Hooray, another book full of sweeping generalizations about gender!
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It’s OK to be skeptical about sweeping generalizations about the opposite sex. But they’re so hard to resist.
The latest addition to the genre is Work with Me: The 8 Blind Spots Between Men and Women in Business which goes on sale May 14. It’s the collaboration of John Gray, the author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and a corporate consultant called Barbara Annis, and a brazen attempt to enter the bruising debates around women and work.
On the face of it, it’s the stuff of magazine quizzes, full of anecdotes and “brain science” presented without caveat. Stuff like: Women are collaborative and feel undervalued; and men are goal-oriented and feel they have to walk on eggshells around women. Annis – who trademarked the term Gender Intelligence – includes findings from surveys of more than 100,000 professionals, but New Age-y exhortations about one’s “authentic self” and Oprah-ready discussions of “aha moments” hardly inspire confidence. Where’s the detailed backup? Can it really be true that most women will tell up to 32 people about a positive or negative experience, while men tell only three? Or did Annis just survey one very chatty female CEO?
But let’s not be too quick to dismiss. After all, there are suggestions here for getting what you want from the opposite sex. Most of the tips, oddly, focus on miscommunications at home, but hey, we right-brained thinkers can work out the connections.
1. Don’t Try To Fix Him, Just Tell Him What To Do
“When women say they want men to change, men tend to hear the message that they are somehow flawed. A man tends to become defensive because a women’s inclination to want to improve him surfaces as criticism.”
The guys have a point here — if you like me, what’s to change? But whatever the motivation, the book recommends that rather than complaining about what’s wrong and making the man the problem, women should simply present a solution.
So instead of saying, “Suzie needs to be taken to her recital on Tuesday after school. You’re home before I am and if you can’t drive her, I’ll have to ask a neighbor,” the “gender-intelligent” wife will say, “Will you remember to take Suzie to her recital on Tuesday? That would be very helpful to me.”
(At work, if your solution is shot down, realize that men are quick to react and loath to be distracted from the end game. Don’t take it personally. Presenting more information may help change a man’s mind.)
2. Don’t Try To Solve Her Problem, Just Listen
“Men need to learn the art of listening without interrupting to solve [a woman’s] problems” because “women feel compelled to share their feelings” and “unfold [their] thoughts.”
At least three chapters work to hit this point home (all titled in a way that seems designed to pick a fight): “Do Men Listen?” “Are Women Too Emotional?” and “Are Men Insensitive?”
Rather than jumping in to provide an answer or reassurances that “it’s not a big deal,” men should be attentive, ask thoughtful questions and solicit more details. More like a therapist who says, “Uh huh, I see. How does that make you feel?” without being directive. (Which seems to leave the guy, like a bad psychiatrist, the option of thinking about other things entirely while nodding.)
3. Men Need Their Downtime, Women Need to Talk (Some More)
“A man’s natural ways of reducing stress are different from a woman’s. He needs to disengage and forget his problems while she needs to engage and talk through hers.”
So women need to give men some room to unwind and withdraw from the world before launching into whatever it is they are set on sharing.
This revelation came a little less than halfway through the book, when you might be tiring of this ever-talking, ever-connected, ever-evaluating Everywoman and wish she would just give it a rest. While Annis and Gray hope to help women advance and transform the workplace from military-like command-and-control to a collaborative model better suited to the global marketplace, they sometimes make women sound like a collective pain in the ass.
Many of these ideas first surfaced more than two decades ago in Men Are From Mars and in their current guise may spark even more concern that the authors are perpetuating sexist stereotypes. Gray and Annis have advanced their theories of gender differences working with scores of the world’s biggest firms and it may take a lot of talking to undo that kind of buy-in. But it sounds like we chatty gals are up to the task.
In the meantime, let’s see if any of this stuff gets us what we want.
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