7 June 2012

Listening – between genders

Are you a good listener? How do you know? Is it because you can repeat verbatim what someone is saying?

Listening requires an understanding that not every speaker is needs the same thing.  Good listening takes skill and frankly, most people are not great listeners. How often, for example, have you been formulating a response while you were listening – chomping at the bit to get your two cents in as soon as there was a pause in communication?

This is not uncommon – I used to be a terrible listener. One of the benefits of Toastmasters is that we not only learn how to be competent communicators, we also learn how to listen well. It takes training to become a good listener. When you listen well, you pay attention to what the person is saying. You figure out whether they are just sounding off or if they require a response from you. You remain attentive and make eye contact. You pause at the end of the dialogue to see if they need to add more. You wait for an indication as to whether they need anything from you. The art of listening is not to be taken lightly – great leaders are great listeners.

What about listening across the gender divide. Many of us have gotten into trouble by responding inappropriately to the other sex. Women and men often have challenges when it comes to communication. I often say that women speak to men as if they are speaking to other women. Men speak to women as if they are speaking to another man. They have not quite learned how to speak to one another or how to respond appropriately to the other sex.  They have not learned the art of cross-gender listening which is a specialized kind of listening.

Women tend to use communication to build rapport and social connections. When they communicate, they are more likely looking for empathy from the listener. Men on the other hand are looking for solutions. Imagine that a woman is telling a man about a problem – all she wants is an ear – but a man will look for a solution – he will actually have one ready for her when she takes her first breath. In all likelihood she was just sharing feelings and seeking empathy and understanding. It would likely have been appropriate to say nothing but lend an attentive ear. When she hears the solution she may get offended because she will resent your desire to fix the problem. That is not the way that women do things.

Men like to solve their own problems, sizing things up and thinking instead of talking it out. Women feel left out of things when this happens even though the truth is – men are not thinking about anything but the problem at hand. Men have a tendency to not want to share their feelings or talk things out and when that happens – women may get offended because you’re not treating us like we treat one another.

Gender differences are varied and there are usually enough stereotypes around to say that enough men and women display these traits – so what is the solution – learn to be a good listener and check in if you’re not certain. Over time people get to know one another well enough to know what will work. Become a good listener and your life will be less stressful.

5 June 2012


“Are you the only woman on the job site? Does isolation cause you to despair? There are steps that you can take.” 

I feel so isolated here but I can’t really give up my job – the money is too good.”

Isolation is a terrible thing and it can lead to all kinds of problems in the workplace. Isolation can even impact our mental health and cause you to disengage. To promote your own well-being, it is essential that you take steps to ensure that you remain connected. We all need a support system in life. If your employer does not seemed concerned, you can take control of your situation.

There is always the option of connecting with like minded men. Don’t assume that they’re “all alike” – that’s stereotyping. Some of my greatest supporters in life have been like minded men. As a dirt bike enthusiast, I shared a common bond with my male counterparts as we came together to share in the fun of our sport. Hobbies in common are often referred to as the great leveler – a passion for something removes barriers to communication. Biking is a great example, people from all walks of life share that passion – learn to connect based on common interests.

You may not feel you have a lot in common with the women who work in more traditional roles in the office but if you’re a mom – that shared interest gives you a common footing for a wonderful conversation and maybe a friendship. Differences become less obvious when we find something in common. Regardless of our profession, we share common challenges and dreams as parents – connect with other parents to build relationships in the workplace.

If you work on a large work site, chances are that there are women around from other trades who are feeling isolated also. Seek them out and find creative ways to connect. Your employer has an interest in ensuring that employees remain engaged – request that you be allowed network time – make it sound like a win/win solution which is exactly what it is . Employee engagement is an employer responsibility and employees are more engaged when they are feeling connected.  Evidence shows that it also leads to increased in productivity.

Find networks outside of your place of work  - connect with other trade organizations to see if the women want to get together to form a social network. If you’re a member of the Carpenter’s Union, call up other unions and ask them to connect you with like minded women – you may be surprised at the similarities in your stories. If there is a local trades school in the area, form a network of women who are taking trades training.

I know what you’re thinking – it takes a special set of skills to network, negotiate and ask for what you want. Developing these forms of communication will serve you well and build your confidence – leaders are great communicators – stretch yourself. Isolation can often be a choice as well as a risk factor. Take steps to ensure you don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap.