Collaborating and communicating across genders
By understanding cultural differences and similarities, one can develop ways to communicate and collaborate more effectively across genders. The cultures of men and women, like other cultures, are complex, given women and men's great variety, diverse backgrounds, and personal histories. Take the following example involving a foreign manager and his female subordinate from Romania.
By Irina Budrina
Sjors Van der Rijt is a department head of engineering architecture at an international construction company in Romania. Raluca, who graduated from the Polytechnical University with honors in engineering, was eagerly hired about a year ago by this company and was assigned to Sjors’s department. Sjors, recognizing her talent, took her "under his wing" and has worked hard at mentoring her, bringing her in on discussions of special projects, and introducing her around the company.
At first, Raluca appreciated the doors that Sjors was opening for her, but lately has seemed withdrawn and cold in her interactions with him. Sjors has assigned Raluca to make an important presentation to a client. When it was time for Raluca to make the presentation, Sjors went in front of the room with her and, placing his hand on her shoulder for a moment, introduced her somewhat formally but glowingly as one of the shining lights of the company. Raluca seemed visibly disturbed, and after her presentation left the meeting without speaking to her boss.
What do we recommend Van der Rijt, as a manager, in this situation?
Given the variety of possibilities and of cultures, is it realistic to speak of a Culture of Men or a Culture of Women? Traditionally, we look at men and women as subcultures within ethnic or national cultures. However, some people believe that gender cultures are the fundamental starting points around which many of the essential values of a culture are formed.
Every culture offers guidelines on the appropriate ways to be “feminine” or “masculine”. And men and women are expected to behave differently. In some cultures these differences are many and deep, in others they are fewer and smaller, but in all cultures gender differences exist.
Like all values, they can easily become stereotypes and block understanding, rather than starting points for deeper comprehension of each other.
All women or all men within any nationality or ethnicity will not hold the same values with the same intensity, or exhibit the same behaviors as a result of the values they hold. When we speak of gender cultures, it is important to use the information as a starting point for dialogue and discovery, not as a fixed definition of "how we are as men and women."
Core women’s values
Collaboration. Collaborative behaviors include seeking to involve others in decisions, and acknowledging others people's experience and contributions.
Nurturing. Women easily become nurturers in work settings as well as other areas of life. They often anticipate others' needs, and do things for them without being asked.
Group/Family. In work settings, a woman is frequently the one who suggests or conducts teambuilding activities - both formally and informally.
Relationship. Women nurture relationships to achieve personal, work, social, and political goals. Things get done through relationships. A woman may even take more work home because relationship issues take up a good part of her formal working day.
Harmonious Communication. Because relationships are important to survival and success, women often communicate in a less direct manner to avoid disrupting relationships by embarrassing or angering the person with whom they are communicating.
Core men’s Values
Courage (Hero). The man is a brave hunter, an adventurer, a scout, who explores the unknown and comes back with provisions for those for whom he is responsible.
Loyalty (Leader-follower-comrade). A man is faithful to his commitments, sticks to his principles, performs his duties, is loyal to his friends, and true to his word. He observes and enforces the rules, respects his leaders, and understands the responsibilities of rank and file.
Making & Doing (Worker, artisan). He makes things and makes things happen. He should be active, creative and productive even if his business or work is not physical (e.g., politics, teaching, etc.). He should master his trade and his tools. He minds the business.
Play (Sportsman). He is brought up to compete and win as a preparation for his roles in work and life. He is to develop sportsmanship, camaraderie, and team spirit.
Knowledge & Wisdom (Philosopher-poet). A man should be rational, logical, and curious, and prefer sure thinking and clear speaking. He takes things apart in his mind or with his hands to see how they work.
Men and women can be quite adaptable. They can learn to speak and behave in new ways in order to succeed in different situations. This is not always easy, and may cause emotional pain and social consequences. For example, when women start to behave in more "masculine" ways in an attempt to succeed in leadership, management, or other roles, they may feel confusion and stress. The people around them may also have difficulty coping with the change, which may add to their stress. They may have a sense of guilt because they do not see themselves acting in a womanly way, or because they feel they are giving up their own values in order to "fit in." One woman executive said, "I have been very successful in the business world. And when I look at myself in the mirror, I often grieve the loss of my original values and female self." Such a feeling of loss-of-self happens often to both men and women as they adapt from one culture to another.
Feel free to share your stories about how men and women communicate and collaborate in the work environment in Romania - you can either leave a reply to this article, or send an e-mail.
irina-budrina [at] hotmail.com