Ending the War Between the Sexes

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Jul 13, 2011 in , , | No Comments

In the Beginning…

Probably when Adam first spoke to Eve, that was the beginning of miscommunication between the sexes! Comedians have joked about this subject for decades, but it’s no joke when males and females fail to communicate effectively in the workplace. It can quickly turn into a war between the sexes.

Basic Differences = Confusing Encounters

In Sandy Feit’s article, Revelations from the Workplace, she discussed with author Shaunti Feldhahn her new book which investigates how females and males misread each others messages in the workplace.

In Feldhahn’s, The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace, the author delves into how women can find themselves victims of mixed messages–and dealing with bruised male egos–if they don’t know how to play the “game” at the office. By knowing the language of males at work, women can better deal with issues that arise. And by the same token, males must do their own translating of women coworker’s communications–it’s not a one way street by any means.

Unspoken Assumptions are Damaging

What a female worker might assume is not the same as what a male assumes. Displays of emotion and separation of work from personal life are two examples where the sexes start to go into murky workplace waters. Feldhahn’s “revelations” are divided into three parts: emotions, personal feelings and insecurities in the workplace:

Revelation 1

Women and men perceive emotions differently. As Feldhahn puts it, “For instance, if a woman is excitable or upset at work, men automatically believe she’s no longer thinking clearly.” However, science comes to the rescue to dispel that notion, “The female brain”, Feldhahn learned, “is actually wired to be able to handle a high degree of emotion and still think clearly.” Male brains are not wired the same way. In fact, in order to think clearly, men have to shut down an emotion.

Feit points out that 60 percent of males surveyed doubted that they could trust a woman’s judgment in such situations. Feldhahn found women were surprised at “the vast array of things men saw as ‘getting emotional’–including the ability to make quick decisions.” Men seem to regard speedy decisions as “jumping to a conclusion”, yet women have no problem thinking fast–and accurately–on their feet. Female brains are wired to scan several options available, distinguishing which one is the best choice quickly.

Men might think because women have a strong opinion on a decision, that “She’s way beyond logic, and now she’s emotionally attached to this”. At the same time, women are not understanding the mental block their male coworkers are having towards their ideas.

What to do? Women can project a facade of calm, not appearing “emotional” about the subject. Men need to understand women have the ability to make competent decisions quickly, and with clarity.

Revelation 2

The example given for this revelation is from the movie, You’ve Got Mail. An exchange between Joe (played by Tom Hanks) who has just forced a competitor, Kathleen (played by Meg Ryan), out of business then stating to her, “It wasn’t personal”. Kathleen, frustrated and hurt, responds the way most women would, ”What is that supposed to mean?…All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you! But it was personal to me! What is so wrong with being personal anyway?”

I can just see the women reading this now nodding their heads in agreement with Kathleen’s statement!  But, the example is a great one in helping females and males understand how they are wired differently when it comes to personal feelings.

Many men believe the feelings they have at work are not the same as the ones at home. This is known as “compartmentalizing”. While women draw no real distinct lines in the sand as men often do, they are better able to think about and handle many things simultaneously–that’s a good description of multitasking. Men could find, as Feit points out, the female ability to be “puzzling or even uncomfortable when they encounter it at work.” Again, with both parties understanding their different wiring, negative assumptions won’t immediately take place.

Revelation 3

In her research, Feit found 75 percent of the men admitted to feeling they were concerned somebody would find out they didn’t know what they were doing. The label of being “inadequate” is a painful one for men to deal with at work. “Though they often present a confident exterior,” Feldhahn explains, “underneath, there is frequently self-doubt.”

Women coworkers may innocently ask “why” questions, simply to understand how their male counterparts came to a conclusion on a matter. But the men might take it as questioning their competence, or challenging them. Personally, I’ve seen the startled looks from men when I’ve asked “why”, they seem to have written on their faces “did she really ask me that?” What I wanted to know was how they came to their final conclusions–their process–what lead them to make their decision. Knowing that, I’m able to fully understand where they are coming from. Simple, right? Well, only if you are a female who speaks the same “language”.

Women might rephrase the “why” in this way, as Feldhahn points out, “Help me understand your reason for that” or “Walk me through your process here.” According to her, this shows you, as a woman, trusts there’s a valid reason. He’ll hear the difference. And men can understand what a woman’s “why” actually means and not take offense and feel challenged.

Wave the White Flag

Perhaps before anyone jumps to conclusions regarding what a female or male coworker said or meant, they should first consider the differences in communication between the sexes. Wave the white flag and end the war!


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