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The Male Mind at Work is the guide to cracking that code, and an invaluable tool for any woman in the workplace.
The Confidence Game
Adding Swagger to Your Step
"Women need to swagger," announced Eric Stephens, a vice president in the biotech industry. When I heard these words, I tried to put aside the first image that sprang to mind: a tough-looking woman striding into the conference-room doors with six-guns strapped to her hips. Shouldering aside a couple of men, she slaps the dust off her chaps and mutters: "Let's get down to business." No, Eric meant something quite different.
During a performance review with a woman he ranked as a star among his 150-person staff, he voiced only one criticism: "Jean, you need to swagger. You need to be more self-confident because you're better than you think you are." Using a specific example, Eric pointed to Jean's recent presentation capping off six months of sensitive negotiations and a signed business contract. "It was very earnest, but there was absolutely no swagger. There are times when swagger is called for." In Eric's view, a swagger expresses confidence, self-esteem, steadfast faith in yourself, a position that inspires others to take you seriously.
In Eric's mind, by adopting what he deems a weaker posture, Jean failed to project significant confidence to convince her audience that she fully controlled the situation. Eric's viewpoint boils down to packaging, rather than substance. "She is incredibly well-qualified, has excellent business judgment, works very hard, and is very competitive," Eric insists. "She is typically better informed and better prepared than most people. But she needs to do a better job of making that information known to everybody. She gave a presentation today in which she took the senior management of the company through an excellent summary of a major business development deal—very sensitive negotiations that she handled extremely well. The only thing missing was that she didn't broadcast more of a sense of assurance." Eric says the predominantly male group did not fully grasp Jean's exceptional competence simply because she did not transmit self-assurance in a way they would understand.
Eric's advice for Jean says a lot about how men evaluate business associates. If women dominated the management team, would they measure confidence and competence the same way? Eric's observation that Jean is better than she thinks she is opens up an interesting line of inquiry. When it comes to judging a person's ability, how significantly does style weigh into the equation?
When a man enters a business meeting, he usually encounters a majority who basically look and act the same way he does. A woman, on the other hand, often enters an environment where the majority look and act differently. The men measure both the man and the woman with the same yardstick. The more swagger they see, the more respect they feel. For men, swagger can include bragging and touting accomplishments in order to form bonds with other men, while for women, such showing off may get in the way of establishing interpersonal connections with other women. Eric's judgment about Jean echoed a theme I heard from many men. In their eyes, women do not always clothe their solid substance with a style men applaud and understand. In fact, some men went a step further when musing about women and the confidence factor, bluntly asserting: "Women need more self-esteem."
Joe Leghorn, an attorney who has mentored many women and men, obsbrves: "I think a fair number of women have self-confidence issues. I encourage them to believe in themselves, reminding them that men tend to bluff their way through anything." Mark Kramer, a college professor, says: "I see more confidence in men than I do in women." For some men, believing in yourself matters as much as the quality of your decision. In Mark's view: "It's OK to be wrong. I'd rather you be confident and wrong. At least you're taking a stand." Several men readily admitted that they believe a man can get away with more mistakes than a woman can, partly, it seems, because a mistake does not take the swagger out of a man's stride as much as it does a woman's. Why? Largely because, as men told me, women are often held to a higher performance standard.
Without a doubt, bluffing your way through a situation can serve a man well. A career counselor once described the phenomenon beautifully. Men, she said, feel perfectly comfortable applying for a job for which they possess only 50 percent of the requisite skills. Women, she said, only feel comfortable if they possess 70 percent of the necessary skills. In the course of conducting interviews for this book, I ran across one man in the midst of a job hunt. His strategy? Go for the jobs that he most wants, even if he lacks some of the stated requirements. "I'll go ahead and apply for the job. When the time comes, I'll grab a book on the subject and figure out what I don't know." That's another example of swagger: marching confidently into the bullring without a sharp sword. And why wouldn't men swagger, when their behavior is reinforced by unwritten rules that reflect the male code?
Work culture certainly plays a leading role in defining which communication styles will draw the most attention. Eric and Jean work in what he calls a "verbal food fight" culture. "There is a high noise level, and in order to play in that," he explains, "you have to be a little rough-and-tumble." Swagger helps. "You don't have to have the answers, but you have to be ready to dish it out. That qualifies you to be part of the crowd."
A supremely secure woman, however, may feel no need to flaunt her talent, adopting instead a less aggressive posture. Even as young girls, many women learn to act modestly about touting their abilities and accomplishments. A good girl just lets her talent speak for itself.
Concerning the typically male style of projecting assurance, Leslie Brody, associate professor of psychology at Boston University, cites twenty years of research that has consistently found that girls and boys view their accomplishments differently: "Boys—from elementary school through high school—rate themselves as more confident even when their actual performance scores on a test are the same as the girls'." Other studies, Leslie says, have examined how men and women rate the effect of boasting. "The women all felt that other women would dislike them and judge them as being smug." In marked contrast, Leslie observes, "The men didn't have any of these feelings and, in fact, they felt that the people they were boasting to would like them more. Men have no trouble saying 'I did this' and being proud of it." Of course, men expect other men to do likewise.
If a woman understands why men act the way they do, she can use that knowledge to diffuse the effect of objectionable workplace behaviors dictated by the male code. For example, once a woman acknowledges that men welcome verbal dueling among colleagues, she need not feel challenged by behaviors she might normally deem ridiculous.
Ever since Eric conveyed his learn-to-swagger advice to Jean, she has adopted a new perspective on the verbal games at work. Eric now observes: "Jean is much more comfortable challenging people when they come back to her with faulty arguments." While her level of inner confidence may have always been high, Jean now sees more clearly what it takes to reach her primarily male audience. With Eric's blunt feedback, Jean developed a style to showcase her talent, more effectively asserting herself among the noisy boys.
One eleven-year-old girl with an affinity for math described what she observed in her sixth-grade class: "The boys are jumping up and down raising both hands. And then they start yelling out the answers—which usually aren't even right. It's really annoying."
Bill Winn, a psychologist, suggests that from childhood on, girls confront the challenge of making themselves heard above "the noisy boys in the classroom who are encouraged to verbalize and assert their opinions, rightly or wrongly." This challenge, he says, follows many women into the workplace: "To the extent that this behavior continues in the office or board room, it may be seen as immodest, uncharacteristic, or unfeminine for a woman to assert herself—so she's hit by a kind of double whammy." If she remains quiet, no one hears her. If she imitates the boys and becomes too noisy, others may dismiss her as too pushy.
Many women feel like outsiders in the world where men practice their age-old rituals for proving their power. As I observed a young boy, probably seven or eight years old, heading toward a baseball field full of boys, I could not help but speculate how he might behave years later in a business suit. With arms swinging widely, chest puffed out, head held high, the boy jumped right into the game with a look that did not question, for even a second, his right to belong. In marked contrast, I have often seen young girls move cautiously, taking care not to disrupt the group and invite their disapproval. In a male-dominated setting such politeness sometimes becomes a liability, but just how far should a woman go in the direction of assertiveness?
Regardless of our degree of self-assurance, most of us let signals from our peers boost or erode our confidence. The words "rough-and-tumble" that Eric used to describe his workplace also fit one of the male cultural stereotypes. Even at a young age, boys compete with each other both as a way to bond with one another and as a way to establish relative positions in the boy hierarchy. Girls, on the other hand, try to equalize the status of all group members. As psychologist William Pollack observes in his book Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, "Boys tend to engage in active, competitive games. Girls, on the other hand, tend to play cooperatively in smaller groups." For boys, he says, "taunting, boasting, and jousting with one another is part of the fun."
Pat Heim, a gender consultant, describes scenarios like this as "verbal chest beating." Men, she says, engage in this behavior as a means of establishing their position among other men. "The misconception comes when women label this as inappropriate behavior, not realizing that if you live in a hierarchy, you'd better do some chest beating or you end up at the bottom of the pyramid. And that's not a comfortable place for a man to be."
A hierarchical male culture emerges early on when young boys play together and forge friendships. Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey, authors of We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men, observe that young boys focus on their power over, rather than connection to, others. "Groups fall into little patriarchies and hierarchies, with up-down, power-over rules and orders." Women, on the other hand, often rely on what Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand, terms "onedownmanship" to develop and solidify their relationships. By avoiding a game of oneupmanship, by evening out rather than asserting power, a woman establishes what Tannen describes as a symmetrical connection.
According to the male code, when men talk to one another, they expect interruption—in fact, they welcome and even value it. In contrast, suggests Tannen, interruption for a woman may signal impoliteness or a lack of control, stifling collegiality. Ironically, in a man's view, interruption equals control. In staff meetings, Ray Ingalls, a business manager, sees a consistent pattern of men ignoring or talking over the few women in the room. "Women are easily overlooked if they don't speak out," he observes. "If women don't offer their opinion, no one is going to ask them, but men will ask other men." To make herself heard, suggests Ray, a woman must overcome her resistance to interrupting and speak out forcefully, symbolically beating her chest, if necessary.
Many men never outgrow the habit of using noisy interactions to test each other's mettle. As Eric explains: "You have to be willing to go toe-to-toe and get very argumentative." Half the time, he says, the other person does not want to express a strong conviction as much as he wants to see what you're made of.
At the beginning of our conversation, Eric told me that he rates the women in his department as top performers: "The women have star quality. The guys are only working on it." Why, then, did he urge Jean to develop some swagger? To level the playing field. As Eric knows, less qualified men can project more confidence than more highly qualified women.
The Mask of Invulnerability
Do boys generally receive more early reinforcement about the value and power of confident behavior? According to psychologist Leslie Brody, they do, partly because they have enjoyed a position of gender superiority since the first time they played with girls on the playground. When I asked Leslie to comment on whether men actually possess more confidence than women or whether they simply act that way, she responded: "Both are true. Men probably are more confident than women, and they also are better at masking any fears or doubts they may have."
Early in their lives, little boys become fully schooled in what it means to command power and status. Leslie explains: "Girls learn very early on to believe that they are viewed as lower status and less powerful. That undermines confidence." In part, this happens through the physical dominance that boys usually exert in their play.
From about adolescence on, a girl may experience varying levels of belief in herself and her abilities. In contrast to this experience, Barry Walker, an attorney, says: "I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't fundamentally secure about what I was doing." Barry also admits: "Walking into new circumstances with new people, with new duties and responsibilities, you always have some level of doubt. But then your natural being comes out and you have enough faith in your mental acuity or your articulateness or your leadership skills to overcome the angst that is created by a challenging environment."
By the time men enter the workplace, the "I must carry myself confidently" strategy has become second nature. Many men point to their junior high years as the pivotal point when confidence began to play a crucial role in their behavior. Eric comments, "In junior high, boys get schooled in affecting more self-confidence than the girls, even if you don't have it." To win the boys' game, at work and at play, you need confidence, whether based on substance or not.
Confidence spawns a sense of control, both over self and circumstances. Even when it comes fairly late in a man's development, it serves as a dominant factor in social interactions. Paul Meyers, a thirty-two-year-old CEO, described his experience of lacking confidence in middle school, then acquiring it later in life, as something that drives him today: "I was absolutely not confident growing up. I was a fat teenager who had the crap beaten out of me in middle school." He does, however, take great pride in the fact that he has managed to achieve overwhelming success in his career.
Paul believes that at some level men suffer fears about success and achievement, even if they don't show it. The differences in how they handle fear, he thinks, result from cultural expectations about behavior. "By the time boys hit middle school, we figure out that if you show your true feelings, somebody is going to beat the hell out of you—or torment you psychologically."
As someone responsible for a $50 million company, Paul now appreciates the usefulness of masking feelings of fear and self-doubt. When, for instance, he was engineering a major business deal, Paul needed to engage in some behind-the-scenes maneuvering or risk losing the contract. Throughout the process, despite a certain amount of anxiety, he strove to convey confidence to all concerned, especially his employees: "Part of my goal was to keep the troops in line, and in that effort, it becomes incredibly important not to panic and show fear," he says. "No matter how panicked the sales group got, I kept saying: 'OK, we're going to work through this. I am going to help you take care of it.'"
When telling this story, Paul likens himself to a pilot winging his plane through extreme turbulence: "You figure you're going to crash and the pilot may have wet his pants, but he sits there and calmly says: 'Don't worry. This is normal.' The pilot may be going berserk, but if he's cool, it takes some of the pressure off and you're cool." That mask of invulnerability represents a critical leadership skill, says Paul. "No matter how scared I am, or how much I think there is no way in hell we're going to pull this one off, I can't let my people feel that."
One business owner and former marine described that leadership skill in terms of a battlefield experience: "You can never let the enemy detect fear. If you doubt yourself for even one second, you could lose your life." In other words, skills, without confidence, mean nothing.
In answer to the question "Do men feel more secure or do they just act that way?" Barry Walker responded immediately: "We appear to be less woundable. We're great actors. Absolutely wonderful actors. We are no more secure than a woman of equal position. We just make it appear that we are. And part of the time we convince ourselves that we are."
For boys, the appearance of control also determines whether they succeed socially during their first interactions with members of the opposite sex. Paul remembers: "The guys who had the most success with women were the guys who had confidence." From an early age, he equated confidence with power: "There is something about confidence that is palpable in people. It sometimes gets mistaken as charisma, but there is a level of confidence that must be anthropological in nature."
Eric, recalling this defining period in his own life, talks of the adolescent days when nothing mattered more than peer approval. A quest for acceptance fueled his intense drive to act cool, confident, and in control, even when he felt exactly the opposite. For him, bragging provided both power and protection. As William Pollack, the psychologist, points out, bragging amounts to little more than "a façade of confidence and bravado that boys erect to hide what they perceive as a shameful sense of vulnerability."
Although external bravado may signal more internal vulnerability, standing your ground and steadfastly holding your own becomes an early measure of manhood. "Men have been taught to act more secure because you have to carry 'attitude' when you're playing sports or hanging out with a bunch of guys," Eric says. "If you sit there betraying your insecurity, there is a pack impulse that takes over."
Eric recalls a boy, desperate for approval, who overtly showed his vulnerability to the in-crowd. "Let's see how far we can get him to twist himself," became the group's refrain whenever this boy tried to join them. "After this happened three or four times, people had totally lost respect for him." In this context, a mask of invulnerability might have shielded the boy from derision and prompted greater acceptance.
Insights like Eric's offer clues for women about how and why men so fervently hide any hint of insecurity. By understanding the mask of invulnerability, women can learn to look beneath it for true male feelings, and they can even borrow it to succeed in situations when that stance is required.
The Shield of Confidence
Would men bother with projecting a secure demeanor if doing so didn't get results? Jim Barnes, a senior vice president at a brokerage firm, answered that question succinctly when he said: "Confidence is a huge issue when there's $20 million on the table." Referring to potential clients who size him up carefully when it comes to turning over their money to him, he says: "We listen to them, but we are also very definitive in making recommendations with great confidence. We don't want them walking out the door wondering 'Geez, is what they're recommending OK? I'm not sure they think so.'"
Whenever Dean Mechlowitz, a sales manager, walks into a meeting, with his boss or a client, he somehow always projects an aura of authority with few words and no noisy bravado. Having watched Dean in action, I asked him directly: "Do you ever doubt yourself?" He immediately responded: "No." Then he added with a knowing smile: "Never."
After Dean described his career history, I asked him, "At any point in your work life, have you said to yourself 'I can't do this', or 'I'm not sure I can do this'?" Again, he answered with a definitive "No." Throughout our conversation, Dean displayed a level of self-assurance that summarily dismisses fear, sponsors boldness, and reinforces the strong positions he dares to take.
Early in our interview, Dean alerted me that we might be interrupted by a call about a big telecommunications deal. When the phone rang, I could not help but note how he responded to the potential customer: "I hear what you're saying, but here's what we're able to do from our end. Call me back at three and we'll talk again." He sounded so confident, I might have bought swampland in Florida from him.
Excerpted from THE MALE MIND AT WORK by DEBORAH J. SWISS. Copyright © 2000 by Deborah J. Swiss. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1||The Confidence Game--Adding swagger to your step||7|
|2||Nothing Personal--Putting on the game face||35|
|3||The Double-Edged Sword--Balancing feminine and masculine traits||67|
|4||Excess Baggage--Maneuvering adversity and adversaries||97|
|5||Insult and Inquiry--Mixed signals and the great gender divide||125|
|6||Reality Check--Top-10 reasons men like working with women||159|
|7||Good Men at the Top--Secrets of strong leaders||183|
|8||Conclusion--Opening the gender lens||205|
The degree of comfort, confidence, and control we bring to the workplace strongly affects our success and depends on our self-perception, our view of where we fit or don't fit in the culture, and the type of reinforcement we receive growing up and later from peers and superiors. In many environments, gender plays a role, defining how we evaluate and react to everyday business situations. The terrain often looks quite different for women because the system to which John refers is designed to support and reflect a male code of work.
For over a year, I conducted in-depth interviews with 52 successful men about how they think and act in the workplace. These men work in businesses ranging from start-ups to law firms, from wholesale apparel to high tech, and in positions from middle to top-level management. All hold college degrees and many hold advanced degrees. With the option of remaining anonymous, the men I interviewed responded openly and honestly to the questions women most want answered, questions I heard from the women I interviewed for my two earlier books, Women and the Work/Family Dilemma and Women Breaking Through. For instance:
My interviews uncovered a broad spectrum of opinions about women in the workplace. For example, a 39-year-old CEO of a $1 billion company described his own slow and arduous journey toward fully welcoming women at the top. In the end, he believes his newfound awareness has enhanced his own leadership and effectiveness for his shareholders. Other men voiced concern about what they see as political correctness carried to extremes, causing them great discomfort over working too closely with women and an abiding fear of false accusations of discrimination. At the extreme end of the spectrum, a 34-year-old Wall Street vice president boldly admitted: "I'd rather there were not women working here."
As men spoke of the comfort they feel in their own careers, they often attributed their sense of security to the majority position bestowed on them in most business environments, Journalist Bruce Kohl, observing that men seldom think about the automatic power that maleness accords them in many settings, commented: "It's as if men perceive that you could drop a boulder into a pond and it's not going to have any impact as long as they're getting done what needs to be done."
Even so, a man's supremely confident stance sometimes masks insecurity. Behind the bravado and the swagger of confidence, men often suffer the same doubts and vulnerabilities to which women will more readily admit. What men show to the outside world, however, differs dramatically. The brave face provides yet another layer of protective gear men wear to guard themselves against revealing emotions of insecurity, self-doubt, or fear. As attorney Barry Walker puts it: "The male psyche will do everything in its power to prevent a man from admitting he has been wounded."
Of course, such emotional distance also offers certain advantages in the workplace. For starters, it enables men to suppress any inclination toward unwarranted self-blame by maintaining an attitude that focuses on their accomplishments rather than their mistakes. Men, for instance, readily conclude that a mistake is just a mistake, something that can offer valuable lessons for future growth. And, in many cases, men decide that a jerk is just a jerk, feeling no overriding urge to "fix" a difficult person or to change their own behavior to appease him or her.
Men also demonstrated self-deprecating humor as they identified their own frailties. "Guys are much more like dogs," asserted one investment partner. "With a dog, you raise your voice and say 'No!' and the dog will look at you and get it." Men of all ages expressed admiration for unique perspectives offered by the female mind at work. One man, age 45, working in a predominantly male field, admitted: "Most of the women I work with are smarter and more qualified than the men at this level. They had to be just to get here!" Some men even voiced a strong preference for working for a female boss. Ray Ingalls, a 29-year-old business manager says, "I generally prefer working with women rather than men. I'd rather have relationships that are based not on competitiveness but on working in a combined effort toward the same goal."
What surprised me most was the honesty with which men answered my questions. Because I wanted to hear truthful answers, not the answers a man might voice publicly, I offered each man the option of anonymity. Some men granted permission to use their names and others requested a pseudonym, but all talked openly about their careers and their companies, their professional challenges and successes, and their generally unspoken vulnerabilities.
Some voiced opinions I found offensive, such as when they focused on issues of a woman's appearance or of holding women to a higher standard than the men in the office. Others described exemplary management styles, inspiring for both men and women and profitable for any organization. Not only do their responses begin to unravel the mysteries of the male mind at work, but they provide vital knowledge women can use to open windows of opportunity for themselves.
What really goes on behind the gamesmanship that often permeates the way men transact business?
Should a woman even listen to a male boss who recommends that she incorporate "swagger in her step"?
Why do some men prefer to work for a woman?
What leadership secrets enable men to welcome and support topnotch talent, regardless of gender?
What does it take to revise the unwritten rules of work?
How do men define life balance and success?
As men answered these questions, they shattered some myths about what really goes on in the male mind while confirming for women realities about gender differences that may never change. The Male Mind at Work does not suggest that women should turn into men, or vice versa. Rather than engage in a debate about who is better at business, this book explores the male mind in an effort to create the sort of understanding that can promote a woman's success. Firsthand accounts, gleaned from more than 1,100 pages of interview transcripts, offer surprising revelations about the achievements and missteps of men, providing powerful inside information that will heighten a woman's confidence in leveraging her own unique strengths.
Insights into how and why men practice and perpetuate the unwritten rules of work offer women a deeper understanding of how to interpret the workplace cues that men relay so naturally to one another, among a group that has formed bonds both subtle and secure, unspoken and intractable. This information generates strategies women can put to immediate use, including ways to react when superiors pass on their ideas, what it takes to win recognition for their talent, and ways to counteract dangerous stereotypes and misconceptions about women at work.
I do not share the opinions voiced by many of the men I interviewed, but I learned from every one of them, as they revealed surprising disclosures about what makes the male mind tick. The stories these successful businessmen told me in their own words provide fresh and useful insights for women who feel frustrated, or unnecessarily challenged, by men who seem to speak a different language and play by a different set of rules.
By looking through the male lens on work, a woman can gain valuable truths about the male psyche so that she can rise above gender politics, compete with confidence, and succeed on her own terms.
Posted July 9, 2002
The bottom line is that men generally think in linear and woman think in circular. Men think subcontiously - everything is a game. They want to win. They have compartments mentally of things. Work, private lives, sports, etc. Woman think of multi things at once¿ Men don't like to mix emotion at work¿ And a man doesn't like to loose to a woman. Men can do/say certain things and it's acceptable, but if a woman does it¿it's wrong. Learn the game, play the game. I bought the book because I am trying to understand why men don't see to percieve woman in the same light as they do their mail counter parts. I've heard 'sexists' things and stero-types said in the office...and I am tired of it. I bought this book to help me understand...how the hell guys think. They think their confused about woman....well men are not picknick either. Just for the record...I discussed the concepts and the generalizations in the book about men...with some of my male co-workers...and guess what...in general...they told me, they agree. Go figure....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.