Hey fellas, let’s listen up! — By Terry Howard

One of the many benefits I enjoy from writing this column is that I get to stir stuff up from up here on my, shall we say, “perch.”From here, I get to rant and rave, sprinkle dashes of the uncomfortable into conventional wisdom and comfort zones, take folks dangerously close to the edge, leave them suspended Wile E. Coyote-like midair, then lasso them in before they plunge over the cliff into the “diversity dangers” that may lurk below. From here, I also get to do some vigorous backpedaling, or source attribution when I need to pass the buck if things get a tad too hot or have the potential to backfire on me.

 

Case in point, watch me right now as I hand off the thorny issue of sweeping stereotypes to Dr. Claire Brown, author of “Conquering communications collisions between men and women.” Remember that it was Brown whom I “blame” for the attention-getting title of my last column, “When women chit chat, men go nuts!” (By the way, the The Wall Street Journal ran an article pointing out that although some may dismiss chit chatting as an unnecessary and annoying waste of time, the practice is essential social grease.)

“Here’s the problem,” writes Brown. “Women expect men to listen more like, well, women. Women invest a lot of time and energy in listening, showing empathy and picking up on the nonverbal cures. A woman wants someone to listen to the issues, mull them over and hear her voice as she contemplates the situation. The process of talking it through is part of the solution. She wants him to listen and hear her concerns and empathize a bit. Then she can move on.”

But how about us men, Dr. Brown?

“Men generally have learned to listen to get the facts, be direct, spit it out, not show emotions, make quick judgments and fix the problem. A man will hear what he thinks is enough information. Problem solved. Let’s move along.”

Stereotypes? You bet. And we definitely need to let go of them. But how about we first acknowledge that women and men are different, underscore that –  are different  – genetically and socially. If you’ve spent any amount of time on planet Earth, hello, you just may have noticed that.

Arguably, one of the best ways to let go of stereotypes is not to ignore them, but to name and neutralize them, then move past them to an inclusive place where all women and men can bring their full selves to work with no barriers – real or imagined – that may get in the way of their full participation and engagement. And part of letting go is a willingness to acknowledge that because men and women are, in fact, different, how we communicate with and listen to each other sometimes has consequences.

According to Brown’s research: “Men and women know how to listen. They just do it differently. And men want women to listen like (imagine this) women. Men and women both agree that women are good listeners.

So readers, what thoughts are currently running through your head after digesting what you’ve just read? What other questions does all this raise for you? Below are some for you to go ponder.

Now, it’s back onto my perch where I’ll wait for the next opportunity to stir stuff up, to rant and rave, to pass the buck if it gets too hot ….. and to smile at my handiwork below!

  1. What is it about me (and them) that causes me to stop listening to others?
  2. What behaviors from others invite me to listen? Which of those do I exhibit?
  3. In what gender-related situations do I choose to be silent and what are the impacts of my choice on the part of someone of both my gender as well as the opposite gender?
  4. What don’t I know about the day-to-day experiences of my opposite gender colleague’s professional life that may be impacting my day-to-day relationship with them?
  5. When I’m in the “safety” of those of my own gender and presented with the opportunity to call out bias against or correct misinformation about someone of the opposite gender, what do I typically do?
  6. To what extent do I listen differently, if I do, to women or men of a different race/ethnicity versus how I listen to men or women of my race/ethnicity? Why could one be easier than the other?

Terry Howard

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and story teller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga New Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Shenandoah Valley Hit, Catalyst, The Echo World, founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com

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