"I want to know ... how to be manly and womanly, to be assertive and soft,
to act with power and move with grace, to march when I need to and dance when I can."
~ Lori Ann Lothian, author/publisher
As women continue to make inroads in the workplace - pioneering in traditionally male careers, taking on more leadership roles in executive suites and claiming their seats at the table where decisions are made - they also experience many of the same age-old frustrations shared by millions of working women over the years. Women ask:
• Why do men behave that way? I would never do some of the things these guys do.
• Why don't the men I work with not seem to hear what I say? Why do they ignore my suggestions and ideas?
• What does it take to be accepted and acknowledged for my contributions at work? Why do I feel like it's a boys' club and I can never break into it?
I've certainly had these questions myself. There was a lot I didn't understand about men.
In my 20's, I was interested in dating and getting married, so I had sought out therapists, attended workshops and participated in support groups - all designed to teach women how to attract high-quality men. I took copious notes, analyzed old childhood experiences, kept journals and learned from several terrific relationship experts. Along the way, I went on lots of dates and enjoyed some great (sometimes challenging) relationships. And most of all, I learned a lot about men.
In my 30's and 40's, I began to realize that learning about love was also improving my work life. I changed the way I look at men and, much to my amazement, the men changed! As someone wise once said, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Male behaviors that used to puzzle me now make complete sense, male habits that used to annoy me now seem charming and the same men who used to drive me crazy now delight me. Changing the way I looked at men - and interacted with them - in my personal life had the unexpected result of changing the way I interact with men in my professional life, too. And that has made all the difference.
What exactly did these relationship experts teach me that helped so much in business? Here are the ten helpful insights and practical tips for women who want to win with men at work:
1. Relationships are about energy - yin and yang, alpha and beta, masculine and feminine - complementary polar opposites.
Business is about energy, too - mostly yang, masculine, alpha energy. Once you understand the masculine energy of business, you can learn when to match it with your yang and when to complement it with your yin.
2. Women would be smart to analyze and understand the men they work with
Which ones are alphas, which are betas and which ones are androgynous types who effectively blend and balance their masculine and feminine energies. If you want to become skillful in dealing with men in business, you need to know who these men are.
Men are not all alike. A smart woman deals with alpha men very differently than she deals with beta men. Remember, business is all about energy, so knowing whether a man operates from yang energy or yin energy will make a critical difference in how you work with him.
3. Men's brains are built differently from women's brains: men are single-focused while women are good at multitasking.
Evolution has shaped our brains from the beginning of human existence, according to the division of labor between males and females. In prehistoric times, men were the hunters while women were the gatherers. Men needed to be single-focused: "Hunt the deer, hunt the deer, hunt the deer." Women needed to divide their attention between gathering roots, berries, grains and other foodstuffs, while keeping a watchful eye on their children, chatting with other women and watching for any danger in the environment, too. Men's brains evolved to specialize in focusing while women's brains evolved to specialize in scanning.
Once you understand men's single-focused brains, you can communicate more effectively with them. For instance, don't try to talk to a man when he's focused on something else. Make an appointment to discuss an important issue with him.
4. Male energy wants respect; female energy wants to be cherished.
Opinions are to men what feelings are to women - sacred. To argue with a man's opinion is to disrespect him - he needs to be right. It doesn't matter if a man's opinions are illogical or wrong - his opinions are his opinions and he'll go to any lengths to defend them. It's important for you to find creative ways to respect a man's opinions while still being effective at conveying your own.
5. Men want to make women happy.
They like to make all women happy, but especially the women who are important to them - female coworkers, business partners, customers and clients and valued female subordinates (as well as wives, girlfriends, and daughters). But if they can't make a woman happy, they'll settle for just not making her mad.
A smart woman tells a man what will make her happy, rather than making him guess. "I'd be happy to take on the challenge of leading that project team," or "Thanks for the update. It makes me happy to be kept in the loop."
6. Men are afraid of women's anger and will do everything they can to avoid incurring a woman's wrath.
This sometimes leads men to lie - or simply become evasive. Men often protect themselves by telling a woman what they think she wants to hear, rather than the truth. Or, he may avoid telling her anything at all. Several reasons for this - first among these is that most men simply don't know what to do in the face of a woman's emotions, so they will do their best to avoid triggering any strong negative feelings in her.
If you want men to communicate authentically, you need to make it safe for them to do so. You must welcome information - the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
7. For yang men, business is a competitive sport:
Butting heads and conflict are just part of the game - it's not personal. Guys can have a knock-down drag-out fight in a business meeting, then go out for drinks at the end of the day. No big deal.
Most yin women don't understand this - they personalize disagreements and debates. Women tend to nurse grudges, stop speaking to the person with whom they argued and waste valuable time and energy obsessing over perceived personal slights. If you can develop thicker skin and detach your personal feelings from the normal, day-to-day conflicts at work, you'll be a lot happier... and more successful, too!
8. Sexual tension is inescapable whenever men and women work together
We can never transcend our gender. Men and women handle this sexual tension differently. Women want to talk about it and figure out how to deal with it, while most men just want the sexual static to go away. Learning how to manage workplace sexual tension will help you be more successful. The natural tension between male and female, yang and yin, can be a great source of creativity and innovation if you channel the energy in a constructive, positive direction.
9. Alpha men like to teach - they like to give - they are generous with the people they care about.
Alpha men make great mentors, especially later in their careers, once they have achieved a high level of success. They enjoy bringing young up-and-comers under their wings and teaching them how to be successful. Aspiring women would do well to learn from powerful men - whether it's a formal mentoring relationship or simply an informal friendship. Watch, learn, listen and ask questions. Show respect and appreciation for what they teach you. Yang men love to teach - if you're a receptive yin, you'll be enriched with valuable lessons.
10. Business and money are all about yang energy, but that doesn't mean yin energy doesn't play an important role, too.
The world of business involves both leading and following, giving and receiving, directing and complying, acting and reacting. Smart women learn when to shift into their alpha masculine side and when to rely on their natural feminine energy.
Think of it this way: You have two hands - you tend to use one hand more than the other, but the other is always available whenever you need it. It's the same with yin and yang, masculine and feminine. The more intuitively and skillfully you learn to tap into both yin and yang energy, the more successful you'll be at work.
BJ Gallagher is a workplace consultant, gender expert, and coauthor of the best-selling diversity classic, "A Peacock in the Land of Penguins: A Fable About Creativity and Courage" (Berrett-Koehler). She is the author of numerous women's books, including "Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Other Women" (Conari Press).