Our book club pick this month was Rising Together by Sally Helgesen. Helgesen is a women’s leadership expert and author of several other books, including The Female Advantage and The Web of Inclusion.
I was excited to read this book because Helgesen is also the co-author of one of my favorite leadership books, How Women Rise. Rising Together focuses on how we can build each other up and create an inclusive workplace.
More than ever, workplaces are incredibly diverse - a mixture of ages, races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. This can make it difficult to connect or know how to communicate effectively. Many people feel they have to walk on eggshells around the office to avoid offending others, but that creates a tense work environment that isn’t beneficial to anyone.
Rising Together offers practical advice for navigating some of the tricky areas of work life like humor and office romances, as well as how to deal with common scenarios like getting fair recognition for your work and navigating official and unofficial communication channels within your organization.
Helgesen has decades of experience in leadership, but her tone in the book is like that of a friend giving advice. The book is full of stories of people she has helped over the years and useful tips to put into practice in your own organization.
Without further ado, let’s dive in our three key takeaways from Rising Together.
1) Watch for triggers
The majority of the book is focused on how to deal with common workplace triggers. These include: visibility, managing perceptions, confidence, communication styles, fairness, networks, humor, and attraction between coworkers.
Helgesen borrows her definition of triggers from her previous co-author Marshall Goldsmith, who wrote a book in 2015 called Triggers. Goldsmith describes a trigger as, “any stimulus or situation that shapes our thoughts, words, or actions.” These triggers are part of our environment, so Helgesen says that while, “we can’t control the events that trigger us…we can control how we respond.”
So what exactly do these triggers look like in the workplace? Maybe a coworker repeats an idea you already mentioned in a meeting and gets credit instead of you. Or your bragging coworker always gets the promotion, even though you consistently do better work than he does. Or even something as simple as the frustration with a coworker who is always late to meetings or to send you reports.
Triggers are all around us, so learning to deal with them effectively can help us not only have more peace of mind, but improve our skills and build better relationships.
2) Rewrite the script
When we encounter a trigger, we automatically create a story in our head to explain the actions of the other person, whether it’s factually true or not. When a coworker gets credit for your idea in a meeting, you may tell yourself, “They ignored me at first because I’m a woman and listened when Jerry said it because he’s a man. He’s trying to undermine me in front of the boss!” Or when your coworker is constantly late, you may say to yourself, “It’s because Tara is lazy and doesn’t care about how the rest of us have to pick up the slack.”
By rewriting the stories we tell ourselves, we give ourselves the chance to respond to triggers in a more fruitful way. Instead of angrily writing off the other person, rewriting the script gives your coworker the benefit of the doubt. This gives you the chance to take control of the narrative instead of following the prewritten story automatically conjured up by your brain.
In the case of Jerry getting credit for your idea in a meeting, you can say, “Thanks for agreeing with me, Jerry! Let’s work together to make this idea a reality.” He’s not likely to say no, even if supporting you wasn’t his original intention.
It may seem unfair to give people the benefit of the doubt if they truly don’t have good intentions. Or it may seem fake to tell yourself another story. But Helgesen says, “Obviously, none of us benefits from pretending to be something or someone we’re not. But writing an alternative script doesn’t require this. It simply asks that we avoid buying into our first reaction to a situation so we can consider a range of explanations. This is not being fake or phony or somehow untrue to ourselves. It is merely accepting that we may not have all the answers, that our immediate judgements may not be correct. And recognizing that, even if they are, acting on these judgements may not be our most effective path forward.”
However, Helgesen does caution that clearly inappropriate behaviors do not need a script rewrite. There is no tolerance for sexual harassment, abuse, or other related behaviors. These incidents need to be addressed by the proper authority - bosses, legal professionals, etc.
3) The power of inclusion
Being inclusive brings power. But before you balk at the idea of having power, consider this:
“This is what we always want to bear in mind: as we become more powerful, those on our teams and in our circles of connection also benefit. Our customers and clients benefit, as do our organizations. There is great mutuality in power, except among those who either hoard it or use it to try to undermine and sideline others. But the careers (not to mention the lives) of such people are rarely satisfying or sustainable: they always have to watch their backs, and they constantly diminish the base of support from which they can draw.”
Having the power to continue to bring more people into your circle and to get things done within your organization is a good thing. You can use your power for good!
And when you have influence, you can lift others up. You can recommend them for opportunities, create more inclusive policies, or train/hire people who can boost your team even further.
Helgesen defines a culture of belonging as: “one in which the largest possible percentage of people:
-Feel ownership in the organization, viewing it as ‘we,’ not ‘they’
-Believe they are valued for their potential as well as their contributions
-Perceive that how they matter is not strictly tied to positional power.”
An inclusive workplace culture benefits everyone in the organization. And the best part is, you don't even have to wait until you're in management. Each person has the power to start building a more inclusive organization now.
Share your comments about Rising Together by Sally Helgesen in the comments below!
Next month, we’ll be reading Grit by Angela Duckworth.