Here are a few simple steps that may help you work better with the opposite sex.
It’s your Monday-morning meeting, and Begley is wearing a tie that’s busier than a condom store on Madonna’s birthday. So you and the rest of the guys mercilessly goof on him until he removes the repellent thing and slides it into his coat pocket. Harmless fun–even the Begster is laughing. But the women at the table aren’t. Why? Is it because we’re being mean?
“When it comes to humor, men banter and poke fun at each other,” says Tear. “Women, though, are more likely to make fun of themselves. So during the male banter, women back off.” The result: Women feel excluded.
Here, and elsewhere, it pays to be bilingual. A man who can make fun of himself as well as poke fun at a pal appears far funnier to women. “If you can interchange both on a dime, women are more likely to engage in the same kind of interchange,” says Tear. And you’ll be more engaging, more persuasive and, on the whole, more competent around the cubicles.
Talk About Your New Puppy
For us, small talk is simple. We like to talk about the Knicks, the Flyers, the bootleg video of Tonya Harding’s honeymoon. For women, though, small talk is more about “personal self-disclosure,” “They like to talk about what’s going on at home, with their family or in the community,” says Tear. Men do this too, but not as much. The solution: Master both. “If you can be as comfortable chatting about the home as you are about sports, then you’ll seem much more approachable and less exclusionary,” she says.
This is not to say, however, that you should start talking and thinking like women. Phil Donahue is retiring this month, so it’s now officially okay for men to think and act like men again. “Just talk about things, now and then, that appeal to more people than just your pals,” says Jonathan Segal, a Philadelphia lawyer who provides employee-relations training to judges and private-sector managers across the country.
Your boss is carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and a stack of files in the other. You give him a playful whack on the shoulder. He, in turn, merrily bodychecks you into the wall and moves on. No prob. You love the guy. He thinks you’re the best. “Hitting your male boss may be seen as a sign of affection,” says Segal. “Bodycheck your female boss, though, and the odds of her perceiving this as an affectionate gesture are slim to none.”
There’s a biological reason why men use playful aggression to show affection. “Men are less sensitive to touch than women, so it makes perfect sense that men would develop a set of physical habits and gestures that are much more physical,” says Tear. “Pushing and hitting aren’t unpleasant for most men, but they are for most women.”
The problem is that women don’t understand this. They’re likely to interpret our roughhousing as macho posturing–that somehow putting a peer in a headlock is our way of proving we’re up to the job. And then when women overreact if we touch them ever so slightly, we assume they’re either oversensitive or uncomfortable around men. Neither is right. “It comes down to sense of touch, nothing more,” says Tear. “Although it’s amazing how many idiotic interpretations result from this.”
In the loony landscape of pop psychology, we’re told that men don’t listen, women do. Actually, men just don’t listen to pop psychologists. Who does?
We’re great listeners. We just do it differently. When we listen, we tend to shift eye contact frequently. Women maintain steady eye contact with whomever is speaking. There’s nothing deep about it. It’s simply a behavioral difference that carries no psychological luggage. “Because men rarely return the eye contact, women think they aren’t listening,” says Tear.
The solution is simple: When a female coworker is talking to you, fix your eyes on hers longer than you normally might. Nod once in a while. “It’s a useful tool at certain, but not all, times,” says Tear. Stare too long (at a guy, girl or small pet) and you’ll give them the heebie-jeebies.
You’re in a meeting. You’re comfortable, sitting diagonally with your elbows resting on the chairs beside you. The female coworker sitting next to you, however, is becoming visibly uncomfortable. She shoots a few glances at you. She clears her throat. You sense she might be annoyed. Finally she asks you to move. You move your arm, but you wonder what’s bothering her. Perhaps she read Backlash again.
No, her problem isn’t political, psychological or chemically induced. It’s visual. Men and women have slight differences in their sense of sight, and this is why the coworker got so unnerved. “Men are better at judging distances in front of them, whereas women have slightly sharper peripheral vision,” says Tear. The sharper peripheral vision,” says Tear. The sharper peripheral vision allows a woman to see that elbow, and it’s distracting to her. “Although you did nothing wrong,” says Tear, “a problem occurs if the woman assumes you’re using subtle body language to distract her. She may get mad and say something.”
So next time, be aware of this simple visual difference, and don’t put it through the pop-psychology meat grinder. Just assume you’re in her line of fire and pull back. You don’t have to sit up, put your arms at your sides and maintain a glazed, stoic expression. Do this and we’ll cancel your subscription, pronto. Instead, just relax without unfolding like an emergency life raft.
Strident feminists will claim that men constantly interrupt women as a sign of their oppressive nature. But if these lasses would shut up for a moment, they would realize this interruption is just our way of conversing. Interruptions allow us to take turns talking. If we didn’t do it, then each office meeting would be like Oscar night: an interminable series of long and painful monologues.
Men tend to talk over each other, cutting in and out like commuters at rush hour. “Men will speak in a steady stream of verbiage until they’re interrupted,” says Tear. Then we’ll cut back in when the time is right. There’s no underlying psychobabble here. It’s pure linguistics.
Women take their turns differently. “Their rhythms of speech are different,” says Tear. “Women speak with frequent pauses, allowing time for others to interject.” That’s why, in a normal business meeting, you find a lot of silent women waiting for a pause–and a lot of men wondering why women don’t speak up more. This clash of styles can lead to resentment on their part.
Again, the simple solution is to be bilingual. “Women must learn to interrupt more, and men should use more pauses when talking to a woman,” says Tear. Pausing has another benefit: You’ll appear more self-assured and less of a know-it-all.
A female supervisor approaches you with a request. “If you don’t mind,” she asks politely, “would you please call Ezekial Coogan about the cattle prods, when you have a chance?”
You never get around to it. So she gets ticked. But hey, if she wanted you to make the call, she would have said so. Instead, she softened her language with “if you don’t mind” and “when you get the chance.” Well, maybe you do mind and maybe you didn’t have the chance. If she’s your boss, then she has to make it a priority, not you.
Women tend to be much more oblique about giving direction. “But a supervisor has to realize we’re all more comfortable with orders,” says Segal. And men need to peel away the effluvia that can mask a female boss’s request.
For example, she might use qualifiers (“probably”), inclusive pronouns (“our” instead of “I”) and end with confusing tag questions (“don’t you think?”). We, on the other hand, just raise or lower our voices or gesture to make a point. So when a male boss tells us to do something, we get the point. When a female does the same, we hear all the probablys and the maybes, and we doubt whether the speaker really means what she’s saying. Similarly, when women hear us convey our ideas forcefully, they consider us hardheaded.
Women need to understand that men operate more directly–and it’s not because we’re arrogant. It’s just our style, probably originating from the evocative grunts of caveman days. And men need to pay more attention to the idea and ignore all the stuff swirling around it. “Do this and you’ll find that men and women will agree more often than not,” says Tear.
You ask the saucy temp Tallulah out for a date. She says, “I can’t, I’m busy.” A few days go by and you ask her out again. This time, she says, “I can’t, I’m going out of town.” You try one more time. She says, “I can’t,” and points to her cranium. “Brain surgery.” You make one last attempt–and she goes to personnel to file a complaint.
Which, from your point of view, doesn’t seem fair. “In this case, what you hear is her saying why she can’t go. But she never says no,” says Segal. “This makes it sound to you like she wanted to go, but couldn’t. Even if she didn’t want to hurt your feelings, she should have been honest.”
So the moral is to be as up-front as possible. “If the woman seems to be making excuses, then ask her if she is,” says Segal. “Say, `Hey, this is the second time I asked you out and you’ve been busy. Are you really busy or is this a nice way of saying no?”‘ If she says she was just being nice, accept it. And better yet, boil it down to one rule: Don’t date anyone from work. But feel free to ask if they have sisters.