Cross-Gender Communications: Adapting Prehistoric Inclinations to A Modern Workplace Challenge

P1090254About 75 first-year associates at a prestigious law firm were emailed the same message asking them a question in two parts. The first part inquired about their interest in attending a specific workshop. The second part polled them about how they would prefer the content be delivered (in one 3-hour session, two 90-minute sessions, or three 1-hour sessions). EVERY woman responded by answering both parts of the question; MANY men simply responded “yes”.

Although I laughed upon hearing the story, I’m well aware that it makes historical sense. The fact is that men and women are DIFFERENT….not better, not worse, simply different. “Men were hunters, women were gathers” has a greater implication than “he brings home the bacon, she tends the garden”. Hunting takes sharp focus, high energy and attention. After all, even a modern man couldn’t simultaneously read email, listen to a webinar AND load up his bow and arrow to spear a savage for the family feast. Similarly, women were responsible for raising kids, cooking, tending fields, and a huge list of other chores. Our female ancestors created the concept of multi-tasking before there were even hyphenated words. But in today’s environment, are we truly multi-tasking?

“Fighting” To Be Heard

As society has evolved over the last hundred centuries, some prehistoric instincts like fight-or-flight have taken on modern applications (not too many tigers to avoid in the big city). Although we as humans have evolved and homogenized, there remain ancient tendencies faintly embedded in our patterns. The new challenge becomes applying these tendencies to the modern office environment. For instance, women are often cut off by men when speaking. I’ve addressed how to retaliate in the past, but this time let’s consider a woman’s delivery in the first place. If she kicks off her comment with the most important information presented first, then clearly focuses on one key point or idea, she could find a way to be heard without fighting for it. Plus, it sure beats the “flight” option of avoiding communication altogether for fear of being drowned out.

The Art Of Communication

While the email story is a good lesson, being thorough is a gender non-specific challenge. Men and women professionals alike can adopt the habit of examining our own work, whether through spoken word, email or US Mail. The “art” of communication is not as intimidating to learn as sculpture or watercolor; It is something we are all capable of mastering, with a little emotional intelligence and some smartly-projected ambition. By understanding the nature of the recipient, we can see our message through their eyes, and customize it accordingly. Right interaction with the opposite sex or gender, rather than remaining in perpetual warfare, is not only the most authentic approach to career advancement…’s the most effective. The reward is a fulfilling career rather than a tedious struggle.

For further reading on erasing the male/female divide in the workplace, check out our article on Gender Parity.