How not to unwittingly start workplace gender war

Q. I am a guy in a field with a lot of executive women as my peers. I've noticed women and men really do seem to come from different planets. Are there any general tools women and men use so our differences don't become a battle ground?

A. Yes, women and men have entirely different vulnerabilities in the workplace. Women worry primarily about being "bad." Men worry primarily about being inadequate.

Ironically, when men are upset, they tend to use language that accuses women of being "bad." Bad is defined by women as anything that implies they are insensitive, rude or selfish. If you, as a guy, use language suggesting a woman is mean, you have inadvertently just fired the first shot in what will become a long war.

If you are a woman, and you use language that accuses a man of being incompetent, the man will start a death match with you to win back his self-esteem. Whatever else you thought you were trying to get done, the only task on his agenda will be proving he is good enough.

No matter what gender you are, it doesn't matter if you didn't mean to imply an insult. Your communication intention is not telepathically received by your coworker. If your coworker is a man, he is lying in wait for anyone who even hints at him being inadequate. If your coworker is a woman, she is holding her breath just watching for a clue you think she is bad.

So how do we all sidestep these genders wars? Start by paying keen attention to avoiding vague language. Consider the following list of words that will trigger men: irresponsible, sloppy, ineffectual, wrong, stupid, negligent or foolish. If you want to avoid vague language, instead describe the solution you want (examples: double-check numbers, spell check documents, or arrive early).

Consider the following list of words that will trigger women; rude, selfish, arrogant, thoughtless, insensitive, immature or hostile. If you want to avoid implying badness, as with the male example above you'll need to make specific behavioral suggestions.

If you have to refer to the "incompetent" or "bad" behavior, make darn sure you describe the behavior rather than using a vague reference. There is a Grand Canyon of difference between saying, "Stop being rude," and saying, "When you first meet a customer, eye contact is really helpful!"

No matter how vigorously you apply these tools, there will be days your male or female coworker assumes you are starting a gender war. Your best defense when you see this happening is to say, "I know you are highly competent...," or "I know you are good to your team...."

Sometimes you need to use the exact opposite words a man or woman is afraid of hearing. With men, the words would be: effective, powerful, excellent, thorough and knowledgeable. With women the words would be: kind, empathic, warm, friendly, liked or thoughtful. You will then establish that you are clearly not an enemy combatant of the man or woman standing before you.

The best war in the workplace is the one you avoided through consciousness and skill. You might not be able to accomplish world peace in your lifetime but you certainly can avoid starting more wars in your office.

The last word(s)

Q. I'm so tired of people in my workplace being unreliable. Is there a tool that can help me get what I need when so many people don't do what they say?

A. Yes, stop waiting for everyone else to become reliable. Instead use your energy to always have a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D so you'll always have what you need despite others lack of follow through.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

(c) 2014 INTERPERSONAL EDGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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