Reprogramming Your Auto Responses
I met with a client the other day and realized midway through the conversation that we were approaching the resolution for the challenge at hand from completely different perspectives. Taking a moment to jot down a note to research how men and women approach tasks and resolutions (which was not the topic at hand) for me to follow up on later, we resumed our conversation. But honestly, I found that I was innately approaching the issue the way I was used to - my way - and he was doing exactly the same; and together we were stopping progress. I immediately wondered if I could reprogram my own auto responses.
What I found is that my male client had connected to what he thought was a good solution and pretty much did not hear the rest of what I was saying. His auto response was to then shut down. But I noticed my brain kept automatically re-directing and constantly re-evaluating the information he was sharing which enabled me to come up with other good solutions that in all likelihood would have had better end results for him in the long run. That was my go-to auto response.
So I did what I know throws many men off their game (and often makes them roll their eyes), I approached it from another angle. What was that you ask? I took a break, got another cup of coffee then I asked him about his life on a personal level. I asked him how his wife was and what she was up to these days. I asked him about his college-aged children, all of these topics got him talking and his mind off what we were actually meeting about. Now, I thought, you are in my domain. I will listen with interest about what you are telling me, take mental notes on how all those things are affecting you, and then circle back around to your problem after you have pretty much forgotten what we were talking about previously - not because he couldn't remember it, but because he was thought he was done with the issue. That is when I will introduce the other ideas I had.
Which I did and we effectively came up with multiple long-term resolutions. Now, giving due process, I'll try the reverse next time we meet, meaning I will see if I can set my biases aside to be less process-focused and just more task oriented and in the end I will have each of us individually assess both meetings and then cooperatively evaluate , giving fair time to each process.
So this is what my later research told me. First off, none of it was earth-shattering for me and I think I can safely say I will forever more have to wonder about anyone who tells me there is no difference in the way men and women manage everything. But, with that said, what I am about to say is not meant to be a generalization. Certainly I have worked with and for people, men and women alike, who share many of the same attributes and management styles. I, myself, employ some from each style.
The Difference in Management Styles
For me the basic difference in management style is this: for most women workplace issues are a process, one that requires that all people are involved, given a fair shot at articulating what they consider important, time is given for proper evaluation, possible modification then resolution. In my own personal experiences, most of the men have a firm handle on top down management style, meaning when they connect with a good idea or solution, they end the conversation and move towards the resolution. Because these two styles do not really meet in the middle, it often appears that one is too wishy washy and so caught up in making everyone happy that they can't make a decision; whereas, the other is looked upon as jumping in feet first without looking at potential consequences.
And the current research supports my own experiences as I read over and over that male leaders have been shown to be more goal- and task-oriented, transactional in style, and less process-focused than women. Men tend to isolate components and use technical jargon whereas women try to maximize solutions looking for the best resolution by looking at everything from a balanced perspective, incorporating cooperation, a sense of affiliation, and opening the door for better communication. But let's be clear, there are a hundred reports out there that say the complete opposite things are true; thus my need to see what brain research has come up with.
Considering that current statistics indicate that slightly over 50% of all managerial and professional positions in the United States are held by women that means men hold the other 50% of managerial and professional positions. The truth is simply this, there is a lot that can be learned from either management style but the biggest hurdle we need to overcome is the workplace biases that still permeate a lot of corporate cultures.
Need a few examples of workplace biases? Women are biologically wired to avoid conflict. Seeking help is a sign of weakness. He's demanding; she's a bitch. When he yells he's passionate; when she yells she's PMS-ing (yes that is still being said). Anyway, you get the drift - all these biases are condescending and debilitating especially when you are the person on the receiving side of the statement.
Brain Science and Gender Differences
Why is brain research important? Think about it. Not only can it identify and give us real-time clues on what expected outcomes are of the different types of brains, but it could also establish superiority as quite frankly, a superior brain equates to superiority. So I hope like hell science leaves it the quagmire it is; both are different, neither is right and neither is wrong. But perhaps they could focus on how we can meld the two together and provide for a common defense.
So here is what I learned about the brain. The brain is a mix of relative degrees of both the masculine and the feminine, primarily due to hormones - both male and female hormones. And saying more succinctly than I can, I offer the following excerpt from an article in the Harvard Business Review: "How Women Decide" by Cathy Benko and Bill Pelster, illustrating the need for a top consulting firm, Deloitte, to re-examine workplace gender-specific differences so they could make the deal v losing the deal to competitors.
"According to a study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, men’s brains have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter than women’s, and women’s brains have nearly 10 times more white matter than men’s. Because gray matter characterizes information processing centers and white matter facilitates the connections among those centers, scientists theorize that those differences might explain why men tend to excel in tasks that depend on sheer processing while women show relative strength in tasks that call for assimilating and integrating disparate pieces of information. What’s more, the cord connecting the left and right lobes is 10% thicker, on average, in female brains. And women have wider peripheral vision than men do. In case you’re wondering, neither brain type performs better than the other on broad measures of cognitive ability such as intelligence tests. The differences, however, have implications for how decisions are made."
Back to the question that first presented itself to me. Can I reprogram how I automatically respond to my environment in both the business world and yes, even in my personal life? My answer is no. I really don't think I can reprogram how I am biologically geared to process data as it is presented to me but what I can do is make myself purposely respond using the opposite approach. It will be hard work for sure but not insurmountable and I like a good challenge. And what is there to gain you may ask? I really don't know! But as I employ the process I am sure the gains will present themselves and hopefully these insights will bolster my resolution to continue practicing the opposite approach or maybe it will lead me back to that where I am already wired. Or better yet, perhaps the two will meld themselves together and allow me to use a combined approach that brings forth a superior result. Talk about an effective management style - I'd be the woman on fire!