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From the August, 1996 issue of
Managing Diversity

Tips for Women & Men Working Together

Vive la difference! - Getting the Value Added by Gender Diversity

By Dr. George F. Simons

"Hurray for the difference" (between women and men) is no longer a flirtatious remark on the lips of a romantic Frenchman. In today's workplace and marketplace, it is the competitive advantage of organizations whose people know how to bridge and use the cultural differences between women and men in their everyday operations.

Without stereotyping either gender, and admitting a significant overlap of how both men and women feel and behave - we are more similar than different - there are cultural patterns in how we communicate across gender. These can be stumbling blocks to cooperation if we don't pay attention to them. We can also unlock energy and creativity in each other if we do. Here are five of those patterns and tips for each gender on how to benefit from them.

1. Women tend to ask more questions than men.

Men: Her questions tell you she is interested, not that she is ignorant. Asking her more questions will tell her that you are interested, too. (But don't cross-examine like a lawyer!)

Women: Don't assume he's not interested if he doesn't ask questions. If you are asking a question that sounds like, "Don't you think that...?" he may understand you better if you turn it into a statement. Value added: Deeper understanding of the details and consequences of an issue. Greater ownership on everyone's part of the problem-solving process and the decisions made.

Value added: Deeper understanding of the details and consequences of an issue. Greater ownership on everyone's part of the problem-solving process and the decisions made.

2. Men tend to offer solutions before empathy; women tend to the opposite.

Women: If you want support rather than answers, say so up front. Ask him if he wants solutions or just a sympathetic ear.

Men: Don't jump to the solution or the bottom line immediately. Think of empathetic listening as another tool in your problem-solving kit.

Value added: Both genders feel understood and supported. They start to want to work together.

3. Women can be more likely to ask for help when they need it than men are.

Men: Don't assume you have to go it alone. A woman asking for help is not necessarily incompetent. Don't do it for her, help her do it.

Women: Let men know in an easy-going, matter of fact way when you feel you can and want to offer help.

Value added: Both genders get the help they need. Things get done quicker and better with the heightened exchange of ideas and energies.

4. Men tend to communicate more competitively and women more cooperatively.

Women: Insist on finishing, if interrupted. Think of interruptions and disagreements as some men's way of asking questions. Remember for most men a sporting fight is how they bring out the best in each other. Good sports are friends after "the game."

Men: Women who play differently aren't necessarily rookies. You can learn some new moves from them that will make you look less arrogant and more intelligent - on the condition that you give them air time.

Value added: Teams and work units that are both cooperative and competitive! What more could a company ask for?

5. To establish trust with each other, women tend to self-disclose while men focus on reliability.

Women: If you make even small commitments with men that you can't keep, renegotiate them, don't just forget about them. This builds a "track record." Remember that the man who shows up and keeps his word is telling you a lot about himself.

Men: The woman who tells you her feelings - even negative ones - is trusting you, not trying to make you think she is unstable or "has problems." If you find the idea of "sharing your feelings" confusing, start using some lead-in phrases like, "Here's what I have been telling myself about this...," "Here's what I hope/fear/ doubt about...," or "My gut feeling is..."

Value added: Less suspicion and hesitancy about working with each other. Better information flow.

Judith Tingley, author of Genderflex Men and Women Speaking Each Other's Language at Work (AMACOM, 1994) reminds us, "If you communicate totally like the other gender, you may turn out looking and sounding like an ' alien creature.' The key is to understand what men and women value, and to speak some of their language." Be observant. You will discover other gender patterns as well. These can vary by age group, ethnic background, region of the country, and even by company culture. Knowing how such patterns can show up in communication between women and men prepares you to be more flexible with yourself and others. It helps you respect, use, and enjoy difference rather than letting it trip you up.


Dr. Simons is president of George Simons International, of Santa Cruz, CA, and coauthor of Men and Women, Partners at Work. Phone him at (408) 426-0106, fax (408) 457-8590, email: gsintgs@aol.com

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