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News & Blogs: Rising Above the Middle

Do you need a thicker skin?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Dr. Anne Perschel

If I had a magic wand or the hands of a plastic surgeon — and I have neither — I would grant professional women thicker skin.

This added dermis would prevent us from wasting time recovering from negative feedback, off-side looks and words said behind our back that penetrate a thin skin. Thicker skin would enable more women to step up, to lead and to get to the top.

While conducting research on women and power, Germane Consulting asked more than 200 professional women to choose between their desire to "be powerful,” to be "well-liked,” and to be "with a powerful partner.” Fifty percent chose powerful, 34 percent preferred well-liked and 16 percent opted for a powerful partner. Thicker skin would change these odds. It would reduce the pain of feeling "they don’t like me” and enable women to opt for roles that call for doing the right thing over the "like me” thing.

Related: "Can women be authentic at work?”

I’ve wasted time fretting over someone who said something that stung and I know many professional women who do likewise. In fact, during a recent corporate sponsored mentoring event for and by women, Elisha Finney, CFO of Varian Medical Systems, who serves on a number of boards, declared her own 24-hour get-over-it rule.

She gives herself 24 hours to fret, worry, review, emote, and/or obsess about what happened, or what didn’t happen. After that she forbids herself to engage in thin-skinned thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

I too have learned to shed or avoid those who lay waiting, stingers at the ready. And if I do get stung, it doesn’t matter for long because I’m going somewhere important and haven’t the time to waste.

How do you grow thicker skin? Practice. Be your own counsel. Listen to your inner voice. It knows.

Those who rent space inside your head will have their say. Thank them for sharing their views. Then see the part of yourself — let’s call her "Maggie" — who has been paralyzed by these voices. Notice her age. She is younger than you are. Ask Maggie to allow you to be in charge. Think of yourself as the CEO of you. Assure Maggie you are capable and strong. Give her your word that you have her best interests in mind, then watch as she hands you the reins. Take them.

If you have children, reference the emotional muscles you developed when, over and over, you decided to do right by your children. Recall the strength it took to override their tiny, but very loud, skin-piercing voices, screaming for what they wanted. Recall their tears, tantrums and name-calling. Recall that neither you, nor your sense of what you needed to do as a mother, was diminished. Recall that strength.

Now use it to lead, to do what’s required, not to win a popularity contest.

Dr. Anne Perschel is a leadership psychologist with Germane Consulting and co-founder and chief inspiration officer at 3Plus International, a career lab for high achieving and high potential women.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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