We’re told we can be strong women, holding our own against men.
And THEN we’re told that men like feminine women who are soft and gentle.
The very qualities that lead to success and achievement in the workplace “turn off” men. No fair!
But the stereotypes have some truth in them.
Men do seem to go for women who pose no threat to them. Soft women have a romantic advantage, even if they’re not on management track.
Luckily, we’re not stuck.
We’re not either soft or strong. It’s not like we have to choose. We have both qualities available to us at any time.
Even if we’re strong most of the time, we can be soft sometimes.
Even if we’re soft most of the time, we can be strong when required.
Which means we can have it all.
If you want men to fall on their knees and pant as you walk by, you can have it.
If you want your male colleagues to nod their heads admiringly and murmur, “Well done,” you can have it.
All it takes is balance.
Learning to be soft when appropriate and strong when needed.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Step out of the winner’s circle when you’re off the clock.
At work, things get competitive. When men get together, things get competitive. There needs to be a safe haven from competition. Relationships are one of them.
Growing up, I was taught that it was a man’s world, and a woman’s place was in the home. I knew I didn’t want to be home. I wanted to be out in the world, and the only way I knew how to do it was to compete for my place with men.
Being driven by the need to prove yourself can take you far. But it’s not terribly successful as a romantic strategy.
The men who bantered with me on the job didn’t want to banter with me over dinner. Off-duty, they weren’t my colleagues or my equals. They were just guys. Guys who wanted to chill out and impress a girl.
I had to learn to let my guard down. I had to learn to support my date in proving himself, rather than worrying about how I was coming across. I was the prize, not a candidate in the running for a coveted position. I had the right to be there, and I could relax.
2. Choose being loving over being right.
(As long as you’re being loving to yourself, too.)
On the job, being right can make the difference between a promotion and a bad evaluation.
Making the right decision for the business is essential, even if popular opinion is against you. You can’t worry too much about what other people think of you when performance is the bottom line.
The same doesn’t apply to relationships.
In relationships, you don’t score points for being right. You score points for fixing problems without stepping on anyone’s feelings.
Even if your guy is wrong, you have to tread carefully around his ego. Shaming him for stupid choices doesn’t help anything.
When I first learned this principle, I thought it was setting up women to be doormats. “You mean I can’t tell him I’m right and he’s wrong? So I’m just supposed to give him his way all the time? No way.”
Eventually I understood that being loving meant putting the relationship first, not him first. And I was part of that relationship. My opinion mattered.
So I didn’t have to give him his way all the time. I just had to learn ways to move us forward without making who’s right and who’s wrong a big issue.
3. Be strong when it’s important.
There’s something wonderful about your hard-core work self:
You know what’s important, and you stick to your guns.
In relationships, we could talk until we’re blue in the face about compromise and negotiation and putting the relationship first, but there will be times when you need to plant a stake in the ground and fight for it.
Some of my biggest regrets in relationships were ignoring red flags because I didn’t want to rock the boat. I thought I was putting my relationship first by avoiding conflict. But shoving problems in the closet and locking the door doesn’t make them go away.
If something about your relationship worries you—he won’t talk about having children, the in-laws make snide comments about you, or you’re concerned about the finances—then don’t be soft. Be strong. Get those issues out into the open.
You have all the skills you need to lay the facts on the table and chart the possible consequences. Treat it like a business negotiation. You have goals as a couple, and you can see obstacles in the way. What’s the plan?
Having those hard conversations isn’t easy. But they’ve got to be done. You might worry your relationship won’t survive the hard slog of negotiation, and you’re right. Some relationships can’t make it. They’re too fragile to last.
But that’s where you can lean on what you’ve learned from business.
No matter how hard you work and how well you prepare, some projects will fail. There are always variables you can’t account for. You learn from your mistakes, and you move on. You don’t beat yourself up about it forever.
That savvy career woman inside is a great gift. She helps you dig deep for strength when you need it.
But she needs a rest sometimes. That’s where your soft side comes in.
This side is girlish. She’d rather play than fight. She giggles and laughs. She’s not terribly professional, but men love her. And she’s part of you. She’s there when you need her.
Embracing your femininity doesn’t mean giving up your strength. Embracing your strength doesn’t mean giving up your femininity.
You can be both, because you’re a whole woman.
Nothing can contain you, not even a stereotype.