Mars and Venus in the Office

Written by Marcel Borgi MarsVenus Coach

In 2013, is it out of date to suggest that men and women are polar, or planetary opposites?

John Gray, best-selling author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” says gender differences still count. In his book, “Mars and Venus in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting Results at Work” Gray agrees that “many men who get ahead have a respect for masculine and feminine traits; a lot of men are willing to collaborate. The whole workplace is moving in the direction of greater collaboration and teamwork, and there is greater acceptance of differences in the workplace.”

But there’s still a strong need to generate awareness of traditionally masculine or feminine reactions to problems at work “so that there is greater potential to respond intelligently in each situation.”

Let us explore in the next few paragraphs some sides of the concept.

As mixed gender work teams become the norm, to succeed at work and in business we must all learn to speak a second language. And that language is the language of the opposite sex. Learning a second language does not mean you become that language. It is like, if you could speak a second language, say Italian, and you had a family come to stay in your home for a while who could only speak Italian because they hadn’t learned English yet. Wouldn’t you speak Italian to them? Of course you would. You would do it to make them feel more comfortable but also so that you could get your message across clearly.

Does being able to speak Italian make you Italian? No! All it does is give you a greater choice of how you interact with people.

We all know that men and women are not really from different planets but for the purpose of understanding our differences we’re going to pretend that they were.

Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus metaphor was, in fact, deliberately chosen to playfully introduce some basic gender differences and how they apply to the workplace today and then provide some simple practical solutions as well.

Reducing gender conflict has a variety of benefits. It leads to:

  • Happier team members
  • Greater cooperation
  • Decreased loss of personnel, which leads to
    • Decreased cost & time spent on recruitment and training
    • A better ability to understand the needs and concerns of your customers (regardless of whether they are internal or external customers), and
    • A greater competitive advantage for the company as a whole when they utilize the masculine & feminine skills.

It is very important that you don’t think that all men have to be a certain way or that all women should be the same, because the reality is that we are all individuals.  Everyone can think of examples of reverse gender styles.

GENDER DIFFERENCES

Women express their feelings of discomfort working in what they perceive as hostile masculine environments. While men tell of their confusion or frustration when working with female colleagues.

Men perceive that women don’t know what they want or if they do know what they want, they’re not asking for it directly then they must have a hidden agenda.

A more positive interpretation is to remember that women are socialized to present their ideas as suggestions. This is actually a great skill for achieving cooperation and is excellent for situations where maintaining harmony and equality within a group is necessary.

Many women, on the other hand, see men as arrogant or self important. This is based largely on their observations of men expressing their opinions forcefully or seeking attention for their achievements.

Once again, a more positive interpretation is to remember that men are socialized from an early age to suppress doubts and maintain, either a facade or, a reality of self confidence. Again it is a great skill and essential in a situation where it is necessary to maintain status within a group.

The whole principle of the Mars Venus work is that we are different and equal not that one is better than the other.

We’re going to look at some basic Martian behaviors and traits and some basic Venusian principles and characteristics. Two sets of characteristics, many of which you will recognize in yourself.  They may not, however, come from the column you might expect.  We often have women say “I associate with the female or Venusian characteristics but also associate with these particular Martian characteristics”, and we sometimes have men say “I know I have these male characteristics but I can also identify with some of these Venusian traits”.  We are each different.  I mean the majority of men are taller than women but we can all think of taller women or shorter men.  We are dealing with generalizations here and what is important is for you to take away the information you find helpful.

Martian and Venusian Characteristics & Behaviors

Some Martian Characteristics Some Venusian Characteristics
Martians offer solutions, many times invalidating a woman’s feelings Venusians offer unsolicited advice and direction
Martians tend to pull away and silently think about what’s bothering them Venusians feel an instinctive need to talk about what’s bothering them – many times they discover what’s wrong by talking
Martians are motivated when they feel needed Venusians feel motivated when they feel respected
Martians experience self worth through trust, acceptance and appreciation Venusians experience self worth through caring, understanding and respect
Martians study things rather than relationships Venusians study people and relationships
To feel better, Martians go to their caves to solve problems alone To feel better Venusians get together and openly talk about their problems – talk therapy
A Martian’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results A Venusian’s sense of self is defined through the quality of her relationships

 

When He Has A Problem

When She Has A Problem

Appears to shut-down Wants to talk about it
Retreats into himself Seeks out colleagues who may be able to help
May go into his office and shut the door or leave the office Walks around the office
Wants to be left alone to think Openly discusses the issues
Needs to work it out himself Just wants the right answers

Now I’d just like to explain a concept that was mentioned in the Martian characteristics that you may not have heard of before and that is the cave.

A cave is a place where a Martian retreats to solve the problems of the day and/or to reduce stress. A cave may be a physical place like a quiet corner at work somewhere; it may be symbolic like shutting the door on his office to create a private space, or if a physical escape is not available, a man’s cave may simply manifest as him becoming so focused on what he is doing that he completely shuts out everything else and appears as if he isn’t even present. Men often simply create an internal cave by blocking everything else out.

For the majority of women talking about a problem is part of the process of resolving the problem and feeling better.

Most men instinctively know that if a man is in his cave, he doesn’t really want to talk or have people offer assistance. Most women don’t read the cave signals the same way. If a woman saw another woman withdraw and be silent, she would assume that that woman was overwhelmed or had a problem she needed assistance with. So when a woman sees a man withdraw and become silent she initially assumes he needs assistance and will often go and ask questions to establish if the problem is anything she can help with. A man will often ignore her or respond tersely or abruptly. He is thinking “why on earth is she bothering me when it is clear I am working this out and need space to do so effectively”. This simple situation immediately causes massive misunderstanding on both sides.

How Women Can React to the Cave

Cave behavior can sometimes be read in very negative ways by women.

Here are some perceived characteristics:

  1. Excluding.  A woman may feel excluded and feel as if her abilities are not appreciated, acknowledged or respected. She will have difficulty connecting and participating in a graceful manner.
  2. Uncaring.  A woman may feel that he doesn’t care what she thinks or that her input is not valued by him.
  3. No Time.  A woman may think that he doesn’t have the time to talk to her or have any interest in what she can offer.
  4. Impersonal.  A woman may believe that all he cares about is the bottom line and that her personal needs are not important at all.  She will not trust him to look out for her needs in a transaction.
  5. Intimidating.  A woman may feel intimidated as if nothing she does is good enough for him.  This creates fear and a tendency to distance herself.
  6. Misunderstands.  A woman will believe he does not understand her motives. Above all else, if she is to do business with someone or trust them as a coworker or manager, a woman needs to feel that she is understood in a positive light.
  7. Unapproachable.  A woman may feel that he is unapproachable. She doesn’t feel comfortable speaking her mind or asking for what she wants. This frustration will only continue to build.

It’s now fairly easy to see how without an understanding of the purpose of a cave and how that works for a man a woman can misinterpret his silence. It should also now be easier for men to see how their caving can distance, intimidate or alienate the women around them.

With this new understanding of what is happening it is very easy to make simple small changes in our behavior to create greater harmony and efficiency in the workplace.

With this new awareness, men can simply take the time to add some small politeness or friendliness to their communication while in the cave. A “no thank you” versus a grunted “no” or a “would you please…” rather than a “go and do” command will make women feel more comfortable and understanding of your situation.

One of the great things about the Mars Venus material is that you end up with a common language that you both understand and it takes the sting out of what otherwise could be interpreted as offensive or inconsiderate communication.

Women who now understand about caves can simply remind themselves that the behavior of the man has nothing to do with them personally and if possible allow him time alone.  So, any women thinking “yeah, great, but what if I really need to speak to him and he’s caving? Do I just leave him there forever?” The preferred option for everyone is to leave him alone, however there will be times when this is not practical or possible. Even with the best intentions in the world sometimes you may simply have to discuss something with the caving man. At this time, the best way to approach him is directly stating how much of his time you need and exactly what the topics are in as few words as possible. This kind of precision and focus will assist him in shifting his attention to you without irritation (or at least with the minimal amount!)

Coping with STRESS

Following on from our discussion about the use of caves and how we each like to be treated differently one of the areas that this shows up in very obviously is when handling stress.  As a general rule, men have a much lower tolerance of emotional stress than women. What this means is that when presented with a problem most men, by nature, will feel a greater sense of urgency to find a solution or do something about the problem straight away.

Most women find just being able to talk about a situation actually helps reduce their stress about a particular problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t also want a resolution, but simply that talking about it is an integral part of the solution for them. Because of our different tendencies stress often increases when men and women are put together to discuss a problem; men want to solve it now with the first available solution where women are usually happy to explore lots of different possibilities and talk about it longer.

Competence

Men instinctively respect and respond better to those they perceive have power. Power comes from competence. On Mars a man’s sense of self is primarily defined by his sense of competence. He prides himself on his ability to achieve results, solve problems and get the job done. This is also what he will admire in other people. If a woman does not let a man know what she has done he will think she is incompetent or not achieving much and therefore has no power leading to his respect for her decreasing.

On Venus competence is also important but shares space with compassion, integrity and other personal values. The inclusion of these qualities into the workplace is making it a better place for all concerned. Because these have not traditionally been values that have had importance at work many men have not yet seen how these values are a major influence with female colleagues, bosses and customers. Women will respect and respond better to those they perceive as displaying and understanding those values. Not sharing credit with others when it is due is a sign to women that you are inconsiderate of other’s efforts and feelings leading to her respect for him decreasing.

A simple solution for both parties is to use a mixture of independent and inclusive language.

Simple Tips for Women when dealing with men in business

  1. Promote yourself
  2. Avoid tag endings
  3. Be direct and concise
  4. Don’t take male comments so personally
  5. Make acknowledgements direct and simple

Simple Tips for Men when dealing with women in business

  1. Build rapport
  2. Avoid monopolizing conversations
  3. Respect her abilities
  4. Don’t lecture
  5. Be specific with praise

DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO THE SAME TASK

As we’ve seen so far today, we tend to have very different approaches to the same tasks. Let’s for a moment think of the different styles of approach that could be exhibited when a male and a female manager are asked to make a decision.  In traditional circumstances the following could seem to be the norm.

The female manager will tend to discuss it with others, seek their input and feedback before making a recommendation to senior management.  She thinks it’s important that everyone feels they have contributed to the decision and therefore are more likely to support it. This is her style of management. It is based on cooperation and collaboration (and a whole stack of other C words – conversation, connection, commiseration and compassion).

In contrast, the male manager will tend to make the decision, with no apparent consultation (although he is likely to seek information from others in a non-conspicuous way), and then make the recommendation.  He believes that he is in charge so he needs to make the decision himself.

Because of his approach it is likely that when the male manager sees his female colleague openly discussing the issue with others, he will think that she cannot make a decision on her own, and needs to check with others first. Meanwhile because of her approach the female manager is likely to think her male colleague arrogant for making the decision without any apparent input.

Here are two very different approaches for very different reasons.  The female’s first priority is relationships, the male’s is status.

PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT

In life, as well as relationships, we tend to give what we actually would love to receive and unintentionally don’t honor that which would make the opposite sex feel supported. Sometimes what is a nutrient on Venus is poison on Mars.

People are different. Recognizing this truth is essential for creating positive interactions. Without this recognition we try and change one another and we think that everyone else should think, feel and react the same as us.

Once we realize and accept that we are different in many ways, we can start to create an environment that supports and honors those differences.

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