Is Being Collaborative Really an Advantage for Women at Work?

We know that a body of research shows women to be more nurturing, team-oriented, and collaborative.  This is expected of us.  And so, it’s lately been recommended that women consider couching their disagreements, negotiations and suggestions in collaborative ways — essentially playing to their strengths. When seeking a raise, for example, you might talk about your salary being a signal to the whole team of their value or mention how your concern is one that benefits the entire project.


Skillful collaboration at work is certainly a useful arrow to have in your quiver.  For those women already friendly, likable, and desiring to please, this approach comes naturally.  So, it’s good news to hear that you can employ it to your advantage.  But let me add a caveat: collaboration is just one "arrow" and clinging to only one way of acting rarely works well over time.

Stretching, expanding your repertoire while still being yourself, is more important.  In fact, if a woman is already by nature collaborative and uses that approach with everyone, she sets herself up for problems.  Why?

First, interesting people are not one-dimensional or predictable.  The former is boring and the latter opens people up to being easily manipulated. 

Second, astute communication requires the ability to respond to people of various types — to speak their language.  Constant collaboration in a competitive environment is like moving to France and speaking only Greek.  There won’t be many people listening.

Third, continuous collaboration often signals an inability to lead in situations where it’s impossible to please everyone.

You have to know where you are on any behavioral continuum before determining how to improve.  Increased collaboration may be exactly what’s needed for a woman, or man, who is painfully direct and oblivious to the feelings and needs of others.  Women who spend much of their time being collaborative, however, would do well to learn with which colleagues and bosses this approach does and doesn’t work.  

It’s important, especially as public attention turns once again to the challenges women face at work, that we use caution in making blanket recommendations about what types of behavior are best for them as a group.  Like men, women differ.  The types of people and situations they face also differ

Research can detect important gender differences, but often those are quite small in the great scheme of things and do not pertain to all women. How well a particular woman's style fits where she works is more important when deciding how she, as an individual, should act. There are a lot of women who aren’t collaborative at work by nature and they’re doing quite well.

We all do ourselves a favor by learning a variety of workplace communication strategies.  If you tend to collaborate, that’s fine.  But apply this tendency judiciously.  No matter how superb your breaststroke, using it to cross a desert is futile.  Being collaborative in the wrong situations is similar.  

There are occasions in any workplace where the best focus is not on how to make everyone feel good.  It’s on readying yourself to give as good as you’re likely to get.

Dr. Reardon also blogs on this topic here.

Photo:  Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Personal Growth
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less