It felt like someone punched me in the chest.
Yesterday I was told to “soften my words” in an email that I was drafting to female faculty and staff members. Apparently, my directness in laying out expectations for this professional group of female leaders across campus was deemed too harsh.
Should we really “soften” expectations? I think doing this can cause the very issues we often hear about in Student Affairs—the challenge in understanding muddled expectations can result in a loss of role clarity and confusion about duties and responsibilities.
So why did it bother me so much? It was just one simple sentence asking me to “soften” my language and make it more encouraging. I think it’s because women are often constrained by others who send them subtle (and not so subtle) messages about what it means to be female. My “direct” email should not have anything to do with my gender. However, the response I received made it a gendered issue.
Was I too direct? Or more importantly, would that have been requested of a male leader—to “soften” their words? Probably not.
I made a decision to not address it. Choose your battles carefully, I always say. But I couldn’t sleep last night which is my body’s way of telling me to take action.
So I did. And although nothing may change, I spoke my peace. Here’s hoping for a more restful sleep tonight!
When have you been compelled to speak up at work? Tell me about it.
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