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Gender Dynamics in the Workplace

A few weeks ago a female friend of mine ask the question: “How do you get men to take you seriously professionally?” Actually she was asking how to communicate with men so they would be open to doing business with her. Even more specific, how does one get a man to trust and respect a woman in the business world or the workplace?

As you probably have guessed, I am strong proponent of looking for the ways all people are alike as opposed to different. Having said that, I also know if we understand the differences in the way men and women think we can often present ourselves in a way that will work FOR us rather than against us. If I were going to China for instance to work with clients, I would not resent the fact that the people speak Chinese. With a good interpreter or a good grasp of the Chinese language, I would feel confident I could get what I need. It would also be to my benefit to familiarize myself with the customs of the country and how they do business. My intention is to be heard and respected not to offend.

By learning these differences and making some changes in the way I perceive what I am hearing and how I present myself I am able to adjust in such a way as to promote respect and trust between genders (and cultures) and everyone benefits. Below are some tips to move you forward in this endeavor. You’ll notice there are slightly more for women than men because in the workplace, a woman’s challenge is greater.

For Women:

  • Learn to adapt in the way you naturally respond. You don’t have to sacrifice your self-expression, but you do have to adjust to what is appropriate to the situation or moment

  • Speak with confidence — not aggressively or pushy but with certainty. If you don’t believe in what you’re saying, he certainly won’t.

  • Make sure what you have to say is pertinent to the discussion or situation (don’t talk just to show you can)

  • Ask for permission to share your ideas and to offer another opinion - this is merely a courtesy

  • Tell a man you need to vent or think out loud for a couple of minutes if in fact you do. This does two things: allows you to verbally and mentally process which lessens your feelings of overwhelm AND the man is clear up front that you aren’t expecting him to solve your problem. (Hold it to 2-3 minutes otherwise you’ve lost him).

  • Remember that men don’t talk about what they have to do in order to relieve job pressure, they quietly mull it over and then feel more confident about taking action. Don’t take this ‘mulling time’ personally.

  • Stop complaining (also known as sharing negative feelings) and ask a man for what you want directly. If they grumble when you ask, do not say “Oh never mind, I’ll just do it myself.” Say instead, “Thank you, I really appreciate your help.” Grumbling actually means he is moving out of his tunnel vision and ‘considering’ your request, give him time.

  • Point out the benefits of your strategy in as few words as possible.

  • Check your personal baggage at the office door. When a man is upset and asking questions, it is often a good sign. It means he is open and willing to let go of his judgments and change his mind (kinda like a dog barking and wagging his tail at the same time). At this point, it is best for you to take a stand and explain yourself firmly while remaining calm. As you remain calm, he will become calmer and more supportive.

  • Learn how to ask questions and still save face. If you ask for advice and then don’t wish to use that advice, don’t go into detail as to why it won’t work. Acknowledge his assistance by saying something like, “Thanks, that’s a good idea”, or “Thanks that gives me an additional point to work with as I make my decision.” This allows him to save face when you don’t follow his suggestions.

For Men:

  • Learn to listen. For you if there is nothing you can do to solve a problem, then there is no reason to be upset about it or to talk about it. This is NOT the case with a woman. They solve problems by talking about them or if there is no solution, they can feel relief just from sharing. Big difference in processing styles. You will score big points if you realize this

  • Ask (patiently) , when you begin to lose patience, “Are you looking for my help here or do you just need for me to listen?”

  • Recognize when a woman grumbles it means she is overworked and needs help..

  • Interrupt a woman and she thinks you’re not listening — just because you do this with other men all the time — be aware a women will see this as your not respecting her.

  • Avoid cross-examination of a woman - it diminishes your sense of caring and consideration. Both of which are important in building a good working relationship and a coordinated team.

  • Make a direct request of or statement to your female colleague. Do not use anger or frustration to intimidate or manipulate her.

  • Recognize women tend to take it personally when you forget the little things whereas in your mind, the little things don’t matter as long as the big things get done.

  • Learn the nature of a woman’s questions. She may be not asking for your advice about a situation in order to have you solve her problem, she may be asking merely as a way to create a sense of inclusion and connection. By keeping this in mind, you won’t be as offended if she doesn’t act on your advice.

  • Accept that there are brilliant and creative women in the world and most often they are really good at what they do, like handling those details that drive you crazy. AND don’t limit them just to the details.

These by no means cover all the possibilities of miscommunication between men and women in the workplace, yet it is my intention to offer as much understanding of each other as I can in this short article. When our differences emerge we need a positive way of understanding them in order to avoid misinterpretation, frustration and disappointment. The more we can improve and support friendly communication that comes from this understanding, the more we can create an overall sense of acceptance for who we each are.

As we feel more supportive and supported to be who we are, our ability to effectively cope with the other inevitable stresses of running a business increases. I encourage you to implement these strategies for improving communication and getting results at work.

Copyright 2002, Judy Irving. Original source: Mars & Venus in the Workplace by John Gray, Ph.D., Copyright 2002 HarperCollins, Publisher ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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