Chutzpah, a Yiddish word that used to have a negative connotation, is a virtue in the modern business world, at least for some of us. A man with ‘chutzpah’ is bold, determined, utterly self-confident. Probably he’s a great salesman.
Meanwhile, women are still wary of showing chutzpah. We’re forever worried about being considered pushy — or worse. Women with chutzpah make enemies, we think: ask Jill Abramson, the (former) executive editor of the New York Times.
But without chutzpah women are disadvantaged. I see this often in political candidates. They have charm to spare, but charm gets precisely no one elected. Political candidates want to win. What provides the muscle behind that desire? Chutzpah. It’s the nerve to ask for what you want.
I’m not happy about that double standard that encourages men to flaunt chutzpah and women to shun it. But it can’t be erased if women function on charm alone. We need both charm and chutzpah to succeed. Does that require a fine balancing act? Yes. But the good news is you can acquire chutzpah over time, and maintain the delicate balance that allows you to make connections, expand your network and come away with what you want, whether it’s contacts, new working relationships or closed deals.
Arrive With Your Charm — And an Ask
Women are great at small talk, finding the point of commonality and breaking the ice. What they often forget, when walking into a networking situation or a prospective business opportunity, is an objective. Without one you may have a pleasant time, but you won’t get business.
To ensure you walk out of networking situations energized, rather than deflated, try running through this checklist:
- Declare a specific ask, out loud. ‘I want to meet people’ is too general. Try instead, ‘I want the contact information of at least two people’, or ‘I want to learn specific ways I can contribute to this organization, through speaking, blogging etc.’
Then, practice your pitch. You’re a lot less likely to be tongue-tied when it comes time to roll out your ask to a real person.
- Do your research. Once you’ve found networking events, find out about the types of people attending or the organizations that sponsor them. This will give you great small-talk fodder and show you’re interested in the people you’re meeting.
- Remember it’s a numbers game. More connections equals more chances for breakthroughs.
- Build up your chutzpah. I once heard that a top CEO characteristic is ‘battle-hardened’ confidence. That uncanny ability to overcome adversity — the hallmark of chutzpah — develops over time. Each time you face your fears, it grows a little more. More battles, more chutzpah.
- Stifle the ‘what ifs’. They squash chutzpah flat: ‘what if I’m being too pushy? Too direct? What if I don’t get my ask?’
- Trust in your charm. The women I advise have charm to spare. With enough of it, asks don’t sound pushy; they are expressions of confidence.
With every ounce of chutzpah, your charm actually can be enhanced, not diminished. The combination is a secret advantage for female networkers. Keep using them both and you’ll see results.