Men at Work – More than Just a Sign

Linguist Deborah Tannen has written numerous books about the conversational styles of women and men, in families and at work. According to Tannen, problems can occur, especially in a job setting where the members are not as knowledgeable about each other, when men and women don’t understand the rituals that define each other’s approach.

Women, even in a work setting, generally use conversational strategies that are considerate and sensitive to the other person’s feelings, even when giving negative feedback. Demonstrating an emphasis on getting the job done without “flexing their muscles,” women tend to downplay authority. Men who are not familiar with this strategy may see them as less confident and competent – and act on that assumption. At the same time, men are more inclined to use oppositional strategies – such as banter, putdowns, teasing – that avoid them being placed in a one-down position. The problem here is that women may then see men who behave this way as hostile and arrogant. All of this makes for pretty complicated communications!

Any of this sound familiar to you? If so, perhaps the next time you find yourself in this kind of situation, either at work or at home, don’t take it personally. Recognize that the guy – colleague, boss, supervisee, partner, brother, spouse – isn’t reacting to you alone. It’s just his way. After all, we know how men hate to ask anyone for directions. They seem to be embarrassed by their need for help and see it as a loss of power. The more you understand the motivations behind their behavior, the easier it is for you to get along with and enjoy the men in your life.

To read the opinions of some men about their relationships with women over the years, click on the title above. It will take you to our website, and an article there, “Point of View: The Male Boomer and Long-Term Relationships.”

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