Three possible reasons why my boss might think I woffle:
1. I do woffle. Nope, don’t buy that one.
2. As a “lower status” person, my utterances are seen as less worth listening to, and therefore more woffly, than those of my “higher status” colleagues. Interestingly, the other colleague who was classified as woffling is from a minority, and is not on the management committee.
Now, before I go any further, god forbid that anyone should think I am accusing anyone in my company, especially senior management, of discriminating against anyone for any reason. None of them would countenance any form of discrimination for a moment and would be horrified if anyone accused them of it. My boss himself is from a minority. Nevertheless, it is true that one of the ways status is demonstrated is by having a voice; by holding forth, holding the floor, being able to speak while others listen. In a conversation, the person who is speaking has the most power and control over the conversation and this can reflect allocations of power, actual and perceived. So I think that status has something to do with it, both current status (ie where is the speaker in the acknowledged power structure) and perceived status (as in, does the speaker come from a group whom we are accustomed to hear speaking with power and authority, and if not, are we prepared to adjust our expectations so that we can hear them). I believe that the less we expect to hear the person in question speak authoritatively, the more likely we are to discount their contribution as woffle.
3. This is the kicker. I believe that, as a result of the effects of not historically and actually having a voice, women and other minorities (by which I mean minority in the senior echelons of the business environment) will change the way they speak. They will (I do) hedge statements about with qualifiers. “We probably should think about… ” “It would be good if we could…” “You may not agree, but…” “I’m sorry if you think this is stupid but….” “I’d prefer it if….”.
I believe this sort of language creates difficulty for high status men (and perhaps high status women too). I think a lot of those speaking like that, particularly women, are signalling that they are open to other views: the language is a part of seeking consensus. They may also be deflecting attack in advance, signalling that they are aware of their lower status by using what they perceive to be conciliatory language. However, to a lot of higher status people, who are used to speaking in absolutes, and in very directive language, I think this comes across as woffly. To them, it sounds as though the speaker is not sure of themselves, is obfuscating; in short, is woffling.
Part 6 tomorrow.