I have worked my whole life in offices full of women. I have hired women, fired women, been the boss of women, been bossed by women, and had women partners. On and off, my ex-wife worked in our business, and my current wife works on projects in my current ventures. And still, the only thing I have found consistent about working with women is that I don't totally get them, and they don't totally seem to get my male colleagues and me, either. I once started writing a book with a female main character, only to be told by my wife, my agent (a woman), and two very close female friends that I obviously was clueless about how women think.
Still, I am a big supporter of more women in business. I totally believe there should be more in business, as entrepreneurs and as captains of industry. They should be respected, treated as equals, and compensated as such. I do not, however, believe they should automatically be treated the same way as men. Men and women are different, and they typically respond differently to given situations.
I am not a behaviorist, and I would imagine explaining the detail of behavioral differences and their sources would take more than a solid month of Inc. postings. I have found, however, some key ways to make things easier to get along and support one another. They have worked pretty well for me over the years.
Here are some easy tools to help you communicate with the opposite sex--or with the same sex, for that matter--regardless of the how or why they do what they do.
1. State clear intentions. So many problems between men and women occur because people don't know what is wanted from other people. The obvious issue here is with relationships. Many women have expressed to me in confidence that when they have gone on an off-site meeting, they weren't really sure if they were actually being asked on a date. Workplace romance is a fact of life. In a recent survey, more than 47 percent of men and women surveyed claimed to have had a romantic encounter with a co-worker.
Putting aside issues of potential sexual harassment, people often date the people they work with. And no wonder. People are working longer hours than ever, and generally like to date people, like colleagues, with whom they have something in common. It's nice to think that most men and women can think beyond their most basic needs, and often they do, but there is no harm in clearly, truthfully, and politely establishing boundaries and intentions. Then simply respect the expressed wishes of people.
2. Assume you don't get it. I still get called on for my male approach to issues and discussions. Often I make the mistake of trying to solve every problem with women colleagues instead of just listening. After getting snapped at a few times, I have learned to ask my role rather than assume I am there to fix everything. I find I also appreciate it when women colleagues proactively ask me what I need rather than assuming I want something done.
3. Find common ground. My first real job was in a mortgage bank with 21 women and 3 guys, including me. I like to think I am somewhat in touch with my feminine side, but it was indeed a foreign world. Ultimately, I thrived by listening and learning from the women's perspective. I observed and identified behavior that was similar to ways in which I could manage tasks and problems. I found ways to communicate that were comfortable for everyone. As different as men and women are, our objectives are similar, and making those front and center pushes the differences to the side.
4. Speak up with simple respect. I am absolutely sure I have offended people with this column previously--often on topics like this that depend on generalities. And if I have now, by all means let me know in the comments section, because that's what it's there for. But I'll stand by expressing my observations and remedies. I believe that the worst crime against either sex is to stay quiet, allowing frustration and resentment to fester. You can be wrong with your opinions and still be respectful. Better to speak ignorantly and learn than to remain quietly polite and remain stupid.
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