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September 03, 2010

Too Funny

OK, I wasn't going to post this but Grim's comments on the Tomorrow post keep reminding me of it:

After many late nights, I'd flown cross country as the junior member of a restructuring team. Our client was a bank on the verge of collapse and our job was to save it. In the meeting, my boss glowered. The bank's leaders argued among themselves rather than responding to our analysis. When it was my turn to speak, I tried to ease the tension by putting context around our numbers and using a warm tone. The bank's CEO ignored what I was saying to instead squabble with a board member next to me - for 10 minutes. Yielding to the will of the client, I sat back and attempted a patient smile.

"You lost control of the meeting," my boss said gruffly on the way to the airport. "You should have looked the CEO in the eye and said, 'You're wrong! You're missing the point.' Worse, you were wordy and you smiled at him, like it was OK that he interrupted you." I didn't recall my boss saying anything so bold and wasn't sure how effective I, the team minion, would have been with a stare-down. But my boss made me think: Why all the words and why had I smiled?

Researching Getting to 50/50, I learned that women speak an average of 21,000 words a day while men use a mere 7,000. (My husband says I'm above average and should shield him from my verbal tsunami; but studies say female verbal supremacy is really a form of deference - that we feel obliged to explain ourselves more than men do). Data also shows we women more often tilt our heads and smile encouragingly because we've been socialized to think this is the polite thing to do. And we wait patiently for our turn to speak. And don't retaliate when interrupted.

So when women say they don't feel heard, should we tell them to act more like men? Or should men drop the dominance bit - and learn to like listening? Both would help. Men and women need to get on the same page about what's "normal," so we work together more constructively.

It's not generational, either. Talking with a panel of current business school students, a female lecturer said "You know, I make a big effort to call on women in my class. But it seems like the guys still dominate the conversation. Why is that?" The female students had an interesting take: It's not that the women are too quiet, it's that the men are too noisy. "Guys in our class feel free to express an opinion when they haven't read the case. They have no shame. Women think that's irresponsible and don't speak unless they have something valuable to say."

When a graduate school professor was asked why there weren't more female speakers in his classes, he had a simple answer: "Well, men bang down my door to come present their ideas. Women seem to be waiting to be asked."

Make sure to check out the comments - they're hysterical. While reading them I kept thinking, "Good Lord. Did you people read the same article I did?"

Most of what the author had to say matches what I've seen of the very different communication styles of men and women. None of this is terribly surprising to anyone who has ever been married or who works in a mixed sex workplace. Getting along with other people usually entails some rudimentary awareness of how they think and how they are likely to interpret your words and actions. This is just as true of people from other cultures as it is of the opposite sex (or people whose political beliefs or values differ from your own).

I work mainly with men, and I think I get along with them fairly well but there is no doubt that they react very differently from women when problems arise. Part of my job - a big part - is being able to adapt.

Few of us have the luxury of dealing only with people who are exactly like us. I'm always a bit mystified when I see men railing on about how unfair it is that they can't just "be themselves", or women complaining about how overbearing men sometimes seem to feminine sensibilities. There's an element of truth to both complaints but the underlying assumption is that there's a "right" way and a "wrong" way. What's wrong with meeting people half way?

Act too overbearing or assertive and people will avoid and resist you. Act too meek and submissive and they won't take you seriously. Different situations often require different tactics but the best leaders learn from their surroundings instead of forcing everyone they deal with to be like them.

It's hard to motivate others if you're unwilling or incapable of understanding what's important to them. But what do I know? I'm just a woman :p

Posted by Cassandra at September 3, 2010 01:37 PM

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Comments

I attended a women's college and wondered why I was the only one who spoke up in class! This with a passel of females who said that they went to [college] because that way they did not have to worry about being drowned out by the boys in class. One morning in a British history lecture the professor asked a question and I was determined not to answer, so that someone else got the chance. It was like "Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? Beuller?" Finally he gave up and called on a random soul who promptly gave the correct answer. SIGH.

On the other hand, as a grad student - TA type - I got growled at by the professor for apologizing to 200 students for not having gotten their papers graded in 7 days, three of which I was out of town at a conference. "You girls apologize too much" he informed me through a puff of cigar smoke. "Why do women do that?" Beats the hey outta me. Apparently his European wife is not so afflicted.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at September 3, 2010 02:49 PM

My boxing coach tells me I apologize too much, as well. I just think it's the polite thing to do when I hit an area that I wasn't originally aiming for - since he's a nice guy and I don't want to injure him (not that I hit hard enough to do that, anyway).

On the other hand, I can honestly say I can't really remember not feeling heard, or feeling overtaken by the men in a given speaking situation. That's not to say it hasn't happened - just that if it did, it didn't make a big impression on me (like I don't remember every time I've been cut off trying to merge on the 495) It could be that I fall into that overly verbally aggressive subsection of females that drives everyone crazy.

I wouldn't be surprised.

Posted by: airforcewife at September 3, 2010 02:56 PM

Then there is Mr. DeBille, the Gary Cooper/Roy Rogers of the internet set.

"Yep," 'Nope' and so forth..

Posted by: Cricket at September 3, 2010 03:00 PM

I can honestly say I can't really remember not feeling heard, or feeling overtaken by the men in a given speaking situation.

Me either, really. As a matter of fact, I have nearly always been the most vocal student in any class I've taken :p

It was a real surprise to me when I went back to college to hear other women say they felt ignored or felt too intimidated to speak up. There were only one or two women in most of my classes. That didn't make me feel at all uncomfortable, but I will say that I noticed a very different dynamic in those classes from others where the ratio of men to women was more equal.

The men did act differently. They were far more likely to interrupt, talk over another person, or cut each other off abruptly. I didn't take it personally though, nor did I attribute that to my being female, because I could see that they did the same thing to each other.

I do notice in conversation that men frequently say things that (if a woman said the same thing) I would consider curt, patronizing, dismissive or even rude. But I think women say things that men take that way too - I've noticed that men are far more sensitive to the slightest whiff of criticism from a woman than they are to really blunt remarks from other men.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 3, 2010 03:55 PM

Listening helps, but only if you understand the language being spoken. :)

I once described my favorite female professor as "dangerous." I meant that her arguments were carefully crafted and subtle, and you had to pay attention to everything she said or you'd be missing the thrust (in the way that you have to watch a swordsman's dagger-hand as well, or you might 'miss the thrust').

Apparently, however, not everyone views the word "dangerous" as a compliment. I can only assume this comes from an insufficient reading of Tolkien.

Posted by: Grim at September 3, 2010 03:57 PM

Most of what the author had to say matches what I've seen of the very different communication styles of men and women.

Yes, dear.

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2010 04:19 PM

Pppphhthththththththhhhhhh!!!! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 3, 2010 04:24 PM

Leaders. What are those?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 3, 2010 04:31 PM

I'm trying to map out what I think about the author's larger point. In general I'm against models that suggest compromise whereby 'each of us should try to be more like the other.' In this way you lose every good thing about the one kind, and every good thing about the other.

What is preferable to me is the model that Chesterton describes.

The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid. And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is -- Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity?
In this way, you can preserve the good qualities of both, without either side having to force the other to abide by its rules. The lamb doesn't have to get eaten; the lion doesn't have to cease to be a lion.

The only problem is, the world doesn't work that way; if you can make it happen, it's a miracle.

I think it's important for men who find themselves in positions of power to encourage women to speak up, and to help make a space in which they can be comfortable without having to feel like they need to retrain every aspect of their personality. People talk too loudly as it is. Training them that they need to take up more space to show that they're of high status is not going to diminish conflict in the office, but create a new set of conflicts over who gets the space (and anyway, some of us need that space for our shoulders! Try sitting for hours in an office chair designed for someone half your width).

By the same token, when women find themselves in positions of power and authority over men, they can help the men find ways of expressing themselves too. It's neither wise nor correct to tell the lamb that he has to be a lion if he wants to fit in, nor to tell the lion that he must act like a lamb.

Posted by: Grim at September 3, 2010 05:30 PM

It's neither wise nor correct to tell the lamb that he has to be a lion if he wants to fit in, nor to tell the lion that he must act like a lamb.

It's interesting to me that you think this is what she suggested. I didn't get that at all. This strikes me as exactly right:

Gruenfeld points out that, when it comes to having influence, the quality of the argument is often less important than the status of its proponent. And status is signaled in milliseconds by each of us when we walk in a room. So who gets heard is also a function of the language our bodies convey. "The students in my classes come in feeling trapped by the ways they have learned to play gender roles," she says. "But they learn very quickly that what feels natural is just over-learned, and that different work roles call for different kinds of physical actions, regardless of gender. To succeed in a hierarchy, you need to be able to play both high and low. There are real benefits to both."

I don't think men should become women, nor women men. I think we can learn from each other.

Some of the most powerful and influential men I've known were the most adept at knowing when to assert themselves and when to pull back and listen. They had tremendous moral authority with both sexes, because both felt they were understood.

Given the tremendous range of personalities within both sexes (aggressive women, gentle men and their opposites), it's hard to fault that kind of virtuosity.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 3, 2010 05:41 PM

A case in point.

I have observed many men, over the years, who clearly feel compelled to defend a position I'm not sure they would have staked out on their own. These men are the hardest to deal with b/c they don't even believe in what they're defending and thus tend to be overzealous in their responses to any perceived "threat" to their authority.

I work in IT. I'm very good at what I do, and my job involves dealing with men who are calling me for help.

The vast majority of men I deal with seem unthreatened by this. But there are a substantial portion of them who let their egos get in the way of doing a good job. I often have to go to quite silly lengths to pretend I'm not suggesting a course of action to them because they find such a suggestion unacceptable (even though they're calling someone who is paid to know more about our products than they do). I would never presume to tell them how to do their jobs or pretend I know more than they about their field of expertise but when we're on my ground (so to speak), it's very annoying to have to efface myself enough to allow them to accept the advice they called to obtain :p

I do it, and gladly because I want our clients to be happy with our products and our support of them. But there is no universe in which this kind of insecurity is helpful.

Women have their own issues, but I can honestly say that in 12 years of doing this, I have NEVER had to do this with a woman. I frequently have to do it with men.

So I do think we all need to check just a bit of our sexual identity at the door and act more like employees than men/women. To me, this is the essence of professionalism.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 3, 2010 05:48 PM

I frequently have to do it with men.

Betas

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 3, 2010 05:53 PM

It's interesting to me that you think this is what she suggested. I didn't get that at all.

I was referencing this paragraph:

"So when women say they don't feel heard, should we tell them to act more like men? Or should men drop the dominance bit - and learn to like listening? Both would help. Men and women need to get on the same page about what's "normal," so we work together more constructively."

However, note that I didn't say that men were X and women were Y; I said that I'm suspicious in general of arguments of this type. You'll note that I described both the lion and lamb using "he" for that reason.

There are strengths to being a lion; there are strengths to being a lamb. The ideal should not to make lionlike lambs or lamblike lions, but to find a way to preserve what is best in both.

Posted by: Grim at September 3, 2010 06:27 PM

Or should men drop the dominance bit - and learn to like listening

how can they drop something they never had?

They're like tomcats. They keep fighting over stuff that shouldn't have been settled a long time ago. Cause male hierarchies are pack hierarchies.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 3, 2010 06:34 PM

Correction: that should have been settled a long time ago.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 3, 2010 06:34 PM

Part of this is the "males one-up, females share" thing; insecure males doubtless perceive intelligent helpful females as trying to "win" at that game. Males can be really stupid in their interactions with females, I'm going to blame Mr. Lizard Brain for the prevention of the establishment of proper mid-brain responses.

I mistakenly left a comment over on "Speechless" that I meant for here, and will echo it below:

Having worked in engineering firms where there were women at several layers ... if they do speak up, frequently they were ignored (and their ideas then snapped up by several males, who refuse to admit to doing this when accused of it.) Some of them eventually took to informing the idea-stealing scum's boss of the idea -before- revealing the idea to the ISS, who would run off and introduce it as his (or her) own. This was sometimes effective, but mostly made for a hostile work environment for them (the women, not the ISS!) Does not make me proud of my half of the species (if half it is.) Why can't people ... there are days that my incomprehension of humankind could only be because I'm actually a Martian in human skin.

Posted by: htom at September 3, 2010 07:12 PM

Interesting article. Thinking back to when I used to TA, I really didn't notice much difference between men and women speaking up in class (in fact, the most vocal student I had was female.) The difference I noticed was by classes: I would generally have one or two vocal classes where everyone was really engaged with the material, and then one or two dead-silent classes where no matter what I did, nobody said anything. (Oddly enough, early classes weren't always the quiet ones, either.) Rarely anything in between. I think it was mostly the mix of personalities in each section and not necessarily a "gender" thing, though.

Posted by: colagirl at September 3, 2010 10:24 PM

A real problem in some business environments, and many academic environments, is people running their mouths to get "air time" when they really have nothing to say. Astute executives recognize this tactic and are very unimpressed by it, and I would hope this would also be true of many professors.

Posted by: david foster at September 4, 2010 09:38 AM

You asked, earlier, "what is leadership?" And I have observed many men, over the years, who clearly feel compelled to defend a position I'm not sure they would have staked out on their own. These men are the hardest to deal with b/c they don't even believe in what they're defending and thus tend to be overzealous in their responses to any perceived "threat" to their authority.

I think these two are closely related. To arrogantly cite me from another thread, "Control freaks dictate answers. Officers and civilian leaders seek answers." That's one aspect of what's going on here. I suspect that at least some of the ego going on here is not so much that they have to come to a girl to get answers (that's clearly involved, too), as it is that they're irritated that they're not controlling the situation themselves, as they want to do. In the Air Force, I used to just run roughshod over such idiots. We had a mission's imperatives to satisfy; there was no time for petty ego games. That's harder to do in a civilian world, and possibly not as appropriate.

I think some of it, also, is environmental (as opposed to socialization). Since I left the military, I've worked generally in hard engineering--building simulator prototypes and then simulators for various DoD contractors. The female engineers were just as hard-nosed and aggressive as the males, and no one thought anything of it--that was the environment. I did work at one small contractor run by an ex-Army Infantryman, and this was about as blunt and abrasive an environment as I've encountered. Meetings often began with, "That was a dumb idea," and proceeded from there. If someone wasn't listening to the message and got distracted by the delivery, it was easy to become intimidated and to sit back, and this MFWIC was very much his way or the highway. Until you got into his face and pushed back. He really did listen, and if one paid attention, his message never was personal, just blunt. We had an oriental software engineer on the team for a time, who had as much steel in her backbone as anyone, but she rarely spoke up in the meetings unless called on. This, though, was not the woman being meek, it was the oriental being deferential in the presence of authority.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at September 4, 2010 06:02 PM

I have a picture of a soaring eagle on my wall -- hand-lettered caption:

Good Leaders Are Like Eagles

We don't have any eagles here, either...

Posted by: BillT at September 4, 2010 06:32 PM

I'm really very fond of htom's Lizard Brain.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 5, 2010 07:12 PM

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