After as far as we have come in equality of the sexes, it is still almost impossible to work with men/women. They are so strange and just don’t do things the way they should be done. They are moody, grumpy, too familiar, emotional, threatening and just plain men/women! Add the popular notion that all humans have these odd traits when interacting with other humans and you have the makings of a sexual harassment training video.

From the moment you step into a corporation, or really any office these days, you will be required to watch a sexual harassment video and answer a few questions to prove you understand saying “good morning” to a coworker of the opposite sex can be considered “threatening.”

Male-Female Office Interactions Are Serious Business With Laws And Heavy Consequences.

Depending on where your HR department finds the video, the quality varies. The first video I was required to watch was transferred from a super 8 movie with “actors” who probably worked for the film company. HR frowns upon new hires laughing in hysterics while watching the video. That’s why I preferred the e-mailed link to the newer videos and a multiple-choice quiz at the end. Suddenly these videos have touched upon real-life office situations. The last one I viewed was also a cast of familiar characters and sure enough, the “offended employee” was also the worst kind of person any office can have. In the video, she was offended at a conversation between a male and female coworker she overheard while poking her head above her cubicle. In another scene, she is offended at a gathering of employees across the room, telling jokes.

“Some of those joke MIGHT offend the coworker,” states the video. I think the coworker is offended that others in the office might not elect her homecoming queen and therefore they must all suffer a Carrie-like prom-of-death end. HR will give this person more credence than the other 99 employees who love to stand around and tell jokes. Because of one unstable personality, who cannot fit into the flow of society, everybody will be brought down to lowest level to even the playing field. That’s always an engaging situation.

Are we such a difficult race of beings that we cannot work well with the genders that include our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters? Yes!

Image: ©Niki Blaker

Men ARE from Mars and Women ARE from Venus! 

Even with that, we are in the same solar system, while black holes, super novas, hurtling meteors and twinkling radiation tears at the rest of our galaxy. Do we really need to fight among ourselves? Let me rephrase that – can we understand the very things that are different about men and women and come to a middle ground that allows us to work together in a nurturing and understanding way? No. Women know that men are pigs. We are. Do you think they made those videos because women were slapping men on the rear and making comments like, “nice sweater meat!” or taunting, “HPOA!”

Sure some women do that to men and I will always treasure those personal memories, but the key word in harassment is “unwanted” advances.

*Did you know that HR rules allow to ask out a coworker on a date once. If they refuse, you can never ask again. If they say yes, you might be “polishing desks” later. I gather even in the strictest corporation, men and women do fall in love with each other.

That is all due to our biological imperative. Under our clothes, we are animal inhabitants of this planet, and no different that other species when it comes to mating, although I don’t know of any other mating mammal that orders the lobster and two appetizers for dinner and then announces they just want to be friends!”

But in the workplace, we all have our roles and responsibilities and must work in conjunction as a team of people. Not men, not women – coworkers.

So, It’s Not Just Me

I met a friend for lunch today to cheer him up and relay some stories that would make his dismissal from his current position a bit more hopeful. He is a VERY sharp creative director with an eye towards the future and pushing the envelope. He is hardworking and a no nonsense guy. He was doomed from the start. We sat down at a nice, family-owned Mexican restaurant and he started to relay the problems he faced.

“I just rubbed some of the people who have been there so long the wrong way.” He is very humble and I knew the entire reason needed to be pulled out of him.

“Some people found you curt or you didn’t involve them enough in decisions?” I asked, having worked with him and seeing the internal politics just enough to see the red flags. “They were women, right?”

He looked a bit stunned but it was the distance between Mars and Venus that was the problem. It was not a question of power, misogyny, racism or any other isms as much as it was inclusion and recognition. Nobody wants to spend the prom standing in the rain, looking longingly through the window.

I relayed stories of a female manager who would call people into her office and trump up something so they would break down and cry and then she would comfort them and tell them everything was all right. Sick! She tried with me a couple of times but I would argue her points until they were transparent. I think when I left her office, SHE would cry. Men do this, too. So we share a cruel streak but I doubt that’s a mutual building block.

What this manager was doing was caring for people. She didn’t see what she was doing as cruel. She was filling people with emotion, dropping them down and picking them up so she would be seen as the confidant and nurturing boss. She was just mental about it!

My friend and I traded more stories and started coming down hard on some female coworkers. I had also been totally destroyed by a female manager. She made it her business to see me gone. It was a sharp contrast to the beginning years of our work together. She assigned me special projects and applauded me for my future climb up the corporate ladder. Then it all changed it what seemed to be a day.

“She was in love with you,” said a female friend, to whom I related the same story while we had a lunch far enough from the office to not be seen. I was dumbfounded except for the jokes around the office about how she was in love with me.

“When did it change?” she asked.

“She overheard me talking about a woman I liked in another department but that she had put on a lot of weight and my manager went off on how she knew what I ‘really thought’ and was a “typical man” and that’s when I started noticing being moved to the D list.”

My friend, who is one of the sweetest and most intelligent people I know, kept eating her salad and started to explain it to me. “She replaced the intensity of her love for you with hate.”

She kept eating and smiling as if it happens every day. Apparently it does and what was so easy for a woman to see, I wouldn’t notice if you tied it to a brick and smashed it over my head. I’m a man. I don’t think that way. My male friend who had met the same fate didn’t spot it as my female friend did. Men aren’t wired the same way women are. Do I even have to mention that?

To me, my manager shouldn’t have formed an emotional bond with one of her subordinates. Yes, it happens but it’s not right…unless both parties show the same interest. To hold me accountable for choosing another woman and broaching the forbidden subject of female weight gain, which was overheard by her, just doesn’t strike me as fair. It didn’t until I read a book I laughed off as another charlatan attempt to make money off those too poor to afford good therapy.

Getting back to my male friend who had just lost his job to what he saw as fickleness and spite, I brought up this book that changed my way of understanding workflow in a male/female work culture. A book by John Gray, Ph.D., the Mars and Venus series author, “Mars and Venus in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting Results at Work.”

Can Any Book Really Have The Answers?

I never went for personal growth books but the title enticed me as I have always worked in a female-heavy industry and it was free. I wondered why some decisions were made that seemed to really please female coworkers but left me with my head spinning.

The book dove right in by separating how the genders approach a project.

There are the usual gender-bashing viral jokes about men and women floating around the web (my former manager/”future bride” sent me quite a few, which I still have…for evidence). We laugh and acknowledge that we have differences that make communications and proper toilet seat positions impossible at times.

The author took great pains to detail what men think/ women think, men say/what women hear and vice versa. Naturally, in the truth that comedy is, the jokes in cyber space were based on truisms. In it self that’s funny!

On a Seinfeld episode, the men talk about one of them getting a “Wedgie” (when the underwear is pulled up in the back by the waistband). The woman in the room asks why men torture each other and the men shrug it off as “guy stuff.” The men ask the woman if girls gave each other wedgies and she replies, “we just tease a girl about one of her body parts until she develops an eating disorder.” That was written by Carol Leifer…a female comedian.

As men, we are brought up with a team mentality. Most men differ to the team captain, play our parts, jockey a bit on territoriality and go from point A to point B with blinders on to all else, including any emotions people might have about their roles in the project. There’s no crying in baseball and if you do, General Patton slaps you silly.

Women, who celebrate the ability to have emotions and feelings, which was only discovered in the male animal in 1978 by Alan Alda, will approach a project not by dividing territories and making the plan for the shortest route from A to B, but by breaking down any barriers to someone feeling left out.

To some, this is the evil, mutant love child of men and women and it’s called “design-by-committee.” Men want to call the plays and women want to be involved and dissect the project to feel it. 

Image: ©Niki Blaker

To others, although vastly different in thinking and process, the mix could create a product or add or web site that would have broad appeal. Not that it seems to work 99% of the time. There is groundbreaking work being done and the teams are men and women together. So why doesn’t it happen more often? Why, if a man asks a woman, “what’s wrong?” and she replies, “nothing!” shouldn’t we think nothing is wrong? Because the woman has told us something is wrong. It’s just in a foreign language to men.

I’ve always worked in female-heavy offices, sometimes being the only man, or straight man and I never had any problems but while reading this book, my heart sank when I thought back to incidents that weren’t bad – they were uncomfortable, and it was because I was saying something that was not translating well.

The frightening thing is that men and women say things without any animosity but it can crush the other person. One example from the book spotlighted that a man will say “Ke$ha, We’re having a meeting tomorrow on the project. Have all of your designs together by 9AM.”

What the woman hears is, “I don’t care about your schedule, so I set up a meeting without consulting you or anyone else and I am threatening you to have everything together by a certain time I have also decided upon without anyone’s input!”

According to the author, the male coworker should first address the female coworker’s schedule (and that of the entire team) to work out a convenient time by offering a few time options, which involves her in the process. Then he should inquire as to her progress on the work she needs to provide, asking how he can help if she is behind schedule.

I’m sure this will be the hot point for the comments section at the end of this article. Keep reading -- there’s more. 

Image: ©Niki Blaker

There are plenty of suggestions for women on how to communicate best with men. Reading the passages and suggestions can be daunting. It’s easy for each gender to communicate among themselves but to speak to the other gender takes speaking a foreign language like a native…but you will never be one.

The creative field was probably the first profession to be integrated with the addition of women. Even in old photos of animation studios there is a woman or two among the small staff. Figures cartoonists would be able to do it first…they speak yet another foreign language.

Comments on the book show that there is a basic misunderstanding between men and women in the workplace. A gentleman with an MBA wrote;

The biggest thing missing from my MBA education was learning how to interact with other people. Business is nothing if we can't communicate effectively and regularly. This book explains in clear terms how men can understand women and communicate effectively. We men can't talk to women the way we do with other men. We are very different. By following Dr. Gray's guidelines, men can learn how to earn the trust and respect of female co-workers. We can learn easy ways to speak the woman's language and understand her perceptions. The most fascinating aspect is the description of women's emotions, what they mean, and positive responses men can use to increase productivity and create a pleasant workplace. Working in harmony is the only way to go. 
I should think that this book is especially helpful to women, as they are basically working in a world that has been designed and run by men. As Dr. Gray says, a woman's challenge in the workplace is greater than a man's. While the books and research of Gail Evans and Dr. Deborah Tannen and others have described gender differences, this book by Dr. Gray sheds light on many aspects of workplace problems and offers solutions that are easy, respectful, effective, and even fun. 

Chances are this man is working in a heavily male dominated business. Woe is the female who enters and struggle to keep a professional environment and treatment. 

Image: ©Niki Blaker

The creative field is different and I have found myself in many female dominated offices. Are they aware of what males endure in the flipped roles? A man replied;

I am the only man who works in management of 34 female managers. I could not be successful without the help of this book. I learned how not to insult my co-workers and bosses. I really think with men and women working together so much more these days that it's important to understand the differences, and there are differences between the sexes. This book has helped me very much, and I think it will help either sex equally! 

I wish he had talked about how HE was treated or insulted. I have actually found female bosses and coworkers to be kind and nurturing and enjoy it when you gab about your life and feelings and all that emotional hooey. Sure, English women enjoy a rousing whoop about Manchester United and French women love a good Grand Prix but try discussing baseball or curling to American women and you’ve lost them. So learn to talk about your feelings when you are surrounded by women and endure the occasional male bash or Hunks of Smashing Magazine calendar pictures (I’m February so no one has to look at me for more than 28 days).

A lady added her experience;

I enjoy research and stats but this was real life in action. When reading the scenarios you immediately recall a situation of which you have experienced and it's almost like problem solving along the way. These ideas are good for everyone. 

Of course neither planet is right or wrong, a great combination is best. Since reading this book, I have developed more "Martian" characteristics, but I will never give up my collaborating "Venusian" style. I have mixed both styles and I think this has made me a better communicator in the workplace.

In the business world if you know each other's planet you are at an advantage. There can be so many misinterpretations if you don't understand the other planet. Knowing more about Mars has made me happier at home and more confident at work.

This book will help you understand the differences in men and women when it comes to problem solving. Women chat about it and men want to be alone. In the business world, it is important to think about. Unfortunately, some male managers can see chatting as a sign of weakness. This sounds really discriminating, but it can be true in certain situations, particularly at meetings. And when it comes time for reviews and appraisals women often don't credit themselves for ideas as a man would.

I have read many pop culture self-help books and this book really made me self evaluate my Venusian ways and I definitely need to develop more `Martian style' to balance out my sometimes too over powerful `Venusian style'. But as the book states-it's not about changing you, but just to better your understanding of how men and women behave and communicate.

Another woman replied;

Should be called "For Women: How to kiss up to men, pretend their mistakes are okay, their forgotten duties are okay, never correct him, and allow them to take no responsibility in the workplace, even the men that can't remember your name" 
Perhaps as long as he notices you when you are looking particularly good and gives you a non-sexual compliment it's okay, eh? (from the book). This book takes the idea of equality back about 200 years, but in a smarter more devious way. 

Just Read The Book!

There are pages and pages in the book on interactions of all sorts and handy observations for working with the other gender. It doesn’t cover what gay and lesbian coworkers may feel on office interactions. As with gender difference, culturalisms and economic upbringing, many of us hold to individualisms that separate us even from our own “group” in which we identify ourselves. Simply just compassion and respect are not enough. A deeper understanding, hence sexual harassment training, has become an important part of the workplace and life in general in a global economy.

A global economy means not only learning how to best deal with the other gender, but with other genders throughout the world and I would be lying if I didn’t say that different cultures have different ideas on how men/women should be treated in the workplace…if both genders are allowed to work together. Althought respect, compassion and kindness go a long way in any human interaction, surely everyone has to have noticed it’s in short supply in business these days and people are suffering “compassion burnout” as workloads and pressure increase.

A gentleman in Hong Kong wrote;

The point the author drills into the readers mind is: Men are quick to arrive at solutions whenever a woman approaches him with a problem, not knowing that this is her way of including him in her world and a way of leading up to her solution. It states, half a dozen times throughout the book, that women share their emotions with men in the workplace not as a way of putting blame or soliciting advice, but rather a way to make an emotional connection. Men, on the other hand, view this as a sign of weakness and a waste of time. The author terms men as Mr. Fix It because men seem to always quickly offer a solution not fully hearing out what a woman has to say. Believe it or not, that was the single most important takeaway of the whole book. Each chapter repeats a variation of this lesson. 

Is A Female Boss Better Than A Male Boss?

Firstly, anyone who comments that a male boss doesn’t cross the line with sexual harassment and bullying female employees is either sense impaired or lying. Male bosses love having power over others and they exercise it as often as possible. So do female bosses. Having given two weeks notice to a small firm where the female boss was abusing me on a daily basis (right after attending a conference with her and declining just using one room), the very next day I was called into her office where one of the nice female partners fired me while my almost-lover, stood smiling with her arms crossed. I said, “okay but don’t you want me to train my replacement?”

“You can go!” said my love-muffin boss as she laughed.

Not just fired but destroyed in her eyes. I got six months of unemployment because, despite my two-week notice, I was fired within that time. My replacement at that firm saw to it my unemployment benefits lasted longer than the firm stayed in business.

Men just fire me and try to make it sound as if it’s nobody’s fault, like when I asked a boss about his name being on an award for work I had done.

A female designer chimed in on this question;

Most women who are given power act like b*****s, especially towards other women. I just don’t know why women hate each other so much! 

Another woman chimed in with;

A lot of people get their jobs in management because they kissed the right asses. Me, I went to work one day and was told, "here your now the boss of a 40 person team make it work" I've been in said position for 5 years now and my team is over 200 and productivity went up 63%. My previous boss was a man and nearly sank the company with his inability to manage even his own personal life. 

Image: ©Niki Blaker

So, Can We Get Together And Make Wonderful, Bright Project Babies?

If I had to draw a conclusion from the book and comments the problem is, it is a different language but business is not combat. Emotions and compassion is not a bad thing and having a boss who shows caring and understanding makes for a healthy work environment. I’ve seen it from men and women – with humor and genuine feelings. I’ve also had male and female bosses who would make Stalin look like tickle-me Elmo.

At the same time, it’s not a “tea party” or “club” atmosphere. It’s hard enough to encourage ethics and employee engagement these days. Why create an even more difficult situation?

I imagine it all comes down to respect and understanding. We don’t get enough of it out on the streets, so why would we see it in the workplace? Because we deserve it? Of course we do? Who in their right mind would believe an abusive office is a happy or productive office. Well, Stalin, but that didn’t work out too well.

Humans! Sometimes I think our ability to understand others is from Uranus!

Published 12.9.2010 - Noupe