Whatever you think about her message that women need to “lean in” to get ahead in their careers, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has become a role model for women’s leadership communication, according to Robyn Odegaard. “Sandberg has overcome biases and found her leadership voice and the courage to advocate for her own best interests, something that our culture discourages in girls and women,” Odegaard says, whose business, Champion Performance Development, is focused on “elevating individuals and teams to greatness through phenomenal interpersonal interactions.”

Odegaard will hold a two-day seminar Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and 2, at the Rutgers University Inn and Conference Center in New Brunswick. Cost: $400. Reservations can be made online at www.champperformance.com.

The weekend is designed for coaches, business people, and anyone who wants to improve their communication skills. Odegaard will discuss drama in communication and why it happens, “communication DNA,” why conflict escalates, and creating team trust, among other topics.

“Communication means understanding exactly what it is you need or want and being able to explain it to key people so they leave with precisely the same picture of the plan,” Odegaard says. “Effective two-way communication is one of the most overlooked and underutilized attributes of success for anyone working toward a common goal.”

Odegaard has worked in the corporate world and been a competitive athlete and an academic. She says she established Champion Performance Development to share her enthusiasm for personal and team development through one-on-one and team coaching and speaking engagements. She grew up in Texas, where her father ran a ranch and taught school. She received her bachelors in psychology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and her doctorate in applied organizational psychology with a concentration in performance and sport from Rutgers.

She is the author of the book, “Stop the Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams,” where she combines executive coaching with sports psychology to show high school and college-aged women how to use effective communication and productive conflict to eliminate gossip, backstabbing, and catty behavior and achieve more from their potential.

“Communicating authentically is often a challenge for many women, and many do not know how to have a tough conversation,” she says. The problem begins early in life. “Watch a group of young boys on the playground. One of them starts to cry. The other boys ask why he is crying and he says it is because he hasn’t had enough turns at bat. The boys rearrange the order and make sure he gets his time at bat. Problem solved.”

Now watch girls at play. When one of them gets upset the group gathers around. They discuss the emotions. Ask why she feels that way, and how they would feel in a similar circumstance. But these basic differences in communication between the sexes can often lead to misunderstanding in the workplace.

“Women don’t want to rock the boat and they’re more likely to concede to something they don’t want just to avoid conflict,” Odegaard says.

Nice girl syndrome. “Nice girls don’t argue. Nice girls don’t cause conflict. Nice girls are friendly. That is what we teach young women, but too often these messages get translated into ‘Nice girls never say something mean to someone’s face, better to say it behind their back.’” Odegaard says. Unfortunately, in the workplace, this can destroy a team culture or turn into emotional bullying.

“The reason the project failed is that no one else worked as hard as I did,” is one typical workplace example of the type of cattiness that can seriously undermine team spirit. In fact, much of our popular television culture not only emphasizes, but praises this type of behavior, Odegaard says.

“As a whole we are failing young women. We are not providing them with the skills to deal with conflict in a productive way. We don’t teach the communication skills they need to be able to have tough conversations, work through an issue and move on. We don’t hold them accountable to owning their own feelings about a situation and speaking directly to the person with whom they have an issue. Sadly, we even encourage cattiness and drama by glorifying it on reality TV.”

A Better Way. One strong characteristic many women have is their ability to collaborate. Brainstorming and talking through an idea to reach the best solution is where they can shine. The best way to bring these skills into the office, Odegaard says, is to first, flesh out your ideas before you bring them to the table. Know where the strengths lie and ask for input in the specific areas you know it needs support.

Women often attempt to avoid conflict by prefacing ideas with phrases such as, “We might,” “Maybe I’m wrong, but,” or “I’m sorry to disagree.” This type of language actually undermines others’ confidence in the speaker. “Use strong language when you speak,” Odegaard says. Rather than a self-effacing phrase, try, “After considering the situation, this is the solution I have.”

Don’t Make Assumptions. Women, while trying to be empathetic, often make assumptions about other people’s feelings. Instead, she says. “Avoid jumping to a conclusion about someone’s competence because their thought process differs from yours and they are not willing to get into a stalemate of wills with you to prove they are right.”

Understanding how to take advantage of each person’s strengths without alienating your teammates will go a long way to creating a team that meets and even exceeds the sum of its parts.

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