As corporate roles and responsibilities have changed over time, there are more and more men and women working together. How do their approaches differ and how do they relate to each other in the office?
Shaunti Feldhahn, author of The Male Factor, tells about the male perception of male and female gender roles in this transcript of her interview on the Goldstein on Gelt show.
Recently, Shaunti Feldhahn, the author of the The Male Factor, was interviewed on the Goldstein on Gelt show. The Male Factor looks at what men privately think about the words and actions of women in the workplace. Shaunti is a bestselling author with over two million copies of her books being sold in 20 different languages. She went to Harvard and has worked on Wall Street and Capitol Hill.
Below is a transcript of her fascinating interview with host Douglas Goldstein on the Goldstein on Gelt Show. If you would like to watch a video of the interview, scroll further down the page.
Douglas Goldstein: Thanks so much. I want to ask you, you reveal quite a bit about how men observe, process, and perceive women’s actions and behaviors, so based on your findings, how do men view emotion at work? How do they deal when women are emotional or when they themselves are emotional, for that matter?
Shaunti Feldhahn: There are so many areas that we as women think we understand. Something I realized, based on all the research I did, is that we really don’t understand. We know that men are bit uncomfortable in certain situations in the workplace, and as women, if we are fighting back tears we think that’s unprofessional and not appropriate in the workplace setting. But what I realized is that we don’t understand how they view it really, when they see it. It is way better than viewing it as unprofessional, and we also don’t realize what they view is getting emotional to begin with. It’s really more than fighting back tears. The male and female brains are actually wired quite differently in how they process emotion. The male brain is wired to do one thing at a time, and so it’s actually quite difficult for a guy to be processing a thought, a feeling, and an emotion at the same time. So men like you have learned that you need to filter out or shout out some of those emotions in order to think clearly. But what that means is that if you’re not necessarily thinking clearly when a flood of emotion is coming at you, you look at a female colleague who is getting emotional and you think she is not thinking clearly either. I realized with all these interviews with men that men tend to view the presence of emotion as meaning that logic has ceased. In fact, that might sometimes be the case with men but with women, our brains are actually wired to be able to process a high degree of emotion and still be thinking very clearly. It’s just a different way of looking at it, but men don’t know that. So consultants or other people in an interview would say things like, “Oh, I was so bummed that this female colleague of mine kind of shut down and got defensive in this meeting, because I couldn’t trust her judgment of the whole meeting. Now I’m going to have to redo this meeting when people are thinking clearly.” This is opposed to realizing that she can actually be a bit emotional and still have perfectly good judgment. It’s just a different way of looking at it, and the reason I did all these interviews is that it’s actually really important for us as women to know what men are privately thinking about these things that they would never say. It’s very important for us.
Douglas Goldstein: Do you think this is hard wired or taught or developed over time?
Shaunti Feldhahn: I’m sure that the whole nature and nurture debate can go on forever. I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but there’s no getting around the fact that over the past 10-15 years, we have made some incredible strides in understanding neuroscience and how the brain is wired. Like, for example, this issue of difficulty with men processing a thought and feeling at the same time - that’s a hard wired thing in the male brain. The female brain is wired to be able to do this multiprocessing. So right there, that’s baking the cake and that’s really the kind of stuff that I was trying to dig out in the book. I was really trying not to focus on the stuff that everybody has heard before, as good as some of that might be. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I was really trying to dig out the stuff that we just don’t know as women, especially that once we know how men are thinking, feeling and perceiving our words and our actions, the better we know that, the more influential and more effective that we can be in the workplace.
Douglas Goldstein: You discovered one key reason behind the double standard of when a man is strong, he’s viewed as assertive, which is positive, whereas a woman with that same trait would be considered difficult. What’s going on under the surface there?
Shaunti Feldhahn: We women have absolutely no clue how much self-doubt is running underneath the surface of all these confident-looking men around us. We think, “Oh gosh! This guy is just being threatened by a strong and competent woman.” We come in, and we’ve been coached in business coaching to come in, take no prisoners, be aggressive, be assertive, and we don’t realize that running underneath the surface of our male colleagues is some self-doubt, there’s some insecurity, and there’s questioning. I want to tackle a challenge, but at the same time I’m worried that someone’s going to walk in and figure out that he has no idea what he is doing. We women have plenty of insecurities of our own, but that doesn’t tend to be one of them. What’s happening so often is that when somebody approaches, we’re hitting almost like a raw nerve, and we’re hitting that nerve without realizing that that’s what we’re doing and certainly without ever intending to. For example, I heard this so many times with the men that I interviewed and surveyed. So often, we’ll be in a meeting of 5-10 people in a conference room trying to figure something out, and I’ll raise my hand and say, “Bob, why did you choose that pricing?” And I’m just asking for information, but Bob, because he has a bit of self-doubt under the surface of whether he did a good job with this, is thinking to himself, “Are you challenging me in front of my team? Are you telling me I don’t know what I’m doing?” Of course, no that’s not what we’re doing but it can’t be heard that way.
Douglas Goldstein: Is that because you’re a woman? And if you were asked the exact same question with exact same words, you wouldn’t have felt the same way.
Shaunti Feldhahn: What we actually found was that most of the time, yes, and if you look at it, men avoid asking those questions that way. It’s one of the most fascinating dynamic theories, because we’ve all been told and have heard that you got to be direct and you got to be assertive. All that is true but the question is how.
Douglas Goldstein: I’m not sure if it’s true. Maybe if you’re so assertive and direct in front of someone else, in front of a group, it certainly could embarrass people, right? I would think that everyone should be trained to ask in a polite nonthreatening way especially if it’s just an informational question.
Shaunti Feldhahn: Well, part of the issue unfortunately is that some of the coaching that I have received as a woman in the workplace, and many of my female colleagues have received, actually does encourage us to be polite about it. It encourages us to be direct, aggressive, and assertive. There may be times and places for that absolutely, but here’s the problem. On the surveys, and these were extremely expensive and extremely rigorous to try to get good data – no matter how we asked the question, about 3 out of 4 men said that they are not as confident as they look. It is a raw nerve that we can hit without realizing it, and men recognize that the existence of that nerve in each other so they tend to ask a question like – they’ll raise their hand in the meeting and say, “Bob, help me understand the reason for that pricing.” Same question, it’s just done differently. It’s not the “why” type question, and that’s an example of something that’s so little but it was so common. Again, about 3 out of 4 men said that would tend to trigger this feeling in them that they’re being challenged in front of their team. That is just a simple example of something that happens every day in the workplace, which is why I feel like we really need to get a handle on this. Doug, you’re telling me about how you moved to Israel and you know it’s a different culture, I’m sure there were things that you and anyone who has moved into a different country or different culture think,“Okay, I need to learn this and I need to understand how that is perceived.” I realized when working with men, it’s like working with a foreign culture. They just have different expectations and different perceptions of things.
Douglas Goldstein: We are talking with Shaunti Feldhahn, who is the author of the The Male Factor. She is a bestselling author who has sold over 2 million books and she studies what men think about women in the workplace in terms how women are acting, and we’re talking about emotions. Also we touched a little bit before on being polite. So I’d like to go a little bit further on this. Certainly, this is one of the issues that I’ve seen having started on Wall Street about 20 years ago, when my job was basically about building relationships. Now, I find young people come in like young marketing experts and they come to me and they want me to hire them to handle my marketing for my company. They say, “Doug, everything should be Tweeted and Facebooked.” When I said that I’m about relationships, I like to learn about people, they just didn’t get it. I’m wondering about what you were saying if people asked you a question in a rude way where it could’ve been asked nicely. Is this something new? In the old days, when I was younger and starting in business were people just naturally more polite, so this didn’t come up?
Shaunti Feldhahn: I actually don’t know the answer to that, because t I was very careful to focus on only on certain things in my research. I could’ve gone in a whole bunch of different directions and not had any good results come out of it. So I actually don’t know whether some of these trends really would’ve happened 20 or 30 years ago. My guess is that what I was trying to focus on was truly the stuff that is common to all men and how they view certain situations with their female colleagues, and it didn’t change by race, age, orientation or level of seniority. None of that changed. It was common across all the spectrums and if it did change, if a black man answered something differently than a white man, I didn’t include it because by definition there’s something else going on there other than just men. So my guess is that most of this is stuff that is very hard wired and it’s very related to the male brain. I don’t know for sure whether 30 years ago, it would’ve been different.
Douglas Goldstein: Shaunti, we’re just about out of time but maybe you could leave us with one or two tips for the men who are listening about how they should deal with their female colleagues and managers.
Shaunti Feldhahn: Well, one of the things that I realized is that men have a subconscious set of unwritten rules. They view the workplace as just existing in this way where these are the laws of gravity. They didn’t come up with them - they just found the workplace this way. They think these unwritten rules frame how everything should operate. If they see a woman, or a man too but especially if it’s a woman, if they see her operating by ways that are different than what they think the rules of work should be, they can view that person as, “She’s a good utility player,” but not so much later of the material. For example, one of the rules is that you leave personal feelings at home and that belongs back in personal world. Personal feelings belong there, not here. But you need to realize that women’s brains are actually wired to be unable to pull out those personal feelings and to actually think very clearly and very logically even in the face of those personal feelings. So what you view as taking something personally and getting emotional is actually not the weakness that you think it is. It’s actually a sign of the same type of brain wiring that makes women really good listeners. It’s the same type of brain wiring that allows a woman across the table on a deal to be able to read the body language of the people across the table at a much earlier level and say, “I think these people might have some reservations about the deal and called that out.” That’s a huge strength. Well, this is the flipside of that same brain wiring. So just realize for the men as well that these things are hard wired and to really realize, they need to confront some of their assumptions of their weaknesses.
Douglas Goldstein: Shaunti Feldhahn, author of The Male Factor, thank you very much. Could you just tell us the very last sentence which is how can people follow your work and learn more?
Shaunti Feldhahn: My website is www.themalefactorbook.com.
Douglas Goldstein: Shaunti Feldhahn, thanks once again for joining us.
Shaunti Feldhahn: Thanks Doug.
Douglas Goldstein: Take care.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for investment advice that takes into account each individual’s special position and needs. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.