Monday, September 13, 2010

Three Things Men Look for in the Workplace

In my previous guest blog, I introduced the foundation for the basic findings from my latest book, The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace. If you missed that article, it would be helpful to reference that first so that these more concrete takeaways have a meaningful context. Three examples in particular jumped out from surveys in my research of how men generally viewed things in the office.

The Unwritten Rules of the Workplace. The male brain works most efficiently at work when he compartmentalizes out feelings and approaches that (in his mind) belong solely in one’s personal world. This gives rise to a set of unwritten rules and expectations of how things should operate—such as “you shouldn’t really have the same personal feelings at work as you do at home”—and thus establishes what and who is considered ‘business-savvy’ or ‘high-potential’ if they flow with those rules. Yet the integrated female brain is usually not designed to automatically fit into those rules; personal feelings, for example, cannot be compartmentalized away. Yet in the interest of advancing causes she cares about (not to mention her career), a clued-up woman can, if she chooses, decide to not show those personal feelings in a scenario that she now knows a man would find uncomfortable. As with all these issues, there is no one “right” answer: the key is awareness and the ability to make informed decisions on how to approach male expectations in the workplace. Depending on your work environment, here are a few suggestions to consider:
o Consciously monitor just how much of your personal life you discuss at work—even on
break, at the watercooler, and even lunch.
o Consider referring to personal leave time for say kids events, etc. as generically an appointment, especially when you scheduling a meeting with your male coworkers.
o Limit or completely avoid personal conversation topics at meetings

How Emotion Can Be Seen as “Not Thinking.” Unlike the male brain (designed to process one thing at a time, very deeply), the multitasking female brain allows women to process a fairly high degree of emotion and still be thinking clearly at the same time. Yet since men don’t usually know this (since their brain doesn’t work that way), men view the presence of emotion as meaning that logic has ceased (“Shoot…we are going to have to re-do this meeting later”). It is powerful once women recognize the need to manage their emotional perceptions, and men see that women’s relatively greater emotional wiring can be a strength rather than the weakness they may have thought. (For example, that same emotional wiring allows a woman to read body language cues at a much earlier point, have good skills in empathy and listening, and so on.) Consider some of the behaviors he may interpret as ‘emotional’:
o Holding too strongly to an opinion—we see it as passionate but he may see it as being emotionally attached.
o Revealing irritation by tone of voice, rolling the eyes, or exasperated sigh.
o Crying or overt display of any emotion from sympathy to anger to humor.

The Power of Respect. One of my greatest surprises in my research for For Women Only was finding that in their personal relationships men needed respect so much that when faced with a choice, three out of four men would give up love to get it. Vastly different from how women might view the “male ego,” women are surprised to learn that the same men who look so confident are secretly questioning themselves. So it is relatively easy for those men to see certain approaches from female colleagues (such as asking “why” questions in a staff meeting) as signals that that person is challenging their judgment. By contrast, men have an immense amount of gratitude and loyalty for anyone—man or woman—who shows foundational respect in their daily interactions. Beware of the possible unintentional signals of disrespect you may be signaling to men in the workplace:
o Public criticism
o A direct, brusque comment
o Questioning a decision especially with ‘why’ questions
o Micromanagement

While these three examples merely scratch the surface of how to enlighten or aid women in their current work situation, they effectively encapsulate just a few of the results from thousands of interviews I conducted with men in the corporate world. The actual survey questions and results on the website is eye-opening for any woman open to understanding the ways that men in the workplace may be perceiving her words and actions.

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