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Aug 27, 2008


Why Are Women So Strange and Men So Weird?

By Psychologist, Bruce Christopher








As a psychologist, I can assure you that the greatest commodity you possess is your ability to communicate. People who are excellent communicators have better relationships, better marriages, raise more functional children - and they tend to be more successful in their careers. In fact, many years ago a classic survey was done to graduates of the Stanford University engineering department; they wanted to find out what made a great engineer. The results were significant; the respondents indicated that only 20% of their success was due to their technical expertise, while the other 80% was due to their people skills.

Think about what makes your company great. It is not your organization's fine technology or its spiffy offices; it's you! It is the people that make a corporation a phenomenal one. Communication is also the greatest commodity of your organization; your ability to communicate with your teammates, your customers and clientele is what makes you successful. That's why companies are called "organizations" - it is an organism, a living entity made up of real people who give it energy with their interpersonal interactions. Communication runs your company.

About 4 years ago in San Diego, a woman introduced me to the audience and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I think about Bruce Christopher every single day." Wow, I thought, what a nice thing to say. She continued, "The reason I think about him everyday is because three years ago in a seminar, he taught me how men think and speak differently from women. I still apply those concepts and strategies whenever I talk to my male colleagues at work and my husband at home." Another "Wow" - three years of retention and application after a training seminar is fantastic!

But what happens whenever we try to communicate with someone of the opposite sex? A whole new dynamic takes over and it often feels like we are talking to someone from another planet!

In my seminar on "Voice Mail/Voice Female", I ask the audience to understand these three very important points:

  • Men and women THINK differently
  • Men and women SPEAK differently
  • Men and women DECIDE differently

    If you are not aware of these differences, you will not be an effective communicator when dealing with your opposite sex colleagues, customers, and teammates.

    For example, after attending a half day workshop, Tim Thoele of Principal Financial Group - Minneapolis (MDRT Court of The Table Qualifier), wrote us and said:
    "Your three hour session was one of the most informative workshops I have attended and found so many principles that I could apply in my own life. I walked away from your session and immediately applied what I had learned."

    My first experience involved a very good client, who happens to be a woman. Upon arriving for a very important meeting with her I kept in mind your comment that women hold eye contact for an average of 12 seconds, and men hold eye contact an average of 3 seconds, leading women to believe that men don't hear them. I decided to test your theory and apply your "12 second" technique. As she talked to me, I kept eye contact with her for 12 seconds. . .believe me, they seemed like very long 12 seconds. However, because of my attention to eye contact, she felt I really understood her needs and it ended up being one of the most successful meetings I ever had with her. . . .

    Before testing your theories, I never understood how soft skills, such as gender difference communication, could directly impact my bottom line.

    How do men and women think differently?
    Men and women are equally intelligent but men and women tend to view the world through differing frameworks. To put it succinctly, men think COMPARTMENTALLY and women think GLOBALLY: it all has to do with how men and women store information and file away data in their cognitive memory banks.

    Men, who think compartmentally, tend to separate out details and store them in distinct "compartments" which I liken to a file-cabinet-drawer system. A man, in his mind, has a file drawer for work, one for wife, for hobbies, etc, Because of this cognitive framework, men tend to open and close the "drawers" which they need in the immediate moment and they tend to stay exclusively in that compartment. The result is that when a man is in one compartment, nothing else exists except that one compartment.

    Women, on the other hand, tend to see life from a more global perspective. Whereas men separate things out, women tend to do the opposite and connect things up. Women see the underlying connections and the interrelated detail and data more clearly than men do. It is interesting to sit in a staff meeting and observe how the men see the end objective clearly, but they may have a more difficult time perceiving how one underlying piece of information could swing around and impact the end result later on. Yet the women in the group see this possibility more readily. Both ways of thinking, compartmental and global, are great ways to think, they both have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses; but put us together on the same team, or in the same relationship, and the mysteries start.

    An example, which most people in corporate America can relate to, is being in conflict with someone of the opposite sex at work. For example, Joe and Sally are having an important business discussion on Friday afternoon in the office. They have different views on an issue and are both emotionally invested in their respective positions. Then, five o'clock comes and it's time to go home and enjoy the weekend, but the discussion was never finished and a resolution was not achieved. What does the man in our story do? He goes home, closes his work file-drawer-compartment, opens up the weekend compartment and stays in that drawer all weekend long. I generally ask my audience what happens for the female in this example; all the women in the group answer immediately, "She stews about that conflict all weekend!" She ruminates and thinks about the unresolved issue with her teammate, and come Monday morning wants to find some closure to the problem.

    Then the most amazing thing happens on Monday. Joe, arrives at work and closes his weekend-file-drawer-compartment and opens up the Monday-morning-at-work-file-drawer-compartment. Sally approaches him and wants to revisit the discussion from last week. She says, "Joe, could we talk a little more about the issue from last week?" And guess what he says. "What issue? Oh that? That's in the past. It's water under the bridge. I can't believe you are bringing that up again!" And he thinks that she is just trying to drag him through old issues just for the fun of it. He can't understand why she can't let go of the past.

    In actuality what is happening is the difference between compartmental and global thinking patterns. He perceives no connection between the fight from last week and working together this week - he has compartmentally separated them out. For her, she feels an underlying connection between conflict and a successful working relationship. Far from wanting to drag him through the past again, she is doing a reality-check; "we were in conflict last week, I just want to make sure things are resolved so that we can get on with the business at hand."

    One of the great tensions that women feel in business is a sense of being left hanging and not finding closure in conflict. Men tend to close the drawer on conflict prematurely and may not see how unresolved issues can actually hinder performance and office morale. This is one small example of compartmental vs. global thinking. Can you think of other ways that these differing cognitive frameworks can create tension between men and women in business?

    How do men and women speak differently?

    Because of culture and differences in how little boys and girls are raised, adult men and women tend to have differing interpersonal styles which can create misunderstanding and communication mis-fires.

    Women tend to use an interpersonal style which is more historical and presented in a narrative fashion. Background and context are important pieces in the "Voice-Female. " In my seminars, I tell the audience that women speak in paragraph form supported with lots of details, and most importantly, the bottom-line coming at the end of the story. Makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Where else would you put the bottom-line except at the end of the story. Women enjoy the suspense of working up to the bottom-line, for the joy is in the telling of the story.

    However, men experience this enjoyment as agitation. Because in the "Voice-Male," men do not speak in paragraphs, they speak in phrases. Shorter, clipped, reporting statements without a lot of detail and surprisingly (or maybe not) the bottom-line comes not last, but first. And sometimes that's all you get! Which of course, can lead to excessive frustration for the female.

    In the average day, it has been estimated that a man speaks 12,500 words and a woman speaks about 25,000 words. This leads to the old joke about a man going to work and using up 12,495 words and coming home with only five words left! So when he arrives at home he says, "What's for dinner?" (that's three) and "Good night" (that's five!)

    Dr. Debra Tannen, a linguist and author on the subject, says that men and women use communication for different purposes. The purpose of communication for a man is to report a fact, while women use communication to build rapport. The mis-match of Report-Talk vs. Rapport-Talk can increase our interpersonal friction with the opposite sex at home and at work.

    For example, at the end of the day, wife may ask husband, "Hi honey, how was your day?" He answers the bottom-line: "Fine" - which is "Voice-Male" code for "nobody died and I still have a job; what else could you possibly want to know?" Of course what she is hoping for in her own language is more of a historical narrative with some details, which she does not get and thus may complain, "He never tells me anything. I have no idea what is going on in his life."

    At work, men and women also can speak different languages. Remember Joe and Sally who work at the same company? One day, Joe approaches Sally and asks her a bad question, "Sally, I wasn't at the staff meeting today, can you tell me what happened?" According to his "Voice-Male", what Joe wants to hear is simply the bottom-line; really only about a six word answer which sounds like this: "Joe, we postponed the Johnson proposal." That's the bottom-line isn't it. But Joe never asked for the bottom-line, so Sally speaks her own language to him and gives him "Voice-Female".

    She speaks in historical narrative fashion, supported with lots of detail, and at the end she says the bottom-line last. . ."And Joe, we postponed the Johnson proposal."

    I often ask the women in my audience, "As you speak to a male colleague in historical narrative, have you ever noticed their eyes glaze over?" This usually gets a round of applause. Women begin to believe that men are not listening to them, and of course the answer is that they are not. Not because men don't care what women say, it's all about how it is said. "Men cannot hear you women," I say to them, "because you are speaking a foreign language to them. You are not giving them 'Voice-Male', you are giving them 'Voice-Female'."

    In order to fix this communication chasm, both men and women make strategic mistakes. Sally, who knows that she is being tuned out, does what we Americans often do when we are in another country and we do not speak the native tongue: we speak our own language louder and slower. Sally may actually increase her historical narrative, giving more details and background, and/or raise her voice to get his attention. This tends to not work with men and Joe falls into the habitual trait that men often employ with women; he interrupts her. Studies demonstrate that men interrupt women in conversation 75% to 90% of the time. He finishes her sentence for her, cuts her off, gets her to change subjects or hurry up - all because he is agitated and waiting for what he really wants, the bottom-line.

    Due to the fact that men and women are working together more closely than ever before, the opportunity for communication chasms to appear are far more probable.

    It has been approximated that in a single day, the average office person can waste up to 38% of their day dealing with communication mis-fires and interpersonal tensions in the office. Other studies have observed that up to 70% of what you say to the opposite sex is either misunderstood or not heard. It is apparent how readily you could increase effectiveness and performance on your job simply by being aware of the different male and female voices.

    Great communicators are people who change their approach based upon the person they are talking too.

    So what do we do about these cognitive and interpersonal differences? The answer is: we change our approach. The biggest mistake that men make with women is that they relate and communicate with women as if they were men. The biggest mistake that women make with men is that they do the same - they relate and communicate with men as if they were women. In short, we use our own specific "gender voices" on the other sex and we wonder why "they just don't get it." We need to be aware of our own "Voice-Male" and "Voice-Female" styles and be open to changing our "voice" when the need arises.

    For example, another way that men and women use different voices is in how we ask for things that we need. Learned from childhood, women often use a style which has been called "hint language." This is when a woman expresses a need, wish, or desire framed in the form of a question, raising her shoulders as if she doesn't know what the answer is. In reality, this is a culturally respectful way that women have learned about how to ask for what they want. Wife may turn to husband and say, "Wouldn't it be nice to go see a movie today?" This is "Voice-Female" for "I want to go see a movie."

    Unfortunately, men don't often get the hint. The reason is that hint-language is not part of the "Voice-Male"; men tend to take language very literally, focusing in on the content of the message instead of the hidden meanings in the communication. Given the question, "Wouldn't it be nice to see a movie today?" Men just give the answer - "No." Women wonder, "Does he not hear me or care about what I want?"

    A client recently told me this story. One of their female supervisors gave a directive to her male staff member, but she said it in "Voice-Female": "Say Larry, if you don't mind and if you've got some time, would you please finish this project?" Now we all know that what she is really saying is, "Get it done!" But what does Larry actually hear? "Well, I've got a lot of options here," he thinks to himself, "Frankly I do mind and I don't have the time right now so I guess I'll not do it." Two weeks later the female supervisor approached Larry and asked why he hadn't finished the project.

    What are the true stories of communication mis-fires in your business? Have you noticed that men and women speak a different language and have different "voices?" If you have, then try to change your approach when speaking with the other gender.

    Men Can
    Men need to use "Voice-Female" when speaking with women. For example
  • Increase historical details
  • Give more background and context
  • Remember that women use communication to build rapport-connections
  • Spend more time asking questions and listening, moving slowly to the bottom line
  • When you listen, be sure to maintain eye contact, nod your head, be attentive and give what I call "listening noises" (i.e.; "Uh-huh, umm, hmmm"). Why do you do this? Because this is the "Voice-Female"; women give off interpersonal signals to the speaker of the conversation which lets them know they are being heard. A woman feels heard by another woman because of her listening noises.
  • Increase non-verbal excellence in communication by trying to read between the lines when listening to women; work on picking up some of the hints that she may be dropping for you. Listening is the art of communicating.

    Women Can
    Women need to use "Voice-Male" when talking to men. For example:
  • Give the bottom-line first
  • Resist the thought that he needs the context and the background. A great technique to try is to simply give him the bottom-line and then ask him if he wants more detail. Most of the time you will be surprised because he actually will. "Sally, what happened at the staff meeting?" says Joe. "Well Joe," says Sally, "We decided to postpone the Johnson proposal." (pause and then continue) "Would you like to hear more details about that?" This is "Voice-Male." Try it and you may find the men in your life hearing you and remembering what you say more effectively.
  • Avoid speaking in hint language. Remember that men tend not to hear the hints; they hear a question that needs an answer - so they answer it. Be direct. Instead of saying, "Wouldn't it be nice to go see a movie today?" Speak in "I statements" such as "I want" or "I need" - try not to put men in the position of reading your mind or guessing what you are saying. Women, who have become excellent leaders, have learned the art of assertive and respectful communication that doesn't sound pushy or aggressive.

    Remember that when it comes to communication, delivery is everything. It's more of how you are saying it, than what you are saying.

    I worked with one client who was an outstanding female consultant, yet her business was not generating enough revenue to keep her busy. In reviewing some of her written proposals, I found she was speaking in "Voice Female"; the "bottom-line" in her proposals were on the last page of a 30 page document. Knowing that her potential clients were men, I suggested she place the bottom line on the first page and then follow it with the details of the proposal. Her sales increased immediately. It was necessary for her to change her approach to fit the interpersonal style of her customers, who were men.

    Take a piece of paper and outline ways that you can change your approach to more effectively communicate with members of the opposite sex in your profession. Imagine the opportunity to increase your success with your customers and colleagues just by speaking in a way so they can hear you. Remember, speak THEIR language, not yours.

    Psychologist, Bruce Christopher is one of the most sought after speakers in the Fortune 500. His unique style of EnterTrainment® blends practical applications within a laughing environment.
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