Saturday, July 16, 2011

Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History: Nice Girls Just Don't Get It

"Laura, you’re being far too nice to those people!” My colleague scolds me after I hang up the phone. While he’s humorously alluding to my pleasant demeanour with a patron; he may not be too far off the mark. In fact, he has touched on an issue that, I just realize, has held me back for the majority of my life. Like many other women, I was raised on a strict regime that included rules and mantras such as: “stop asking questions,” “keep those things to yourself,” “if you want people to like you, then you should (…),” and of course “be nice.” As rebellious as I was, this philosophy was more or less inbedded in me. I became far too nice.

Fortunately, a recent publication touches on the solution to this very issue. Lois P. Frankel and Carol Frohlinger’s Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It (Crown Archetype, 2011) is directed at women who “feel invisible, taken advantage of, treated less than respectfully, or at a loss for how to get the things you most want in life.” No strangers to dishing out advice to nice girls – Frankel is best known for her bestselling Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, while Frohlinger, also an author, is the founder of Negotiating Women, Inc., an advisory firm dedicated to helping organizations advance women into leadership roles. Their work includes some sage advice that all “nice girls” should consider.
To clarify, when I say one should stop being so ‘nice’ I do not imply that one should stop being kind, polite, gracious or good. The authors also stress the importance of generosity, kindness and quid pro quo. They even go so far as to suggest that we should give more than we get. What they are concerned about is nice girls giving for the wrong reasons. We end up compromising ourselves for others, especially those who may not be appreciative of our efforts or even respectful towards us. Also, we are simultaneously “sending messages” with this behaviour, letting people know it’s all right to keep us down. 
Author Carol Frohlinger

Feeling a little down myself, frustrated that my preliminary five-year plan was at year four and there were a few goals that needed to be fast tracked, I read this book for a pick-me-up. Initially, because of the background of the authors, I was under the impression that this was going to be a business book. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out it held advice that I could apply to all aspects in my life. (And God help me, I could use some help in all areas.) Frankel and Frohlinger had advice on everything from knowing how to decline unreasonable favours from friends, to getting up the nerve to return an overcooked dinner while out at a restaurant.

Their book was organized and neatly divided into seven sections, each of which contained strategies to help you “win the respect you deserve, the success you’ve earned and the life you want”. These sections touched on such topics as “Evaluate the Past and Envision the Future”, “Build Relationships That Work For You” and “Live Your Values". Each of their 99 strategies includes a one-to-two page essay focusing on one piece of advice.

Frankel and Frohlinger were also very thorough in getting to the heart of the matter. In their first section, “Evaluate the Past and Envision the Future,” they take their readers back to the beginning to discover how we were most likely groomed with this being nice mind set. They then suggest “exorcising” the past and not letting these early expectations define us. From there they move on to identifying ways in which we may be “too nice” and offer solutions. They also prepare us for the possible backlash that could come along with our new attitudes.
Author Lois P. Frankel
One particular essay that resonated with me was the “Inform, Don’t Ask” strategy. Since “nice girls seek approval from others before taking action because they fear conflict” they always ask for permission; this removes all their power and respectability in the negotiation process. The authors firmly stress that one should be “respectful but don’t apologize.” Taking steps to make changes I adopted this strategy. Instead of apologizing profusely when I asked for a day off, which I had done in the past, I simply told my boss of my leave times and said thank you. (Holy crap, it worked!) Moving forward, I also started to suggest ways where I could become more involved and that worked, too. From there I ceased all fear of what she thought of me and initiated conversations. In fact, I just finished my first full length, feel good “off topic” conversation I have ever had with this manager the other day. So work life is already feeling more comfortable and promising. Where the hell was this book five years ago?
Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It is very straightforward, composed and informational. While it’s not the most charismatic or mind-blowing read, it is filled with commonsense, thus making it less the equivalent of hanging out with your cool globe-trotting aunt over sangrias, but more like sitting down with a trusted business mentor over a glass of wine. Full of steadfast good advice, most of which we’re probably very aware of, Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It still reminds us that we need these bromides laid out before us. Of course a little fromage always accompanies the self-help aisle – I still cringe at the alliteration of “winning women” even though it’s what I am aspiring to be – but getting past the occasional overused piece of jargon, this was an excellent read.

As someone who has been obsessed with pleasing others and securing everyone’s approval, this book reminded me of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” Reinforcing that to get what we want out of life, we need to stop acting like children and cease our quest for constant approval. I recommend this work to any woman who is not making the impact in the world that they know they should be making.
Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library.

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