Rachel Cohen | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rachel Cohen

Background:  

Snowe sells a variety of products for the home, all designed to make luxury quality accessible at affordable prices.

The Mistake:

Early on, I worked in real estate finance and dealt with a lot of men. I thought that as a young female coming out of college, I needed to approach meetings, negotiations and other things in a very aggressive manner even though that wasn’t necessarily my nature. I had been told, "You’re going to be fighting an uphill battle,” and “You’re not going to be taken seriously.” That was the way I was mentored.

So I’d go into meetings and would try to be very stern about things. One instance in particular comes to mind, when I had an annual review and a meeting with one of the senior partners. I came into my annual review and laid out all my performance metrics, what I thought my accomplishments had been over the year, why I thought I deserved a certain raise. I really wanted to over-substantiate what I had done, even though my work product was great. The perception on the other side of the table was that I was coming off as overly assertive, and it wasn't getting the most positive response.

I had a peer actually say to me, "You know, you don't need to be this assertive. People take you seriously to begin with. There’s nothing to overcompensate for, so you don’t have to always approach it that way.” While my colleague at the time said it in passing and didn’t really mean much by it, it stuck with me. 

I thought that as a young female coming out of college, I needed to approach things in a very aggressive manner.

The Lesson:

I learned that I needed to change my behavior and not worry so much about what was going on externally. I learned that I didn't need to prove things and play "hardball" on the other side of the table, but rather, to build allies around myself, avoid alienating people, and to not only state my accomplishments, because there's so much more to being successful in business. It's more about developing and maintaining relationships with clients.

I began the next part of my career — including building Snowe, with a more human approach. It's not always about needing to be right, or being the most confident when I walk into a room. It’s really about being confident in who I am, being proud of what I’m accomplishing, and surrounding myself with people who value the same things.

Follow Snowe on Twitter at @snowehome.

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