Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Notes

nice girls don't get the corner office book cover

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (2004) is a career strategy book for women. Lois Frankl, the author, helps women achieve success in business by listing 101 common mistakes, and how to fix them.

Bullet Summary

  • Quit being a girl: for workplace success, stop behaving like a stereotypical girl
  • You can’t just behave like a man though or you will get penalized
  • Women need to improve their understanding of the “unspoken rules”

Summary

Here is a list of the 101 mistakes women make.
The author expands on each of them with plenty of wisdom, and I will provide here a quick overview for each.

How to Play the Game

  1. Pretending It Isn’t a Game Mistake: games have winners and losers, and when women ignore the game, they unknowingly create win-lose where they’re the losers
  2. Playing the Game Safely and within Bounds Mistake: women tend to play too often within narrow rules, and end up looking like they are not independent self-starters
  3. Working Hard: don’t just work, spend time building relationships as well
  4. Doing the Work of Others: “Promotions are rewards for getting the job done, not necessarily doing the job”
  5. Working without a Break: don’t look harried and nervous, take breaks
  6. Being Naive
  7. Pinching Company Pennies Mistake: don’t waste time and energies to save budge that’s OK to spend. Take good care of the company asset that is yourself
  8. Waiting to Be Given What You Want: “men take care of their own needs but will often minimize what women are worth or owed”. So don’t wait: ask for what you’re owed
    1. Separate being liked and getting what you deserve
  9. Avoiding Office Politics Mistake: see “mastering office politics” and “office political players
  10. Being the Conscience: women are more likely to point out the gap between policies and real-world behavior, and that can controversial and spell troubles
  11. Protecting Jerks: don’t take the blame for a jerk, but professionally redirect the angry customer or boss towards the real source of the problem
  12. Holding Your Tongue
  13. Failing to Capitalize on Relationship
  14. Not Understanding the Needs of Your Constituents: ask questions in advance, don’t jump to conclusions

How You Act 

  1. Polling Before Making a Decision: women want to get everyone’s approval early to avoid later confrontations. But while participative decision making is good, the inability to act without it isn’t. 
  2. Needing to Be Liked: Don’t be like her: 

Your need to be liked is natural, and it can be a good thing. But it shouldn’t stop from taking risks and hard decisions.
You must balance the need to be liked with the need to be respected. Ideally, you’re both liked and respected (also see: mix warmth with power).

  1. Not Needing to Be Liked: being promoted is also, partly, a popularity context
  2. Not Asking Questions for Fear of Sounding Stupid 
  3. Acting Like a Man: the double standard is real. Women behaving like men create dissonance. Unless it comes natural to you, don’t put an act of being like a man
  4. Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth: learn the art of the “positive spin”
  5. Sharing Too Much Personal Information: don’t entirely withhold personal information, but don’t over-share, either
  6. Being Overly Concerned with Offending Others: if you expressed yourself without being offensive, then don’t fall for it, it’s a ploy
  7. Denying the Importance of Money
  8. Flirting: “it’s the women who flirt—not the men—who become the butt of office jokes”. And if you flirt with the boss, your colleagues will think of you as an enemy and cut you off the grapevine
  9. Acquiescing to Bullies: use “I statements” to let them know how you feel. Nobody can argue when you say “I feel like I’m not being heard”
  10. Decorating Your Office Like Your Living Room
  11. Feeding Others Mistake: bringing food is the stereotypical girl’s behavior
  12. Offering a Limp Handshake
  13. Being Financially Insecure
  14. Helping: there is a difference between helping and being used. If you’re working harder than anyone else and you’re the leader, you’re being used. Leaders lead, helpers stay stuck as an employee

How You Think

  1. Making Miracles: the more you bend over backward, the more it will become what’s expected. Instead, manage people’s expectations, negotiate reasonable deadlines, and raise a red flag when you’re getting stretched too thin
  2. Taking Full Responsibility: learn to delegate
  3. Obediently Following Instructions: don’t put your head down to work right away to show you’re such a good employee. Instead, ask questions and consider how it can be done faster, and better
  4. Viewing Men in Authority as Father Figures
  5. Limiting Your Possibilities: work on yourself to expand your horizon of possibilities
  6. Ignoring the Quid Pro Quo: don’t make things look too easy and tell people when you’re inconveniencing yourself for them. That way, you gain the right for bigger favors back
  7. Skipping Meetings: meetings are opportunities to be seen and network
  8. Putting Work Ahead of Your Personal Life
  9. Letting People Waste Your Time Mistake
  10. Prematurely Abandoning Your Career Goals
  11. Ignoring the Importance of Network Relationships
  12. Refusing Perks: if you got promoted, or won the right to a bigger office, a bigger title, a bigger, or bigger expenses budget, use it. It serves as status and impression management
  13. Making Up Negative Stories: don’t make up negative stories, ask and seek for the facts 
  14. Striving for Perfection

How You Brand and Market Yourself

Too man women self-efface and fail to take credit when credit is due.

  1. Failing to Define Your Brand: come up with a short mission statement for yourself
  2. Minimizing Your Work or Position: never say you’re “just” X
  3. Using Only Your Nickname or First Name: first name only relegates you to girl-status
  4. Waiting to Be Noticed: when you want something, don’t just ask for it, but openly talk about to everyone. The more people know, the better
  5. Refusing High-Profile Assignments
  6. Being Modest
  7. Staying in Your Safety Zone
  8. Giving Away Your Ideas
  9. Working in Stereotypical Roles or Departments: it’s difficult to shine and do a good career when you’re in nursing or administrative assistant
  10. Ignoring Feedback
  11. Being Invisible

Also see:

How You Sound

  1. Couching Statements as Questions: this is a defensive move. Make statements instead
  2. Using Preambles: drop the clutter, and give your bottom line first
  3. Explaining: avoid lengthy explanation, they make you sound like you’re making excuses
  4. Asking Permission: find out what the boundaries of your power are, and make decisions within them
  5. Apologizing: if you’re apologizing too much and for inconsequential stuff, cut it out
  6. Using Minimizing Words: never minimize your work and achievements and the efforts it took. Instead, say “I’m pleased with how it turned out”
  7. Using Qualifiers: drop “sort of”, “could”, “kinda of”. Use more definitive language
  8. Not Answering the Question: avoid convoluted answers without an answer, which are a way of hedging your bets. Show some certitude in your answers
  9. Talking Too Fast
  10. The Inability to Speak the Language of Your Business: learn the keywords and use them
  11. Using Nonwords: drop the filler words
  12. Using Touchy-Feely Language 
  13. The Sandwich Mistake
  14. Speaking Softly: speak louder, and add gestures
  15. Speaking at a Higher-than-Natural Pitch: seek to speak with your naturel voice. Also read this review of Roger Love for a good speaking coach
  16. Trailing Voice Mails: get to the point, and close the call
  17. Failing to Pause or Reflect Before Responding: take 3 seconds to think and collect your thoughts before replying

Also read:

How You Look

  1. Smiling Inappropriately: match your smiles to the tone of your communication. Serious talk needs no smiles 
  2. Taking Up Too Little Space: also see alpha male body language, but don’t overdo it
  3. Using Gestures Inconsistent with Your Message
  4. Being Over- or Underanimated: women tend to be over-animated, but avoid the mistake of going the opposite end of the spectrum
  5. Tilting Your Head: it can be OK when listening, but avoid when speaking
  6. Wearing Inappropriate Makeup
  7. Wearing the Wrong Hairstyle
  8. Dressing Inappropriately: dress for the job you want, not the one you have
  9. Sitting on Your Foot
  10. Grooming in Public: avoid fixing your hair and make-up in public
  11. Sitting in Meetings with Your Hands under the Table
  12. Wearing Your Reading Glasses around Your Neck: women don’t gain credibility with age like men do, so don’t advertise it
  13. Accessorizing Too Much
  14. Failing to Maintain Eye Contact

How You Respond

  1. Internalizing Messages 
  2. Believing Others Know More than You: probe authority, ask how do they know it, or based on what they say it
  3. Taking Notes, Getting Coffee, and Making Copies: propose you take turns, propose the more junior employee does it, or refuse by saying you did the last 
  4. Tolerating Inappropriate Behavior: don’t swallow your feelings, or you will poison yourself
  5. Exhibiting Too Much Patience
  6. Accepting Dead-End Assignments: always check assignments before accepting them. If people failed or languished before in that same assignment, it might be safer to turn it down
  7. Putting the Needs of Others Before Your Own
  8. Denying Your Power
  9. Allowing Yourself to Be the Scapegoat: don’t take the blame for others. And if it’s your boss, learn how to draw your boundaries with tact
  10. Accepting the Fait Accompli: if there something you don’t like, at least try to push back and voice your concerns
  11. Permitting Others’ Mistakes to Inconvenience You
  12. Being the Last to Speak: try to be among the first three to speak. If you don’t have a point, you can build on what other said, or drop some comments like “that sounds like a good idea”
  13. Playing the Gender Card: don’t say you were unsuccessful or passed on because you’re a woman. Companies will try to defend their reputation, and you will isolate yourself
  14. Tolerating Sexual Harassment: deny sexual advances once. If they keep on coming, then you’re into sexual harassment waters and you can think about a formal complaint
  15. Crying: if you feel like crying, excuse yourself and leave

To learn how to respond it’s also useful to learn about frame control:

More Wisdom

  • When people get angry or annoyed, it’s often a ploy to get us to do what they want
  • Mind the culture: behavioral norms for men and women vary among corporate cultures
  • Reflect on whether helping others is a way you seek validation for self-worth

Quotes

On acting more like a woman, not like a man:

Success comes not from acting more like a man, as some might lead you to believe, but by acting more like a woman instead of a girl.

On the forces that want to keep women like little girls:

The girl who moves toward womanhood will find herself faced with people who want to continue to infantilize her.

On money:

Money is power, and power is something women misinterpret and avoid.

On women who work non-stop, completely negating their private life:

My experience with women who give up what’s important to them to meet the needs of the job is that they either don’t have anything to go home to or they don’t want to deal with what they do have to go home to.

On elevator-pitch branding:

If you can’t tell someone during an elevator ride (in a short building) what you do, then you haven’t finished defining your brand.

CONS

A wonderful book.
Just a few notes as I am the usual nitpicker:

  • Sometimes jarring or too aggressive

The author exhorts women to be more assertive
Sometimes though that assertiveness can become aggressiveness, and be out of place.

For example, the author advises women not to ask for permission, but to do things anyway.
As an example, she proposes to turn “would it be all right with you if I work at home tomorrow?” into this I just wanted to let you know I’ll be working at home tomorrow”.

But a boss receiving that type of advice is likely to get incenses at the gall of his subordinate to call his own shots. 
In a few cases, that might work. But in most office situations, that’s overly aggressive and not good advice.

This is the main reason why I give this book 4 stars instead of 5: the push for assertiveness sometimes becomes counterproductive aggression.

  • Nice and kind can be effective strategies for career and life success

Books telling people to stop being nice are very popular.
See “No More Mr. Nice Guy“, or “Why Men Love Bitches“. But people are nice because, if you strike that balance between kindness and strength, it works.

Also read: mix power with warmth.

  • The blank slate fallacy

The author blames women’s “girly” behavior on learning and socialization.
But there is also much nature in how men and women behave. It’s important to also recognize nature because that helps to provide more wholesome solutions.

Also read “The Blank Slate and The Denial of Human Nature“.

  • Sometimes exaggerates the case for women’s woes?

Says the author: 

Women still earn only about 72 percent of the salaries earned by their male counterparts, must work twice as hard to be considered half as good as their male colleagues (..)

The 72% gender pay gap figure is the unadjusted figure. 
Also, I don’t think that school teachers and nurses get paid less because it’s mostly women working there.

  • Men from mars, women from venus?

Sometimes it felt like men got all sorts of positive traits assigned to them.

For example:

Men rely on relationships to open doors for them; they don’t view it as taking advantage of anyone.

I wasn’t convinced that all the traits the author assigned to men could be generalized by gender.

  • Relationships as exchanges?

In one instance the author presents relationships as pure exchanges. For example:

A successful workplace relationship (…) is one in which you clearly define what you have to offer and what you need or want from the other person.

I think it’s good to look at relationships also as exchanges.
But one should also move beyond that view, because some of the best relationships leverage intrinsic motivation.
Also read: how to be a leader.

  • Disagreed with some advice

The author says that accusations of being too pushy are designed to keep you quiet. Maybe, in some cases. 
But what if some the readers were indeed too pushy? 

I also wasn’t fully convinced about forwarding appreciation emails to your boss.

A third one was about humbleness.
The example was a girl who, responding to her grandfather’s public bragging, said “oh, they were just golden state awards”.
The author said it was a mistake to minimize her awards, but I thought the girl did the right thing. When someone else is bragging for you, you can gain more points by acting humble.

PROS

Lois Frankel knows what she’s talking about and understand both the practical and theoretical side of coin.

Wonderful insights into power dynamics

This book provides truly great insights into power dynamics, both at the micro and macro level.

  • The hidden power manipulations

Writes the author:

The people who think (the term “empowerment”) is overdone are those who possess the most power.
Easy for them to say!
They don’t really want anyone to have the same power and influence that they enjoy, and so they downplay its importance in the employment and social arenas.

Yes, she is referring to subconscious and hidden manipulation here.

  • The teasing power manipulation

Writes the author:

When we do try to break out of those roles and act in more mature, self-actualizing ways, we are often met with subtle—and not-so-subtle—resistance designed to keep us in a girl role. Comments like “You’re so cute when you’re angry,” “What’s the matter? Are you on the rag?” or “Why can’t you be satisfied with where you are?” are designed to keep us in the role of a girl.

Indeed, this is also what Lean In author Sheryl Salzberg referred to when a Democrat senator patted her on the head and told her “what are you, a pon pon girl?”

  • Don’t back off, but maintain frame

Says the author:

When others question our femininity or the validity of our feelings, our typical response is to back off (..) We question the veracity of our experience (…) and we take a step back into girlhood and question our self-worth. (…) we collude to remain girls rather than become women.

Another great analysis.
Also read: frame control.

Review

“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” is a wonderful book.

It’s more “marketable” and less theoretically deep than similar books such as “Hardball for Women“, or Debora Tannen’s more academical work. 

However, that’s also its strength.
In simple and direct terms, without fluff and space fillers, it shares good wisdom, highly actionable tips, and advice that (mostly) works.

I got this book following the recommendation from a customer’s feedback -thank you KB!-. 
KB recommended me that I expand Power University to include more advice for women, and she suggested a few titles. Albeit this book wasn’t one of her recommendations, she pushed me into the rabbit’s hole. 
And I am truly grateful for it.

Lois Frankel, the author, has a good understanding of power dynamics both at a theoretical and practical level.
Her advice for women, works.
And she also provided me with great ideas for my own article and products. That’s the biggest compliment I can give to any author.

Edit
I also must recommend readers not to swear off “niceness” and “kindness”, which are effective ways of being successful at life.
Especially if you are a good-hearted person, I recommend you read “The Myth of The Nice Girls“.

Also read:

Or get the book on Amazon

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