Welcome back! This is the final post in our interview with author Shaunti Feldhahn. Two weeks ago, we talked to Shaunti about the differences in the ways men and women relate to each other outside the office. Today, we’re discussing what those differences are in the office. If you missed it this morning, here’s the first part of this conversation. Now, back to Shaunti!
4word: In light of your research, can you think of a past business situation in which you would have benefited from the insight in your book?
Shaunti: The stuff I wish I’d known while I worked on Wall Street was the rule about how men view emotions in the workplace. As women, we think that getting emotional just isn’t very professional. For men, it’s much more dangerous.
This is because of a difference in the way we’re wired. Women’s brains can process lots of thoughts and feelings at the same time. Men are wired to deeply process one thing at a time; they can’t easily do mental multi-tasking. So when they feel themselves getting emotional, they can’t think clearly any more. And they assume that, when a woman gets emotional, she isn’t thinking clearly either.
By the way, “getting emotional” means more than just fighting back tears. This is something that really surprised me. If a man sees you reacting defensively to something, even if it’s just the tone of your voice, that implies to him that you have emotions rattling around inside you. The same is true for personality conflicts. If a man sees two people butting heads in the workplace, he assumes it’s all based on emotion and that feelings have gotten in the way of judgment. He views it as unprofessional.
Another thing is pushing too hard. If you go back to your boss after a decision has been made and say, “I really want you to reconsider this,” he’ll usually say, “Thanks for your input. I’ve considered it, and we’re still going this way.” If you come back again with numbers or facts to back up your idea, he will assume you are no longer objective and that you just want to get your way. The frustrating thing is, that’s usually not the case. We women can usually see the train wreck coming and are just trying to prevent it!
4word: So do you think that is part of the reason why strong women are viewed as difficult but strong men are viewed as assertive?
Shaunti: Yes, part of that is the issue with pushing too hard. But part of it goes back to what we talked about a couple weeks ago. We think men have this huge male ego, when in fact they are privately questioning themselves. That’s a huge, raw nerve that we hit without knowing what we’re doing.
When we push really hard about a decision at work, we can be sending the signal: “You’re inadequate, buddy.” Our boss will start thinking that we don’t trust him or respect his judgment, even if that isn’t the case. As women, we have a tendency to think that men are just oversensitive and threatened by a strong, capable woman. In reality, men react that way to anyone. They don’t usually approach each other like that, because it triggers their self-doubt.
Another thing that triggers that doubt is when you raise your hand in a meeting and ask “why?” You’re just asking for information, but Bob is standing there at the whiteboard thinking, “I cannot believe she is challenging me in front of my whole team.”
However, if you rephrase the question as, “Bob, help me understand why you chose that pricing method,” he will react differently. That signals to him that you know he has a good reason and are just trying to understand it. All of the men in my surveys said they would walk through fire to work with a woman like that who signals mutual respect in her interactions with them.
So what do you think, ladies? Have you run into differences like this in your workplace? Let us know in the comments. You can find out more about For Women Only in the Workplace at forwomenonlyworkplace.com. You’ll also learn more about Shaunti’s other books for women, young women and parents. And, if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to go back and check out the first half of our interview with Shaunti.