Do you ever feel the unreasonableness of the opposite sex makes your office life more difficult than it has to be? Maybe there’s more to your feelings than just aggrieved stereotyping. John Gray and Barbara Annis believe that innate differences between men and women cause many of the problems that crop up at work. Together they have written an insightful new book, Work With Me: The 8 Blind Spots Between Men and Women in Business.
Gray, a consultant and corporate coach, is the author of 17 books, including the influential 1992 bestselling relationship guide, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Annis is a corporate consultant and author whose best-known book, Same Words, Different Language, is about the difficulties men and women face when they try to converse in the office.
To put together Work With Me, they draw on more than 100,000 interviews with executives at some 60 big corporations and from workshops they run at companies. The book is a synthesis of that research and the authors’ opinions, sprinkled with anecdotes to illustrate their points.
Here are the eight blind spots that Gray and Annis describe:
Anecdote: Peter and Mary are running late while meeting with a client. Their flight leaves in an hour. As Mary is talking, Peter rushes her and they wind up in their car, speeding to the airport. Peter doesn’t think he’s ignored Mary’s wishes. Instead he feels he is being responsible, getting them to the airport on time. By contrast, Mary thinks Peter cut her off. She brings it up to Peter and he says, “I thought the meeting went well. It just went on too long.”
A typical male-female exchange: Man: “Those issues aren’t directly related. We need to focus on what’s critical and doable now.” Woman: “Those issues seem relevant and may impact our decision. All things should be considered.”
What’s the fix for these clashes? What the authors call “gender intelligence.” Women need to understand that men prioritize and sequence their work and focus on results rather than on the effort to get there. Men should realize that women care about goals but they also care about the process of reaching them. In the Peter and Mary example, Mary should understand that Peter is working toward the goal of getting them to the airport, rather than dismissing what Mary has to say. At the same time, Peter should appreciate Mary’s questions and her efforts to build consensus.
While a man feels appreciated if he’s singled out to do a task, a woman prefers being acknowledged as part of a team that accomplished the task. Anecdote: A team leader walks into a conference room and asks, “Who completed the project?” Selma, the project coordinator says, “Carol did.” Carol says, “Actually, Pritha got most of it done.” Pritha responds,” I couldn’t have done it without your help, Carol.” The team leader walks into a room filled with men. Jim: “I finalized the project plan last night and we have a pilot now.” Liam: “I got engineering to complete the prototype on time.” Gabriel: “I convinced our largest customer to run the pilot for six months.”
While women want to give credit to one another, men take as much credit as they can, without feeling slighted by colleagues for doing so. “For many men, teamwork is similar to playing a competitive sport,” write the authors.
Solution: Men want their accomplishments to be acknowledged. Women, by contrast, need their efforts to be understood and appreciated on their way to achieving a goal. This boils down to a gender gap I often feel in my own marriage. When I have a problem, I want my husband just to listen and appreciate my struggle. He always wants to come up with a solution, which makes me feel shortchanged. Men need to listen more attentively and women need to appreciate men’s desire to come up with a fix.
The authors offer this jarring statistic: 82% of women feel some form of exclusion, whether in business social events, casual meetings, conversations or in getting feedback. Some 92% of men don’t believe they’re excluding women. So which is it? Women are craving to be better understood by their male colleagues while men are entrenched in their old-fashioned, goal-oriented way of doing things.
Solution: Men and women need to grasp one another’s different approach to teamwork and stress. While women on teams want to share ideas, maintain strong working relationships and give everyone a chance to speak, men prefer to assign and prioritize work, make sure they are not duplicating one another’s efforts and that everyone is working as efficiently as possible. When it comes to stress, most men need to shut down and reenergize internally, rather than talking out their problems. By contrast, women want to lay out what’s bothering them to someone who will empathize and support them.
Another unsettling stat: 79% of men feel they have to be careful and indirect when giving women critical feedback. Some 82% of women say they want to get direct feedback from men. The authors exhort men to get over their fear of being straight with women. When a woman gets emotional—even when she cries in the office—a man should acknowledge her feelings, tell her she’s a valued employee and lay out what he expects of her in the future. The authors point out that men also have trouble dealing with assertive women at work. During the dot-com boom of the late ‘90s, many women executives took assertiveness training courses. Men have proved just as incapable of dealing with those women as with women who cry in performance reviews, write the authors.
Solution: Men should stop walking on eggshells and instead try empathy, supportiveness and direct communication. Women should try to curb their emotions and frame their conversations directly.
Dramatic stat: 72% of men say that women ask too many questions, while 80% of women say they prefer to ask questions even when they know the answer. Women do ask more questions than men but often their questions stimulate an idea exchange and help arrive at the best outcome. The authors say they’ve found that women ask questions not just to get answers but to build consensus, show concern for a project or for others, to offer feedback and to ask for support.
Solution: Men need to accept that there is value in the questions women ask. The authors point to studies in the investment world showing that women are more than twice as likely to be cautious and questioning while men tend to be overly confident in their decisions. The authors recommend a blending of the two styles. Men should listen when women ask questions and women should respect the male tendency to take risks.
Anecdote: Susan approaches Peter’s cubicle and starts talking about a problem with a supplier and a shipment. Peter stares at his computer and tries to finish his task, while she keeps talking. Peter fails to give Susan his attention and Susan becomes frustrated and takes it personally. The authors say that when a man is under stress, he tends to develop tunnel vision, while a woman more naturally multitasks and finds it difficult to believe a man can’t. Solution: Susan should ask Peter if he can pause from his work and hear her out. If Peter can’t do that, he should apologize and say he needs to finish his task and talk to Susan later.
The authors maintain that men are as emotional as women but they tend to hide their feelings and only reveal them when they’re under high stress, and then only to close confidantes. Women, by contrast, tend to express their emotions more freely, including to strangers. When they’re under stress, “women share with others while men tend to seek space and solitude,” write the authors. Example: The sales team loses a big client. The woman’s reaction: “I can’t believe we lost it. What did we do wrong. . . what did I do wrong?” The man’s reaction: “Companies are watching their budgets. We’ll get it next time.” How do men and women resolve these dramatically different responses to the same problem? Men need to listen to women’s reactions and realize that for her, expressing concern is cathartic and a path to finding a solution. Women should understand that when he focuses on a fix for the problem instead of his feelings about how the problem arose, he is just as concerned as she is about what went wrong.
The authors offer a striking stat: 72% of women say that men are not as attentive as women to people’s feelings, situations and environment. Some 68% of men agree. But while the authors say that men tend to overlook women’s need to express feelings, ask questions and empathize on their way to reaching a goal, they also point out that women fail to read men’s behavior accurately and to respond sensitively.
The authors’ eight points all come back to the same larger piece of wisdom: Whether because of hard wiring or learned behavior, women and men approach workplace challenges differently. Women are more process-oriented, they ask more questions, they care more about building relationships on the way to achieving goals and they put a great deal of value on listening and being heard. When they have emotional reactions, they want to express them. By contrast, men are goal-oriented and they don’t feel the need to talk through every step along the way to finishing a task. Relationships and sharing credit with others are less important than finishing projects and claiming credit for themselves. Men also have a tougher time multi-tasking and they prefer to keep their emotions to themselves. If men and women can acknowledge these differences, empathize with one another and come up with ways to cope with their different responses to workplace challenges, they will work together more productively and with less friction.
It’s difficult to argue with this book, though as I was reading, I kept thinking of exceptions in my own work life. After all, the book makes extremely broad generalizations and presents them as applying universally. I’ve had two women bosses who cared more about goals than about the emotions anyone was feeling on the way to achieving those goals. They didn’t want to stop to build relationships and they didn’t allow excessive questioning to get in the way of the efficient accomplishment of a task. At the same time, I’ve had male bosses who were exceedingly sensitive and empathic, who cared about relationships on a team and the way team members felt as we worked toward a goal.
The authors point out that many of the behaviors they describe are learned. While I obviously can’t control what my teenage son is getting from his peers and his teachers, at home I have tried very hard to teach him what I see as helpful feminine values. I have told him how important it is to listen to what other people have to say before imposing his point of view, that building relationships is a path to power and that he must take responsibility for his own moods and apologize when he behaves badly. I hope I’m helping to erase a few blind spots. See full article>>