Talking to senior executives can be intimidating for even the most seasoned presenter. In this interview, Friedman reveals quick tips to help you make the most of your next C-Suite conversation.
We were losing 2 to 1 when Drew started spouting instructions.
“Move to the left when I serve. Get up to the net faster. You should have hit a short shot.”
The game is Pickleball, a paddle-sport played over a tennis-type net on a badminton-sized court. I’ve written about it before as a lot of leadership lessons can be learned here.
“How long have you been playing?”, I asked him. “About three weeks,” he responded.
Wow. Three weeks and he’s giving instructions? Even though I’ve been playing for a couple of years, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he knows something I don’t.
Fast forward three months later, I find myself as his partner on a court again. He’s still barking instructions.
The game begins and I miss a shot.
“From now on he commands, when the ball goes to the left of the line, it’s mine, don’t hit my forehand shots.”
As a student of the game, I understand he’s right. Typically, whoever has the forehand shot goes for the ball, but it’s not a rule etched in stone.
Next shot, we’re tied again, but this time it’s Drew who’s making mistakes. Missing serves, slamming balls into the net and giving up multiple points. I’m making my shots.
The ball comes to me at the left of the line, which he told me was his ball. Yet, I’m right there and he’s a few steps behind, so knowing I can put the shot away, I go for it but so does he. That’s when the two of us collide and we both miss the ball.
“I told you, he yells at me, anything to the left of the line is mine.”
I know I say, “But sometimes the person who can get it should go for it.”
Completely agitated he begins lecturing me on how to play the game to which I respond, “Let’s just play.” That’s when he says, “Okay honey, whatever you say.”
That did it.
“What did you say?” I ask him.
“What did I say?” he retorts.
“You called me honey. My name is not honey. It’s Karen and don’t you ever call me that again.”
“What’s your problem?” he scolds.
“I’ll tell you what my problem is,” I replied. “I am not your honey. And you are an arrogant, condescending demeaning know-it-all.”
That’s when he said, “I’m done” and stormed off the court.
As I pondered this days later, I realized he had no idea why the word honey when used in this context was offensive. If he had said, “Great shot honey” or “You look terrific honey”, I would be more likely to interpret it as a term of endearment. However, calling someone honey while correcting and chastising them is demeaning and disrespectful.
If you think I’m being overly sensitive, consider this.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Civil Rights says the use of words honey, dear and sweetheart in the workplace may constitute sexual harassment or discrimination. Even if you don’t intend it that way, the department says, “You should be aware that such expressions are inappropriate.”
It is important that people recognize these words make others, especially women, feel uncomfortable. A survey by the United Kingdom market research site One Poll found that almost three quarters of women think pet names in the office are unacceptable. Even though a pickleball court is not an office, I believe the same rules should apply.
Some of you may be wondering, what’s the big deal? The big deal is it’s never appropriate to minimize how someone else feels. If you have offended someone, rather than blame them for how they feel, try to understand why they were offended. What’s endearing to one person may be offensive to another.
If we don’t know each other well enough to use mutually acceptable terms of endearment, then refrain from calling someone babe, honey, sweetheart, love or darling.
Even though these terms are often used without any malevolent intent, if you’re offended, it’s up to you to ask the person to stop referring to you that way and explain why.
My husband likes to post on Facebook. During 2020, it became an outlet to share information or lament the political landscape. It all seemed harmless given his Facebook friends share his views and enjoy his posts. However, social media posting can be a slippery slide when you least expect it as my husband unfortunately discovered.
After attending a virtual event for a friend, I shared with him that a number of people on the call had received the COVID vaccine and I didn’t believe they met the CDC criteria. We had talked a lot about this at home given the systematic problems plaguing the rollout of vaccines. Specifically, we had been discussing how so many seniors and people with medical conditions have not been able to get the vaccine while others, including some of our friends and their children have jumped to the front of the line.
We know of one person whose family member works at a hospital and was able to secure vaccination appointments for other members of her family who are not eligible at this point in time. We know of another person who fudged what he does for a living so he could get a shot.
This moral and ethical dilemma is very upsetting to my husband as I’m sure it is to many. Not having a platform to reach the masses, he took to Facebook to vent. He called what’s happening “white privilege” and suggested people in minority communities did not have the same advantages.
You might be saying well, he’s right. There have been published articles and interviews suggesting the same, so what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that people at the event saw his post and were offended. A few were outright furious and then turned on me because I shared what was said with him. Because he wasn’t part of the virtual event, he repeated his interpretation of what I told him in a post. That’s like listening in on someone’s private phone call without their knowledge and then telling others what you heard.
In this case, it turns out that some of the people who were vaccinated work in doctors’ offices and others drove distances to locations that did not have age or other restrictions. Someone else resented his use of the term “white privilege”.
Whatever you want to call it, my husband’s intent, whether appropriate or not was to point out the inequities of trying to get the vaccine. According to a CNN report, analysis of data from 14 states showed that vaccine coverage is twice as high among white people on average than it is among black and Latino people.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, black, Latino and Native Americans have disproportionately been hospitalized and died from the virus. Health experts say that disparity has been linked to access to quality healthcare, vaccine acceptance and whether people have easy access to distribution sites. That has led President Biden to prioritize putting federally supported vaccination centers in high-risk neighborhoods to give people easier access.
Back to my husband. When he realized he offended people, he took down the post and made some phone calls to apologize to those who appeared most offended. I believe there is an important lesson to be learned.
It’s about gossip. You can’t take gossip back. You can take a Facebook post down.
Whether you’re gossiping or posting on social media, I want to believe most people are not acting with any ill-intent. Sometimes we don’t realize that our words may be offensive or misunderstood. Sometimes, we’re frustrated at a situation and just don’t think things through.
Before you blow up at what seems to be gossip or a social media post you don’t like, ask yourself this question. Why did he or she say this in the first place? Were they being malicious or trying to cause trouble? Or did they say something without understanding the full context of what they were repeating? Then, look at yourself in the mirror before you jump all over others.
In this case, writing about what happened is my outlet, but I have also learned a lesson. Before I submit this column to my editor who will post it for thousands to see, I’m sending it to my husband to ask permission and make sure I’m not turning something private into something public.
Karen Friedman Enterprises helps professionals combine style and expertise to better engage, command attention, minimize mistakes, convey vision and project leadership presence when communicating with key listeners and decision makers.