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‘Head’ case: Why men don’t speak from the heart

Tuesday, November 18, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Keith Merron

Not long ago, I was a featured speaker at a conference. Others spoke with great passion about their area of expertise. Their drive, desire and care was evident. Particularly noticeable, however, were the different styles in which men and women spoke. While the women seemed to speak from their heads and hearts and allowed themselves to be vulnerable, the men seemed to speak from their neck up.

As men, we are taught from an early age to cut off from our feelings. As boys, it is commonplace to hear things like "get some hair on your chest” or "be a man” or "grow some balls” or "don't be such a girl.” When there are feelings, we are taught to put them aside so that they "don’t get in the way.” Women, on the other hand, are taught to experience and express their feelings.

Related: "Men: Mind the gender gap”

Even when an adult man expresses his feelings, especially vulnerable ones, other men swiftly communicate their displeasure, disdain and judgment, either overtly or covertly with a glare, by looking away or physically moving away. When young boys look at older, seemingly mature men, they notice men don’t express tender and vulnerable feelings very often. 

What lurks beneath the surface

This male "neck up” way of communicating might work just fine in a business context and hardly be noticeable if men worked only with other men. However, it becomes a problem when feelings are relevant and even more of a problem in the presence of women, who respond much more fully when communications are full-head and full-heart. Women seem to appreciate men more when men drop their ego façade and act in a more genuine, vulnerable and fully authentic way.

Most men know this, but we remain the same, speaking with passion from the head up. When there are feelings, we only allow the positive ones, or sometimes anger, to be expressed. Women more often see and feel below the surface, and recognize men’s tender and protected feelings. But they rarely speak about them directly to a man, because when they do, men often get defensive.

The question is: What to do? 

Men, if you experience yourself withdrawing, feeling aggressive, tense, angry, depressed, in heavy judgment or reaction, recognize that underneath those feelings are even deeper feelings. Almost always there is hurt, sadness, fear or a sense of threat.

Men who explore their inner world and face themselves know this and own their "stuff” rather than live in the illusion that "nothing is wrong.” They face the deeper pain, hurt and insecurity that is almost always a reflection of their childhood unresolved wounds. They get support from other men in men’s groups, workshops or commit to therapy. They become truly solid as men, as opposed to giving the illusion they are solid.

Women, when you feel men close to you stay on the surface, gently invite them to look deeper, not because they are a problem, but from a place of desire to see and connect to more of who he is. Then wait and listen deeply. Often I see women look at men with disdain as they fail to recognize their own deeper patterns. Women often get impatient, expect a man to behave like a woman and be emotionally adept. Sometimes, hearing a man share his vulnerability can be scary for a woman. As a result, women can communicate with judgment and men are then even less likely to feel safe enough to share openly. These very same women do not recognize that they are contributing to the very phenomena they seek to change.

So women, I ask you to look at your own fears, pain and insecurity about men and do your work as well, so that you can meet men with an embrace rather than a judgmental glare.

Dr. Keith Merron is a senior associate at Barbara Annis & Associates, part of a team challenging the prevailing paradigms of business. He is the author of a number of books on leadership and organization life. The most recent is Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line, co-authored with Barbara Annis. 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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