03/12/2013 10:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Male Traits: What Every Woman Can Learn From Men

By Amy Finnerty

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" When Alan Jay Lerner wrote those words for "My Fair Lady" and stuck them in the mouth of an arrogant whiner, he was sending up the tired stereotypes that paint women as hypersensitive, clingy, illogical. But men have had a hard time shaking off a few stubborn stereotypes of their own. They refuse to ask for directions, we say. They won't talk about their feelings. They swagger and boast and take up too much oxygen in the conference room. Who do they think they are, anyway?

But do they know something we don't? Their manly virtues get them pretty far in the world, so maybe we should be taking notes. Admittedly, characterizing some traits as classically male means generalizing shamelessly, but a number of interesting women think we can learn a thing or two from the hairier sex.

The Strong, Silent Type
Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and Fox News political analyst: "There's a lot women can learn from studying men, from watching how they proceed through the world. I admire and have often been instructed by the silence of strong men. They're silent not because they have nothing to say but because they don't have to fill up the air with words. And they don't need to be looked at to dominate. They already dominate, just by being themselves, but they're serene about it. If you ask a quiet man you know well what he's thinking, chances are pretty good that a lot of interesting things will come out.

"Here's the utility of all this for women: Other people wonder what silent people are thinking and respect their silence and their secrets. And being silent if you're not naturally the silent type might become a good discipline. Also, the beautiful air around us is rarely improved by the sound of words, and if you're not improving on silence, why talk? There's already enough jabber."

The Will To Win
Robin Roberts, co-anchor of "Good Morning America" and former ESPN anchor-reporter: "Women are supposedly better at collaborating than men, but from my experience men are the ones who really understand teamwork. A lot of them played organized team sports when they were growing up, and they learned how to set common goals and work toward them together, which translates well to the business world. CEOs I interview always turn out to have been captain of their lacrosse team, or something similar, in college. Some who are very successful aren't even that bright -- they just know how to surround themselves with the best team and how to delegate.

"From team sports, men also learn that it's all right to get angry at each other -- women should take a lesson from them. You can't say, 'Oh, it's not fair if Suzy doesn't get to play.' If Suzy sucks, she has to take a seat because the team won't win with her playing. Sometimes we're our own worst enemies. We hold one another down by worrying more about the individual than the team and the goal of winning.

"Women have always done well in individual sports, but we've lagged in team sports. We're now seeing the first generation of Title IX babies -- who grew up with team sports in school -- benefiting from that with success in the business world."

The Poker Face
Eleanor B. Alter, matrimonial lawyer: "Men are a lot less frightened by negotiating. They're not afraid to offer whatever they think they can get away with. Or they'll say, 'I'll offer very little and wait them out.' Women have a hard time with that.

"Men usually have more experience in negotiating, just because male-dominated professions require it. Emotional detachment can be productive, though of course only some men are more emotionally detached than women. If you could be emotionally detached in negotiating and emotionally attached to your spouse and kids, you'd be perfect.

"Even I hate negotiating for myself, though I have no problem doing it for someone else. I don't get intimidated by judges or courtrooms or lawyers, but I get very intimidated by sales help, for instance. I once went into Hermès thinking that I could get a wallet I wanted for about $400, which to me is a lot. When the salesman told me it was $1,200, I thought, How do I get out of here? I had to stand there and ask to see something else and pretend that I didn't want the first thing because it was too small. Detachment is something that women could benefit from in many situations."

Thick Skin
Deborah Tannen, author and Georgetown University linguistics professor: "Women could learn from men not to take criticism so personally, especially in work situations but also in personal situations. Women tend to think that if you like a person, you express agreement with them. Men often use something I call agonism -- ritualized opposition. For example, a man might explore an idea by tearing it apart, by playing devil's advocate. He's not literally attacking the idea, he's exploring it. But a woman might just think, 'He hates my idea,' or even, 'He hates me.'

"It's the same in personal situations. A woman might feel personally attacked if her husband or boyfriend or friend disagrees with her in public. While she thinks he's being disloyal, he might feel that by debating he's showing intellectual engagement, camaraderie, and respect. We should be more receptive to this perspective.

"I also think that sometimes in work settings women should reveal their feelings less. Men often resist talking about personal problems at work because it might make them appear weak. Women, who sometimes tend to create closeness and forge work relationships by discussing personal problems, have to be careful, because they may appear more problem-ridden than they actually are, and for that reason might be passed up for a promotion. Management might say, 'Maybe she's got too much going on in her life right now to take on this responsibility.'"

The Penetrating Gaze
Kara Walker, artist: "Part of the reason my work is controversial is that it appropriates the male gaze: looking closely, not averting the eyes, facing things squarely. That means having to stare down all sorts of uncomfortable things, having to brave ugly situations with humor and distance. Distance is easy for me, being shy, but acquiring a sense of humor takes balls. My approach to making art is arguably female: I'm doing things -- paper cutting, diary keeping, watercoloring, romance writing -- that are steeped in second-class status. Silhouette cutting in its heyday was deemed a useful activity for women and invalids. But my method is sneaky, seductive, dark, and dangerous, because I'm using these seemingly harmless tools to face some really harsh truths about subjects like race and violence."

Jayshree Ullal, CEO and president of Arista Networks: "In business, women should learn from their male counterparts and emulate their confidence and logical thought processes. If not, women are likely to be perceived as emotional and tentative. I'm reminded of my childhood, when the girls and boys shared a school bus. After a big exam, the girls would be worried and concerned about their performance, while the boys would brag about how well they did. Yet when the results came, the girls would outscore the boys."

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