Interpretation: An Alarming Gender Divide?

An executive shared the difficulty she had getting buy-in from her male bosses. As part of her coaching, I suggested a check-in with a male mentor was in order.

She hesitated. It turns out she’d already discussed this topic with her boss, and his response was uninformative—not to mention downright disappointing.

Gender Divide“What was his advice?”

“He told me to ‘be prepared.’ That was it.” Then, she asserted in frustration, “Of course, I prepare!”

I asked, “What did the recommendation mean to her.” She translated “prepared” as:

  • Properly researched;
  • Contained solid ideas;
  • No spelling errors;
  • Everything footnoted;
  • Well written;
  • Looked good;
  • Primed to discuss controversial points
  • etc.

She nailed “being prepared” based on her interpretation. Unhappily, her actions didn’t exhibit what her male boss intended when offering his pithy guidance.

What he meant was all of the above as well as integrating a much broader array of activities, such as:

Scout the territory:

  • Do you have any enemies (opposition to the proposal)? If so, what do they have against the recommendation? How powerful is the vote against your recommendation? How will you counterattack their resistance?
  • Do you have allies? If yes, why are they supporting the proposal? Is there anything they can do to turn the tide in your favor?
  • How many resources are your opposition or allies willing to dedicate toward either the acceptance or rejection of the proposition?

Take the high ground before going into battle:

  • How entrenched is the resistance? What would it take to move them from their position? Is the outcome worth your effort?
  • Do you have enough support to get the proposal approved? If not, is a tactical retreat to win the battle another day a better option? Remember, it isn’t what you do in the meeting that garners the victory rather it is the behind the scenes powwows which assure the yeses.
  • If you don’t win the first skirmish, what’s your backup strategy to win the war?

Symptoms of this gender communication divide often emerge between men and women. It would be humorous if it weren’t so deadly serious.

Men and women are using the same words; however, the messages given or received are at odds. The viability of corporate American can’t afford these failures. It is up to each to assume responsibility for their part of the equation—and the solution!

So, if you’re a guy and think you’re doing a great mentoring job for women in your organization, perhaps, you’re not as good as you think. Have you confirmed the women you are communicating with know beyond a shadow of a doubt the intention and the meaning of the career guidance you’re offering? If they don’t, it’s up to you to make sure they do, or you’re wasting your time. More importantly, you’re harming your relationships when women misconstrue your message.

If you’re a gal and believe the male mentors in your life aren’t doing such a great job, ask more questions. Get inside their head. You need to make sure you’re taking in the gems of wisdom as intended—not simply brushing it aside because you don’t appreciate the nuances of the message. If you ask and then appear not to follow through, you’ve doomed yourself. It’s better for your career not to have requested assistance in the first place.

Better communication doesn’t mean either the man or the woman must tie themselves into knots; it just entails putting a bit more effort in recognizing, respecting and honoring the differences. Often at the root of negative office exchanges is gender intelligence.

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