It’s the age old question! Men claim they cannot understand women, but I don’t know why since there are numerous books on the subject … especially books like “Mars and Venus in the Workplace”. Perhaps, as this book points out, the problem is that while we communicate we just don’t understand each other.

No matter how much better the workplace is, the board room is still dominantly male. And the climate of the company often filters down from the board room. If managers and executives are not used to practically communicating with females on a business level they may misunderstand the underlying messages being given.

Respect comes from an appreciation of the value of what can be expected from a fellow leader, and when there is a subconscious belief that little of real value can be expected there is an instinctive lack of respect for the value of that person.

How do I know? I spent a number of years as a senior non-commissioned officer in the Australian Army and learned first hand that while given many open admissions of my competency there was all too often an underlying assumption that there were certain roles that would be beyond me. Such instinctive reaction to an assumption of what a female can and should do became amply demonstrated at planning meetings; when tasks that were part of my role were routinely passed out to a male NCO in another section. I had to fight long and hard to have my superiors recognise that I was quite capable of carrying these out myself.

When I became a reserve soldier, these problems became magnified. My superiors would rotate on a regular basis and I remained in the position. So each time I had a new boss I had to prove myself all over again.

I am not going to join the argument of how much the misunderstandings between males and females in the workplace occur because of cultural inculcation, what needs to be addressed is the outcome in the workplace today. And I believe that much of it stems from the fact that we communicate differently.

For whatever reasons, men and women have produced two different ways of communicating and if we learn what these differences are and how they change the way in which information is transmitted we can learn to change between the two.

John Gray’s book about Mars and Venus in the Workplace (Pan Macmillan Australia P/L 2002) is a great way to start. The most important and valuable lesson that I learned from it was that men want to give me solutions to a problem that I raise, when I know how to solve it and all I want to do to create consensus. It was a tactic I learned in the army, how to try for consensus in the planning stage and change to direction in the practical operation.

My male counterparts often thought that my communication directed towards achieving consensus showed indecision on my part. It took some difficult discussions over a couple of beers in the mess to sort that one out. But when they realised what my aim was and how I was trying to achieve it; and when they realised that I was equally decisive in the field as they were –(probably more so because I knew that I had that consensus) they stopped trying to solve my invisible problems for me.

The true problem for female leaders is always going to be either to conform to the male dominated systems – and thereby try to become more male orientated in their leadership style – or to try and educate the boardroom and the workplace that there is a different way to lead. Not better, just different.

Perhaps what we need are female role models who have become successful in business and who have not felt it necessary to “outmale the male” It is very difficult because there is a tendency to believe the global myth that leadership in business is primarily a male role, while women do better in the support roles. There is still a tendency to assess similar leadership qualities in different ways when comparing male and female leaders.

A man is assertive while a female is described as ‘bossy’. A male can ‘give criticism’ while a female is merely being ‘bitchy’. A man can be a ‘strong leader’ while a similarly dominant female is described as ‘arrogant’. None of these assessments need be made publicly, but because they are believed it will affect the way in which others react to female leaders. Trust me on this one, I really know.

I believe in solving major problems by little steps and the first step for both genders in the workplace is to clear up the misunderstandings caused by different styles of communication. If we know and understand the basis for communication, real understanding should be easier to achieve. And respect is based on that real understanding.

So if you are looking for a Christmas present why not search out one of the books on communication between males and females. There are some excellent ones around, and there is sure to be one that relates to you.

I have decided to bring out my copy of John Gray again and re-read it, and you never know I might decide to put my experiences down on paper myself. This book writing lark is getting a little addictive.

Michele @ Trischel

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