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How to deal with the Likeability Bias – Strike a balance29 Jul 2019

While women’s natural tendencies can cause many women to not want to brag about what they’ve accomplished, when it comes to interviews and selections, they know they have to talk about themselves and their achievements.  Women sometimes go in hard, and say a lot about their knowledge, credentials and experience. I’ve heard women make selection speeches that make it sound like they were so amazing that they practically solved world hunger before breakfast! What women perhaps have failed to realise is that by doing this, because of the prescriptive bias, they can make themselves less likeable and therefore less likely to be successful.

The negative likeability effect can also be compounded as when strongly stating our case, women push themselves out of their comfort zones and can end up coming across as forced, unnatural and therefore “pushy” in articulating what they have achieved.

What many successful senior women in business do, (often subconsciously) to overcome this likeability double bind, is to work really hard to offset any negative judgement. For example, a man can walk past his PA’s desk, drop some papers on it and say simply, “I need this report for tomorrow”, and get away with it without much comment, a woman who did the same would undoubtedly attract a hail of negative epithets. Instead, what women tend to do, is almost overcompensate being nice in order to offset any accusations of being aggressive or unfeminine. So, a woman would stop by her PA’s desk, ask about her weekend and then about her kids and 10 minutes later might get around to asking if she could, possibly manage to turn this report around in time for an important meeting tomorrow? Please?  Whilst time consuming, this is an effective strategy for senior women, however how do you replicate that in an interview/ selection meeting environment where you have perhaps a 3-minute speech and a brief question and answer session to make your impression?

Maybe some of the answer here is to not have to rely on the formal selection process alone. Wherever possible, it’s important to have done your research and spent time networking ahead of an interview / hustings situation. That will give you time for the charm offensive, to enable you to come across as strong and assertive without being called aggressive or pushy!

Whether you have time and access to do a good job of the initial engagement, in an actual speech, the carefully crafted balance women need to find is to say enough about their background to ensure people know that you are credible and successful, but be wary of saying too much about your achievements. It is a question of walking a tightrope, but awareness is key. At least knowing there is a tightrope, you are better equipped to walk it!

Next week – “Call it out” or download full article here

Women, Power, Presence and Presentation

How to deal with the Likeability Bias – Strike a balance

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