Yang: Half Empty? Half Full? – Are they really different?

Half Empty? Half Full? – Are they really different?

Usually, we associate “half-empty glass” view with the “scarcity mode” of thinking, and “half-full” with “abundance mode.” However, even if one sees a glass is half empty, wouldn’t the next logic step be, “Fill it?” 

If we take only a snapshot of a situation, we may see it as either “half-empty” or “half-full.”  However, if we are driven by action, then both modes should compel us to fill the remaining space with water, or other tasteful morsels, to make it full.  In other words, an active mind wants to add value by utilizing the empty space. Per Lao Zu’s wisdom in The Way, “The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness.”  

In fact, an active mind thinks about how to acquire more empty glasses to fill, and the active mind doesn’t reject half-full glasses either. To paraphrase Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College: we want more strategies that build, not barriers that deter. 

After posting on posture, faking, appearing confident, gender differences in leadership, I came away feeling more disquieted than buoyant. (Could I myself have faked being upbeat till I was upbeat?!) So, when I encountered Kelsey M’s “Don’t discourage our future female leaders, (link below)” on LinkedIn I was intrigued. Ms. Kelsey uses “Appreciative Inquiry” (link below) principles, and argues that by framing issues in the positive, we empower people, women in particular. 

Of course, principles of empowerment apply to all people. I take Kelsey M’s view that focusing only on the barriers for women makes them fearful, which is exactly the basis for deficit mode of thinking and behaving. As she points out, women of her generation, age 25-32 of the Millennial Generation, are earning 93 percent of men’s wages. That’s 9 percent more than the overall average for women, which is 84 perceent. This is an impressive improvement for women to bear in mind as they build their careers. 

What, though, are some concrete advice and steps? Like Ms. Kelsey, I find aforementioned Georgia Nugent’s article, “Can we stop talking about glass ceiling?” in Washington Post (link below) inspiring. From being the member of the first co-ed class at Princeton in 1969 to the first female president of Kenyon College in 2003, Ms. Nugent has acquired many “first female” in different capacities. Ms. Nugent certainly has not achieved all these “firsts” by being suspicious of others’ intentions, fearful of being the only female in the room, or weighted down by external expectations. For those who prefer thinking and operating in “abundance” mode, like Ms. Kelsey and Ms. Nugent, there is risk of appearing “Pollyanna.” Positive talk doesn’t lead to positive results; however, it just may lead to opening up more possibilities, instead of choking off possibilities. There is a whiff of “faking it till making it.” 

Here are the principles Ms. Nugent offers (and I believe it works just as well for men as for women): 1. Acquire a sense of humor, 2. grow a strong spine, and 3. build a supportive network. And learn to say “No.”  This is probably more pertinent for women than men at workplaces, and saying the seemingly simple word, “no,” often requires all three of these principles. 

In Ms. Nugent’s article, she provides plenty of examples. In one situation, she found herself to be the only female on the board at Kenyon College. Instead of protesting or petitioning by the book, on the first day of the meeting, upon entering the conference room, she simply widened her smile and said, pointedly, “Good morning—Gentlemen.”  By next meeting, there were a few more female members on the board. In an opposite situation, when she was an assistant to the president at Princeton, she was asked to be on the committee for university-wide “employment conditions.” After reading the list of members, she went to the chief of staff and asked him to re-examine the list. Upon seeing it, the chief of staff said, “There are plenty of females on this list.” Ms. Nugent replied, “It’s ALL women.” 

Saying “no” doesn’t need to be done belligerently. Belligerence is usually counter-productive. A sense of humor goes a long way. Of course, not everyone can muster such finesse all the time, or even some of the time.  Adopting the knowing-doing gap principle – letting action lead the learning, I would offer this: Practice often in some relative “safe” situations.

Ms. Nugent’s three principles resonate with me. I am still learning; I hope I always will.

Do you have any stories to offer others to learn? 

Lastly, Happy New Year (Year of the Horse)! I am most partial to this animal among the 12-animal cycle. 

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com

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Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.