A few months ago, I went to a talk given by Dr Joanna Breare, who is the CEO of Todd Energy New Zealand, and Chair of The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand. She is an amazing woman who has an interesting story and has achieved a lot in her career. At the end of her talk she parted with four principles she lives by in the public arena. Don’t swear. Don’t gossip. Be neutral. Don’t talk about diversity.
I thought they sounded pretty good and decided I would adopt them myself. So far so good, although the no swearing part has been a bit of a challenge as swearing has become a habit of mine. In some ways I think I swear to give people a bit of a shock that I would use such a word. And if I am being honest, I probably swear to feel accepted, part of the team, and thought of as being “cool”.
I believe how much you swear depends on who you are with. For example, out of respect I don’t swear in front of my father. Or when I am with my grandchildren, I won’t swear as I don’t want them picking up bad habits from their Nana. It’s the same when I am with customers, regardless of whether they are swearing or not, it doesn’t seem very professional to swear. But when I am at work talking with the guys, it seems like I have an F-bomb exploding out of my mouth.
Swearing can be emotional. If we feel stressed, letting rip with a few expletives can somehow make us feel better. If we hurt ourselves, we generally seek pain relief by swearing our heads off. However, the more we swear in our general conversation, we run the risk of it being less effective when we really need it to release all that emotion or lessen the pain.
Not gossiping also has proven a little difficult as we all love a bit of drama. Gossiping can be like eating cake for breakfast – temporarily thrilling, totally delicious, but leaves you feeling a little bit guilty and/or ill.
I have noticed that plumbers do like a bit of gossip, especially when they congregate at the merchants or meet up at a trade event, or pass each other in their vans, they like to chat about who’s doing what with who, and did you hear about so and so. The trick is to recognise what is good gossip and what is bad gossip.
Generally speaking, bad gossip is when you are talking about someone who isn’t there and probably passing judgment. When it is especially malicious, gossip humiliates and demeans the person, and is very hurtful when they become aware of it. I have gone by the rule, would I be happy if someone was talking about me in this way.
The other day our project manager Popey, came rushing into my office saying guess what, guess what? Then he halted and said, “oh, that’s right you’re not doing gossip”. Even though I begged, I still have no idea what he wanted to tell me!
In public and at work I find most of the time I can be neutral and not be seen to take sides or have favourites. I have been watching the Crown on Netflix, and I have learnt that the Queen, and all the royals, can’t take sides politically as their vote could easily influence public opinion in an unfair way. They also can’t voice their opinion for fear of swaying the people. So, in fear of swaying the people, I’ve simply been acting like a Queen and all is neutral in my realm.
As a woman in business when you talk about diversity, you can be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you achieve a notable appointment the gossipers out there could say you’re only there because the organisation is ticking their diversity box, making it hard to prove you are there by merit. On the flip side does it matter how you get in? The more women who get the opportunity to be in such roles will make it easier or ‘more normal’ for future women to step in.
It’s been an interesting few months, here is what I have learnt and are now my four parting principles. Swear selectively. Good gossip is healthy. Act like a Queen. Be amazing in a diverse way.