By Dr. Rick Kirschner
One day, as I was doing my morning reading on the web, I
came across an article titled 'Clueless Guys Can't Read Women.'
That headline was practically shouting for a man to respond.
So here is my response.
Women: Get a clue! You are probably finding it just as hard
to read men correctly! Oh, and guys, you get a clue too!
Yes, I know, I hear it all the time, man has an on-off switch,
woman has a control panel loaded with bells and whistles.
But I am saying that it just ain't necessarily so. I find
that intelligence and stupidity are equally divided across
gender lines. So is open mindedness and narrow mindedness.
And, as a man, and a friend of other men, I know for a fact
that men are as complex in their needs, desires and non-verbal
signals as women.
Maybe the real gender distinction is that we men have agreed
to the boiled-down version of our narrative (we are just trying
to mate and fulfill our genetic mandate to populate the planet).
Women prefer the complex version laden with its subtleties
(women carry the future of humanity in their DNA, and must
pay attention closely to the signals of life in order to protect
But either case could be made either way, and like beauty,
I am thinking this is all in the mind of the beholder.
A Quick Look Back
In my public training programs back in the late 1980s and
early 1990s, I observed that more women signed up for voluntary
training in these venues than men. Sometimes the gender of
the audience was skewed 70% female, 30% male. Sometimes, even
more, depending on the topic. Case in point: The "How
to Find And Keep A Mate" seminars I conducted in 1989.
Typically, the audience consisted of 2-300 women, most of
them gorgeous and dressed to the nines, along with three or
four of the nerdiest men on the planet. Some time in the first
20 minutes of the program, some woman in the audience would
raise her hand and ask, neigh, demand to know, "Why aren't
there more men here!??" And I, being the clueless male
that I sometimes am, replied with a flip answer because I
had no better one. "They're trying to get here. It is
just that none of them are willing to stop and ask for directions.
They're probably circling the neighborhood even as I speak!"
Everyone would laugh (yes, the women laughed and the 3 guys
So I asked other people in my industry what they thought
was going on. The explanation most often given was that women
are more open minded, more eager to learn, and more capable
of change; and the corollary, that men are more narrow minded,
resistant to learning, and inflexible when it comes to change.
But when I dug deeper, I find that the truth of it had more
to do with the times themselves.
A man's place in business was more assured (at that time),
so there was less motivation to attend a training program.
His work was advancement. A woman's place in business (at
that time) was uncertain, as a whole plethora of opportunities
were opening up. Women were moving into new careers, new professions
and new fields of endeavor at an unprecedented pace, boldly
going where no (wo)man had gone before, and were much more
motivated to acquire the skills necessary to make those moves
and take on those challenges.
And there were more women looking for relationships, too.
In part, I suspect, because the sudden freedom to choose the
kind of life they wanted had led many to divorce unfaithful,
inattentive and unappreciative husbands to try again. Many
of them felt burned and distrustful, but were still in the
mode of finding out what they really wanted, and open to exploring
their options. The men, now abandoned and left behind, also
felt burned and distrustful, and being clueless about women
wanted, decided to wait until they found out.
Improve Communication with Everyone
These days, the numbers seem to have evened up substantially
in my audiences. Nobody has job security anymore, and men
as well as women are trying to learn what they can to keep
their options open. And as younger people have entered the
workforce, they seem to have brought less bias with them regarding
the abilities of men and women at work, and they come to training
programs in fairly equal numbers. That's not to say that they
are unbiased in their perceptions of each other. But then,
some of our biases and stereotypes have been built over generations,
and will likely take generations to change.
I think the most useful idea on how to improve communication
between the genders is to improve communication, period. The
more men learn about how to communicate with people, the greater
the likelihood of their success in building relationships
with women. And the more women learn about how to communicate
effectively with people, the greater the likelihood of their
success in building relationships with men.
Whether man or woman, the same skills apply. So here are
four clues to help.
Start with useful assumptions.
Resolve conflict creatively.
Use persuasion to win hearts, hands and minds.
Let's examine these clues, one at a time.
1. Start with useful assumptions.
There are two kinds of assumptions you can make. Limiting
and useful ones.
Limiting assumptions are the ones that hold you back, tie
you up, and trap you into self defeating and counterproductive
behavior. Limiting assumptions are the ones you get to be
right about, but there is no advantage gained.
A useful assumption is something that gives you enough informed
perspective that when you base your behavior on it, it takes
you somewhere you want to go. You have to assume something.
Whatever you assume, you will get to be right about it. So
why not assume something useful instead of limiting?
2. Build trust.
Communication happens in a framework of trust. And trust
is rarely given. More often, it has to be earned. We earn
trust by meeting people where they are, taking an interest
in what they mean by what they say, seeking to understand
where they are coming from and where they are going, and speaking
authentically along the way.
3. Resolve conflict creatively.
The basic rule of relationships whenever the potential for
conflict or disagreement exists is that 'Nobody cooperates
with anybody who seems to be against them.' In human relationships,
it turns out that you're either 'with me or against me.' It's
a binary mandate that happens at an emotional unconscious
level, and for the emotional/unconsciously driven person,
it must be obeyed. But you don't have to respond in a binary
manner, on or off, yes or no. Creative conflict is about exploring
and creating options. The more options you can generate, the
more likely you are to find one that's satisfying to all parties
4. Use persuasion to win hearts, hands and minds.
Persuasion is the deliberate attempt to influence the attitude
of others to bring about a desired result. It requires some
insight into human thought, feeling and behavior. To be persuasive,
you must understand the motivations, needs and beliefs of
another person, and then speak to those needs and engage those
motivations without threatening those beliefs. In this way,
you enter into a zone of acceptance, where the walls come
down and the information flows from low quality to high quality.
That's how women and men can get a clue. Both in the office
and in relationships. They may not be any better at reading
each other, but they'll certainly be more aware that there's
something worth reading, and have a shot at getting to it
©Dr. Rick Kirschner. This article may be reprinted
without any changes, as long as the author biography and links
remain intact. Dr. Kirschner is a bestselling author, speaker,
trainer and coach, a faculty member with the Institute for
Management Studies, and adjunct faculty at Southwest College
of Naturopathic Medicine. Client organizations include Heineken,
Providence Health, NASA, Starbucks, Texas Instruments and
Toyota. Appearances on CNBC, CBC, Fox, NPR; Interviews and
reviews in Wired Magazine, Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Most recent work is the 8 CD audio series, book and workbook
'INSIDER'S GUIDE TO THE ART OF PERSUASION: Use Your Influence
To Change Your World