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Speak up at Work:

Combat the Alpha Dog, Learn to Say No, Don’t Hint—Ask!







At every opportunity, step up to the plate, speak up in an authoritative voice, and present a message that’s clear and communicates your firm belief in it. Such directness and clarity can be half the battle in your goal to getting ahead.

  • Know when to get tough:  When the author was dealing with a chairman of an unsavory Texas Legislature committee known as “the bone-yard committee” (because that’s where legislators sent bills to die and which was holding the author's bill hostage), I told him: “Look, you can deal with me or 60 Minutes. Take your pick.”  The bill came out of committee the next day.
  • When you are given control, enforce your authority, even if it takes an iron fist. One of the few times the normally cool Condi Rice blew her stack during Bush’s first presidential term was when a U.S. official at the U.N. made a medium-size decision without clearing it first with the White House. As her authority has grown, so has her toughness. Undersecretary of State John Bolton was shuffled off to the U.N. when  Rice refused to appoint him to the job he wanted—as her deputy. She will not tolerate the freelancing that Bolton was famous for when he worked for Colin Powell.
  • Take credit for your ideas.  My friend Dr. Mary Pat Moyer, president and CEO of TEKSA Innovations Corp. and CEO and Chief Science Officer of INCELL Corporation (bio-tech companies) explained to me that men are genetically predisposed to try to be the alpha dog: “It dates back to their caveman days when they were defending their lair.”  Men frequently try to take credit for the ideas of women and minorities. Don’t let them. Speak up.  Reclaim the idea as your own.
  • Be direct. Harmony comes not from keeping quiet and avoiding communication but as a positive achievement, from putting differences on the table and working through them. One leader’s strategy is turning confrontation into a dialogue: ”What I typically do is say, ‘You know there’s a problem.  It may turn out to be my problem. It may turn out to be your problem. But let me just lay it out there and tell you what my reaction is to it and give you an opportunity to react.’”
  • Ask for the authority to do a job right. One woman, who was being considered to be vice-provost of a university, refused to take responsibility for women’s issues on campus unless it became part of her job description, paid work, and performance evaluation.
  • Press for appropriate rewards and advancement. Ask for what you want and make it clear you are qualified. Radha Bharadwaj, screenwriter/director/ producer of critically acclaimed films (such as The Eclipse, which focuses on gender crimes) has noted the importance of job titles to getting control and power: "Calling myself producer as well as director gave me wings... The title is a big thing; don't trust someone who wants to deprive you of a title that’s your due."
  • Don’t let your company intimidate you or deprive you of what you are due; understand their written policy and make them follow it. One woman leader recounted how the director of human services in her company approached her and said she or her partner would have to change jobs because the company had a rule against married people working in the same department. “But we’re not married,” she pointed out.  He responded that the intent was the same. She replied: “Either we work in the same department or we both have insurance (comparable to a married couple).  You can’t have it both ways.”

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