • Book insider :

      Most of the time, the title is 100% up to the publisher. It’s a small circle of authors who can select (and insist on) their own title. Think Stephen King.

      • Still, let’s say your daughter who is a teen and is a “girl” not a “woman” yet sees this book on a shelf. It screams the message Nice GIRLS Don’t Get It. She doesn’t read any farther and understand that It is respect. She’s left with a book title with the message that girls basically don’t get it (where It is something important). The premise just irks me.

  13. Esquirette :

    This sounds like a potentially good book. I note that this excerpt could have been based directly on an excerpt from “The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace” by Shaunti Feldhahn. Kat posted a link to an article about this book one Friday over a year ago and, unfortunately, the article, and the ensuing conversation in the comments, mainly focused on the attire/male gaze issue that is addressed in one chapter of the book. So many people sing the praises of NGDGTCO but, after reading The Male Factor, it wasn’t worth the read to me (though I tried!). Seriously, if you haven’t looked at this book, check it out. It literally is a giant FYI to women as to how their actions may be perceived by the men (and some women) they work with *as something to consider* so you know what you are up against.

  14. This conversation reminds me of the lyrics to the Madonna song, “What It Feels Like For A Girl”. While I would hardly call Madonna a strong Corporette role model (though wow, does she ever have a good head for business), those lyrics are interesting and – dare I say it? – insightful for the purpose of this topic. Basically – do we speak or write like “nice girls” because society in general *expects* us to?

  15. Perhaps, given how many copies of NGDGTCO Corporette has been responsible for selling, and how many of us are likely to pick up the new book, the author would like to give Kat 5-10 copies and do a give-away? :)

  16. I feel like life would be so much easier if people just thought about “balance” in regards to just about everything.

    Sure, a really long, flowery email ala the author’s example is hard to read and pointless. But I can’t tell you how many “Thx,” “Ok,” “Do this by COB,” type emails I’ve gotten that have been just as pointless (the best one I ever got had the entire 5-word email in the *subject line* and nothing in the email body) because they convey too little detail and actually are often really terse. So, why the focus on one extreme of behavior? Why, “You must behave in this extreme way and this extreme way only, or else you will never have a career?” Why not stress a happy medium and treating things reasonably?

    Apply this logic to every “office issue” here (be it skirt length, hair style, nail color, interview behaviors, whatever) and life would be so much easier and less stressful: balance with very little freak out if behaviors differ slightly more in either direction. Enough with the “OMG is my 1 paragraph email too long”/”Is my dress two inches above my knee too short”/”Does this insignificant and debatably ‘wrong’ thing I did jeopardize my entire career and make me a fail employee, especially as a woman” nonsense. Why can’t people just be reasonable and promote reasonable behavior rather than insist upon certain extremes or very targeted specifics as the ONLY way to do things??

    //End rant.

  17. Did anyone else have a little squeeeee moment upon realizing that Lois Frankel (or, ok, her publicist) reads this blog and knows that we love her?

  18. I liked the chapter, thanks to Kat and the author for sharing and stimulating good dialogue. I do find the assumptions and title mildly annoying, but I’m not so senstive to care. I have improved over time at this in speaking and writing but have a long way to go. I see female colleagues do it often, and cringe. I have male colleagues who write overly verbose emails too. It is a really important effectiveness factor.

    Was working with US military last month and told to always use BLUF: bottom line up front. Have been doing it every since. Very helpful mental device.

    As an aside- interviewed 3 people yesterday. Good eg of when thank you email can do more harm than good: guy writes one including 2 points that were BAD… 1- “i have now had the opportunity to research you on the internet and found out about the amazing things you are doing for the company (a- really, telling me you are stalking me online? b- you didn’t get to this til after the interview?) and 2- “it will be great to join the team.” (ummm… you weren’t offered the job- wrong verb tense). He wasn’t the right fit anyway, but I have heard logic that counsels against thank-you’s at all for this very reason. It made my opinon worse than the in-person experience.

  19. ClassOf'11! :

    I am graduating law school in a month (!) and headed to the real world after that… first to a state appellate court and then into BigLaw. I would love advice from corporettes who have read books that have been helpful in their careers – either books like NGDGTCO that are about office culture and how to navigate it, or even substantive law-oriented books to help with those first assigments!

    • AnonInfinity :

      I have no advice really because I am also graduating in a month, I just wanted to say congratulations!!!!! I’m find it -so- hard to pay attention right now.

      More people will probably weigh in if you post on the TPS thread or the afternoon thread today.

    • As a current clerk, I suggest not worrying too much about substantive law yet. You have a bar exam to study for, which is more than enough law to think about. The most important thing to do in preparation is to make sure to get the previous clerk’s number & email. The first few weeks will be a confusing blur, and you will be asking him/her a lot of questions

    • If you haven’t already, read Brian Garner’s “The Elements of Legal Style,” or another of his prose books. Caveat that this made it painful to read some of the briefs that I encountered as a law clerk, but at least it will help you avoid their mistakes in drafting memoranda and opinions!

  20. Wow, I’m surprised by the reaction to the title. Its a riff on those old, cliched messages girls used to receive: “Nice girls don’t sweat”, “Nice girls don’t get mad”, “Nice girls don’t swear”. I guess its an age thing that so many of you don’t catch the reference, these phrases were once right up there with “Eat your dinner, children are starving in Africa.” It doesn’t mean “You have to be a bitch to succeed”, it means “Throw off those old restrictive sexist messages you got in your youth in order to rock the board room!”

    • I should have added that the ultimate “Nice girls don’t .. . ” messages related to sexual activity.

    • Exactly. I guess many missed the reference, but I think if you listen closely, these messages still exist. There was a story on the local news recently about a teen dance club which was, of course, frequented by boys and girls. When the reporters showed videos to the PTA the reaction was “No one wants to see their DAUGHTERS acting that way.” I took a Gender and Law seminar my last year of law school and ended up writing my final paper on sex-ed programs and Title IX. In the course of researching this paper I discovered evidence of many programs officially promoting the idea that girls ought to be the “gatekeepers.” Though many of these ideas not expressed so bluntly, many programs focus on teaching girls that THEY need to say no (unthinkable that girls would be the ones initiating sexual activity) while boys learn other things.

      These books are very much about throwing off the very sexist “good girl” stereotype.

  21. I’m pretty sure that every female supervisor that I have ever had has read this book… and endeavored to do the OPPOSITE of everything inside. Some of them even reprimanded me for not acting like a “nice girl”, even though it made me more effective.

    It should be noted that every one of these female supervisors were in the 40-50 year old range.

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