How women and men can better blend their efforts in the workplace Featured

8:00pm EDT August 31, 2012
How women and men can better blend their efforts in the workplace

Everybody knows that men and women think differently. But do those differences matter when it comes to working remotely and managing remote teams? In my opinion, they matter a lot. Managers who don’t understand and embrace these differences do themselves, their companies and their employees a disservice.

In my new book, “You Can Have It All, Just Not All At Once,” I cite scientific studies that show how women’s and men’s brains function differently from one another. These differences are important because managers who are unaware of these conflicting world views might assign values to behaviors that don’t get the desired results.

Break it down

A major difference in how the sexes’ brains function is that women tend to be skilled multitaskers, while men are able to concentrate on one task for longer periods. Neuroscientific research confirms this, and women often take pride in their ability to handle several things at once.

This is a plus and a minus, both for women and for those who manage them. I believe it’s a core reason that women tend to overcommit. Those who manage women remotely can benefit from understanding this, especially since excessive multitasking can inhibit creative thought and lead to burnout.

On the flip side, a man’s ability to focus on one thing for a long time can be seen as beneficial, but it can also lead to tunnel vision and insensitivity to people and any behavior not seen as mission-critical. There’s also a tendency to believe that the amount of time spent on something equals better results, which is not always true. Often, short bursts of concentration bear better fruit than agonizing over tasks for extended periods.

A major difference between the sexes that impacts managers is that women are generally more likely to speak up if they’re unhappy about their circumstances, while men tend to suffer in silence. Normally, men will tolerate a negative situation longer than women will. This doesn’t mean that a woman’s complaints are without merit, or that men don’t experience the same misery.

But if a woman mentions that something is wrong, she might be seen as a complainer by a male manager. Conversely, a female manager might take a man’s stoicism as being uncommunicative or not proactively trying to improve a situation. Such value judgments can harm a working relationship.

Without the daily contact and familiarity of working in the same location, it can be difficult for managers to understand what’s going on with their team. One person’s laserlike focus is another’s antisocial moping. A willingness to abide short-term discomfort for long-term goals needs to be balanced with a willingness to change and improve the current situation.

Seek solutions

Understanding how gender impacts behavior is a key reason why good leaders take the time to get to know their people and look at results, not at specific behavior that can be misinterpreted.

Gender Difference No. 1: Typically, men communicate in bullet-point style and strive to get to the point quickly, while women are more prone to tell a story or paint a picture. Women share experiences to show commonality and build on other people’s discussion points, whereas men focus on statistics and rankings and relate by sharing stories to “one-up” each other.

Solution Strategy: Women need to get to the bottom line quickly and succinctly. Men need to understand that when a woman tells a story, she is building common ground.

Gender Difference No. 2: Women like to talk about a problem, to emphasize their feelings, and to process thoughts aloud as a way to include others. Men like to move to problem-solving right away, alone. They place high value on achieving results and prefer activity over discussion.

Solution Strategy: Women should not try to get men to talk if they’re not ready; they should observe and listen rather than processing out loud. Men need to understand that processing is a way for women to include others and build relationships.

It is my belief that men and women can become one through understanding, value and honor. We all need each other, and even when we don’t agree on everything, we can learn to disagree while still showing respect for each other’s differences.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small startups to large international corporations. Contact her at sherri@generationalguru.com.