Gender talk

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Dr John Gray wrote the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and in doing so, not only has he given business leaders insights into what makes their employees tick, but he may well have given men the greatest excuse ever for not responding well to their female partner’s emotional challenges!

The book has sold millions of copies, and it has opened our eyes to the fact that men and women are wired different mentally. This has enormous implications on how workers need to be lead, productivity in the workplace and ultimately, the success of businesses and the people who populate those enterprises.

The book was written after Gray had worked for a decade as a marriage counsellor, where he had seen something that made him put pen to paper. 

“I had seen that when men don’t understand women, it would create unnecessary tension, and women with unrealistic expectations of men caused a huge amount of frustration,” he recalls. 

“If we could just help explain our differences, then a lot of this tension would be removed automatically and so it helps relationships.”

It would also help business relationships, though Gray admits at the time he didn’t think of its benefits to business.

“I was a marriage counsellor and I just focused on relationships,” he explains. “But companies began asking me to speak about the differences and applying it to the different places in the workplace. And then I wrote a book called How To Get What You Want At Work, which includes applying a lot of the Mars-Venus ideas to the workplace.” 

Building better relationships

His work struck a chord with business leaders and entrepreneurs as the smart ones realise they have a requirement to be effective leaders, and that if you don’t understand the people you work with, you’re not going to do a really good job. 

“With the vast communication opportunities that exist through the internet and fast speed communication, competition is not so much who has the best price, not even who provides the best services, but who can communicate the most effectively,” Gray insists. 

“And it turns out that the bottom line of the success of any company is the quality of relationships they have with their clients and is also dependant upon the relationships between the executives, the management, and the employees.”

His thinking says when we have good communication, and positive relationships, we have positive morale and that attracts customers. 

“When we’re dealing with clients and when we understand where they’re coming from, what their needs are and how we can best serve them, we are going to be most successful,” he points out. “The bottom line is about building trust, and basically, you build trust with a woman quite differently than how you build trust with a man.”

This is an important premise of Gray’s famous book and it suggests that leaders need to understand this to get the best out of individual workers as well as teams.

Two worlds collide

Gray believes his research shows there are some things that are unique to our personalities and they will vary slightly, but when it comes to the way male and female brains are designed, they are very different.

To get a better handle on these differences, Gray wrote a new book, Why Mars and Venus Collide. It looks at why we misinterpret each other and how we can improve relationships by improving understanding of how we – men and women – cope differently with stress. 

“The stress mechanisms in our body are completely different – they are night and day,” he declares. “And when you can understand how women’s stress hormones are different to men’s, and how our brains react to stress differently, then we can recognise these differences very clearly.”

Taking this to its logical conclusion for business, it is easy to argue that when people are in business making decisions that have the possibility of success or failure, and they’re spending money, there’s a lot of stress being stimulated in the body. Knowing how to best comfort somebody and help them cope with that stress, in business terms, is called overcoming their objections. 

“A more positive way to look at this is how do you build that trust so that the stress levels go down and somebody feels comfortable working with you?” Gray asks. 

Understanding the difference in customers and staff means you can be seen as dependable and good to work with – that’s the starting point of a beautiful relationship.

Comparing apples with oranges

According to Gray, when men try to help female partners or colleagues, they start from the wrong premise. Men have a primeval approach to stress, while women tend to go down an emotional road. 

“Men either say, ‘This is what you should do’, or, ‘That’s not such a big problem, so we don’t have to do anything’,” he explains. “Those are the two extremes that would be a version of what’s traditionally known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.” 

Men want to solve the problem or minimise the problem and forget it. When a man is under stress he thinks ‘what should we do, what can we do?’ Gray says this is what a man’s brain goes to first when stress occurs. “In a sort of detached way, men analyse it, they look at it and dismiss it to some extent and this is a huge turn-off to women,” he says. 

This is one thing in a relationship, but a potentially more dangerous issue for a business. Gray says imagine a business setting, where a woman brings up an issue and a man quickly wants to explain it away with something like: ‘Oh no, we can handle that, we’ve dealt with that before.’ And then she says: ‘No, no, this is different.’ And the man says, ‘No really, I’ve handled it before, we’ll be fine with not worrying about that one’. 

“The end result could be that she is going to have a whole wall put up against him. She won’t trust him, appreciate him and will go against him,” Gray says. 

The irony is that the man thinks he has solved a problem when he has created another one by simply assuming a man and woman can cope with a male solution. Having the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus knowledge and shaping leadership decisions could minimise small problems, helping to keep the focus on the more important business challenges.

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