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Men and women: Dancing the 'gender dance'

Tuesday, July 30, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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merron headBy Keith Merron

For 10 years, as part of Barbara Annis and Associates, I have been leading workshops designed to help men and women become more gender intelligent.

We discuss the natural differences between the genders and how to use these differences to collective advantage. In these workshops, a dance emerges — a hidden play of fear, ego and intimacy.

In the beginning, the men show up a bit scared, though they do not know it. They mask their fear with humor, bravado, distance and activity. They don’t connect, and if they do, it’s on the surface.

The women want to connect to the men, but their efforts initially fall short. They are disappointed, so they focus on the other women.

The men don’t know their fear and certainly don’t go inward to find out much about it. Fear is ever-present to the women, and ever-hidden to the men. The women don’t speak about it, because they have navigated the waters of the male ego for so long that it’s just there. They have long learned what triggers the male ego and have found strategies to avoid it.

Fearing vulnerability

The men fear intimacy and being vulnerable. They fear being incompetent or losing control. Being strong and capable are important parts of the male psyche and biology. I know this because I’m a man and have those very same fears.

The women are, for the most part, curious but seeking to play it safe. They know there are golden opportunities in the exploration of their inner selves, but won’t go there until they know they will be heard, understood and respected.

Women, like men, fear speaking their full truth because they don’t know if it will be accepted. They fear the same intimacy that men fear, but for different reasons.

Men fear intimacy because they would be vulnerable and seen as weak. Women fear intimacy because it may not be understood — especially by men who see it as a weakness, and not the strength it is. Women are unsure if it is "okay to be me" in a business world that appears to want them to act "like a man.”

In the beginning, there is some humor around the differences between men and women. Some of the laughter is self-deprecating. Most of it comes from men uncomfortable about the topic, but some women laugh, too. Others see the humor for what it is — a mask to hide discomfort.

Familiar dance

The dance that emerges between the men and the women in our workshops is something to behold. Each reaches out to the other with a desire to understand each other’s differences. Most recognize that by understanding these differences they can grow and develop.

Little by little, the men let their guard down, admit their vulnerability and discover they are not alone. And little by little, the women let their guard down and meet the kind and genuine men beneath the surface. Over time, they share their pain and find it met with understanding instead of judgment.

The dance quickens as discoveries unfold. Each discovery brings a new appreciation for the other gender, and a new acceptance of self. As this occurs, the initial titters and small talk are replaced with straight talk and acceptance. And finally we arrive, aware of our differences, welcoming those differences and, every now and then, even relishing in them.

In our gender intelligence workshops, I’ve learned that men and women all want to be heard, honored and valued for their unique gifts. Deep down, we all want to go beneath the surface of our fears and find our true inner strength.

Dr. Keith Merron is a senior associate at Barbara Annis & Associates, part of a team challenging the prevailing paradigms of business. An author of a number of books, along with Barbara Annis, on leadership and organization life, he is co-authoring a seminal book on gender relations in the workplace called The Gender Intelligent Organization. He also writes a column about conscious leadership for Real Leaders.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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