Rethinking Diversity & Inclusion

Hey fellas, let’s listen up & communicate! – by Terry Howard

One of the many benefits I enjoy from writing this column is that I get to communicate from up here on my, shall we say, “perch.” From up here, I get to rant and rave, sprinkle dashes of uncomfortableness into conventional wisdom, tweak comfort zones, take folks dangerously close to the end, leave them suspended Wile E. Coyote-like midair, then lasso them in before they plunge over the cliff into the “diversity dangers” that lurk below.From here, I 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, facilitator of a seminar titled “Conquering communications collisions between men and women.” In fact, it was Brown whom I “blame” for the attention-getting title of my column, “When women chit chat, men go nuts!” (By the way, the Aug. 2012 issue of “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,” wrote 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.

Communicate & Listen

This takes us to a Claire Brown seminar. I sat in on a couple of them. Now if you anticipate, are afraid – or even hope – that this seminar deteriorates into male-bashing, force women to act like men, or men to get in touch with their, eh, “feminine side,” sorry to disappoint. That stuff’s a recipe for failure. Workplaces thrive when there’s a balance between the best of the feminine and the masculine and our differences are understood and appreciated. It thrives when both men and women effectively communicate – and listen, really listen.

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. Men have many great things to say about how women listen. Men said that they liked how women can observe subtle nuances. Women are usually more thoughtful and sensitive to how other people communicate, men said. “If Sue didn’t spend time giving every excruciating detail of who said what, who did what, and go on and on, not saying much of anything, Fred could get in there, get the facts, fix the problem and get back to the game. Here, Fred and Sue just need to learn more about listening techniques and their own expectations.”

What Next?

So readers, what thoughts are currently running through your head after digesting what you’ve just read? Who are the potential “Jasons” (or “Jennys”) in your organization and how might you help them get their voices heard and to encourage and support them along their personal journeys? What other questions does all this raise for you?

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 smile at my brilliant handiwork!

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