Posted by Sandy Yu on 12.21.2018
Serena Williams has been deservedly named 2018 Woman of the Year by GQ Magazine, proving yet again she is more than a tennis powerhouse. Off the court, this fearless entrepreneur plans on expanding her clothing line and pursuing a pre-med degree, all while balancing her role as a working mom. It’s safe to say she’s one of the most innovative and inspiring women of today.
Like many people in the limelight, Serena’s successes are often overshadowed by various controversies and misunderstandings. By now, most people have heard of (or watched) Serena’s numerous outbursts toward umpire Carlos Ramos during her 2018 Women’s U.S. Open final match.
“Liar!,” “Thief!” were two of the most notable words Serena was heard shouting at Ramos.
After this encounter, questions about double-standards and leadership lessons were raised. But one critical question remains: what does this heated discussion teach us about how we communicate with each other?
In business, employee communication is key to winning every ‘match.’ However, as we saw during the Women’s U.S. Open, and in many other aspects of Williams’ life, communication is a multi-layer, complicated process that will quickly derail success if not handled appropriately.
No matter whose side you’re on, it’s critical that you don’t forget about the woman of the year’s most controversial moment of 2018, but instead learn critical employee communication lessons that will help you rise above with the same power and grace.
Before understanding the facts: Coaching is illegal during Grand Slam matches. This is one of the violations Williams was accused of instigating her telling Ramos she would rather lose than cheat. We later learned from Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, that he was, in fact, signaling Williams -- but she didn’t see him.
Consider if Williams had all the information. If she knew Mouratoglou was trying to coach her mid-match, would her reaction to Ramos’ violation call have changed? Maybe the disagreement with the call would remain, but her delivery would have contained a bit more understanding.
Employee communication practices are no different. Often times, leaders and employees are communicating through misunderstandings -- without ever knowing there is one. As a company leader, you can help everyone get the facts straight by simply asking a few straightforward questions:
Before employing empathy: Ramos has a challenging job full of pressures most of us can only imagine. Williams, on the other hand, is charged with advocating for herself, ensuring she is treated fairly. Both are being watched, celebrated, and scrutinized by hundreds of thousands of people.
In the heat of the moment, do you think Ramos or Williams were empathizing over these facts with one another? Of course not. That’s why it’s critical to teach employees about empathy for one another and give them the opportunity to gain respect for their teammates.
Ask your team to participate in a “take-an-employee-to-work-day.” Partner each person up with a co-worker and allow them to share part of a normal workday with their peer. Your team will not only become closer but also will learn the triumphs and trials their co-workers go through, further enhancing employee communication.
It’s ironic, I know. But this is something that happens more frequently in business than leaders would like to admit. Employee communication is overlooked as sales and business goals are pushed to the top of the agenda.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA), unfortunately, hit the same snag -- something Williams’ and Ramos’ argument brought to light. In the aftermath, organizers announced they were undertaking a full review of its communication policies. The goal of this review is to ensure all players and employees are treated fairly, a concern raised by many in other recent USTA events.
To prevent a Williams vs. Ramos, full-on battle at your company, reassess your communication policies frequently. Give diverse employees a seat at the table when reviewing, rewording, and updating protocols. Consider all perspectives to recognize your company’s ability to evolve with changing business trends and diversity throughout the office.
We all communicate differently -- and that’s OK. However, most people are uncomfortable with conflict. This awkwardness is enhanced when someone is speaking in a way we’re not used to.
Williams, for example, responded with a strong, but sadly, stereotypically male demeanor. Unfortunately, these biases still exist and women are seen as less effective when they act like men in 57 percent of leadership skills, according to Moving Beyond Male / Female Leadership Stereotypes, a report by Skyline, a leadership solutions platform.
This report reflects what many have said about the penalties Williams received -- if she were a man, her ‘commanding presence’ wouldn’t have resulted in thousands of dollars worth of fines.
When your team isn’t trained to properly handle challenging situations with everyone at the company, employee communication is at high risk for derailment. To better prepare your team, reach out to a specialist and create required emotional agility training for your leadership team. Through this training, they will have the power to help your team face their thoughts, step outside of their own minds, and see all of the possibilities to calmly and rationally discuss a conflict.