Going into the debate, pundits cautioned that Harris would undeniably be pegged as ‘the angry Black woman’. This dangerous stereotype characterizes Black women as bad-tempered, hostile, and overly aggressive.
Instead, Harris held a master class in dislodging stereotypes. She managed entitled male behavior from Mike Pence and owned the night. Below, we’ve created a mini Kamala Harris masterclass on managing male entitlement in the board room and beyond.
Be Aware Of How You Will Be Perceived
Kamala Harris walked into the debate fully aware of how the opposition might position her: as an angry Black woman. Harris observed previous Black womxn political figures like Michelle Obama navigate through this troupe. She also experienced the full weight of it when Trump attacked Harris as nasty, mad, and angry after she was announced as Joe Biden’s running mate. Knowing this, Harris came to the debate prepared with a plan.
One of the key wins for Senator Kamala Harris was her constant composure throughout the debate. By doing this, Harris’ cool helped dislodge any accusations of perpetuating unfair stereotypes that already exist around Black women.
This was no easy task. Mike Pence constantly denied, evaded, and flat out lied, on the debate stage in regards to both Trump’s policies and Harris’s record. At times, it even appeared Pence was intentionally antagonizing his opponent with blatantly misguided statements. But even when Mike Pence accused Kamala Harris of ‘playing politics with peoples’ lives, Harris expressed no vitriol. She remained calm, waiting, and even smiling, for the right moment to make her rebuttal.
Speaking Up And Reacting
While Harris didn’t show any aggression, she didn’t back down, either.
Rather than reacting by cowering to sexist workplace behavior, Harris spoke up. Speaking up and reacting is one of the most powerful things you can do as a woman facing sexism in the workplace.
Accordingly to the World Economic Forum, “women should anticipate and prepare to react to inappropriate or discriminating comments” in the workplace.
Commentator Jessica Yellin observed Harris’ smiling as a tactic: “The challenge… is to take back your time without media and swing voters calling ya ‘difficult’ ‘tough’ ‘aggressive.’ Answer: Do it with confidence, a smile, and gleam in your eye.”
Harris created an anthem, a mantra, and a slew of tee-shirts during the debate. Senator Kamala Harris used the phrase, ‘I’m Speaking’, at least three times during one exchange alone.
Managing Pence’s interruptions was no small task. Pence spoke past his delegated time 45 times during the debate and interrupted Harris between 10-16 times (pending on the source). By all accounts, Pence interrupted Harris twice as much as she interrupted him. However, Harris came with the right strategy to control the conversation as diplomatically as possible.
Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and expert in gender differences in language use, states that Harris, “came across as ‘respectful’ by saying ‘Mr. Vice-President’, while ‘I’m speaking’ was not accusatory in the way ‘stop interrupting me’ would have been.”
Instead Of Remaining Ignored, Harris Worked The Room
There were several points throughout the debate where Mike Pence adversarially addressed Harris through his language or body posture. Instead of seeking his respect, Harris turned her energies to the audience. One of Harris’ most poignant moments of the night came when she looked directly at the camera and addressed American viewers in their homes;
“I want to ask the American people: how calm were you when you were panicked about where you were going to get your next roll of toilet paper?” Harris asked.
By staring directly into the camera, Harris bypassed the dismissal from Pence. Instead, she created kismet energy and gained respect from the individuals who count most – voters.
Harris Showed Compassion Where It Counted
During the debate, a fly that sat on Mike Pence’s head for over two minutes. Harris was not overly compassionate to Pence – a grown man. She did not notify him of the fly. She did not try to mother the fly away from his head.
Harris instead reserved her compassion where compassion was due. In one important example, she addressed the parents of Kyla Muller, an American killed in Syria by ISIS in 2015. Harris said, ‘I know about your daughter’s case and I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…It should never have happened. I know Joe feels the same way. And I know President Obama feels the same way.’
By reserving her energies, Harris eloquently displayed how compassion should be professionally delivered in the workplace by those who deserve our sympathy.