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maskHappy Halloween, the one day each year that we all get to put on costumes and masks and pretend to be something other than what we are.  I love watching little ones, like my most adorable grandchildren, dress up.  But it is fun for all of us to assume a different role.  We often assume roles in the workplace. There are two ways that we do this.  One undermines engagement and productivity.  One promotes effectiveness.

The first way results from the natural but unconscious effort to “fit in.”  Every organization reflects the values, beliefs and habits of those with most influence—usually those at the top.  They set the norms—what is acceptable and what is not.  It is natural, adaptive behavior that newcomers observe the norms of a group and try to operate somewhat consistently with them.

But if people at work adapt their behavior unconsciously, it can be exhausting, undermining engagement and effectiveness. If they do it both unconsciously and too long, they can lose their authenticity; and the organization loses the richness of what they could be bringing to the table.  My African American friends have told me that they often spend energy acting “white.”  I know from personal experience that women often spend energy trying to do work in a “masculine” way.  Wouldn’t organizations do better if people could focus their energy on doing quality work rather than on fitting in?

The second way that we let another’s ways influence our own involves shifting one’s approach to increase effectiveness.  We have coined the term “Frax-wise” to describe consciously shifting from masculine to feminine styles in order to be most effective in a particular circumstance. We may adjust our approach to make someone more comfortable, to improve communication or to take advantage of the strengths of that approach.  For example, some one leading a meeting might slow down and permit more “process” in arriving at a decision (a feminine trait) if he or he is aware that some people on the team are more process oriented or that more time to process might improve the decision!

People have asked me if, by encouraging this kind of “shifting” I am encouraging inauthenticity.  I answer:  “If you are doing business in Germany, is it inauthentic to try to speak German?”  Consciously flexing isn’t about inauthenticity.  It is about effectiveness.

Can you think of times when you authentically (consciously) adopted different styles to be more effective?