And many a male who is unhappy with a restaurant’s food or service will become quiet and just think, “I’m never coming back to this dump again,” whilst he vicariously through his spouse’s laying into that establishment verbally (even as the man is embarrassed by it).
Ten years ago I saw my wife in action, when after having life-saving emergency surgery and a paranoid psychotic reaction to the anesthesia, I called her and said, “You gotta get me out of here, they’re trying to do something to me.” Within fifteen minutes my wife (with no medical background) came in and took charge (similar to how Shirley Maclaine’s character took charge of her terminally ill adult child played by Debra Winger in “Terms of Endearment.” I remember watching her protective intervention in action with astonishment and the cover pulled up to my eyes and after which, while still paranoid, I lowered the covers to tell her, “You are scoring amazing points with me right now.”
Why is it that men will defer and look to a woman to fight for them, whether it’s to keep a caller from wasting a CEO’s valuable time or to have a wife jump into a den of nurses to help her paranoid husband?
Men will actually go mano a mano with other men in many fights, but when it comes to something that the man deems a waste of his time, beneath him, petty, embarrassing or humiliating, he will prefer a woman to step in (unconsciously thinking this is not a job for a man, but for my “super b-tch” protector).
On the other hand, CEO’s, men and husbands don’t like it when the women in their lives fight them or point out in an unsolicited manner the myriad of ways they can improve themselves or could have done something better. And although these men know that nearly all those suggestions are for their betterment, most men do not take too kindly when they are offered such input without their asking.
Regarding another double standard, I was also thinking that a high performing man who is tenacious, pushy and unrelenting who stops one step short of being a bully is often admired and even rewarded for that aggressive behavior. On the other hand a high performing woman who is tenacious, pushy and unrelenting is almost invariably seen as “b-tchy” even if she is not trying to bully anyone.
What often causes women to act that way is that many of them suffer from “anticipatory pushback.” This means that if a woman wants to make a point or even a suggestion, she anticipates that someone will push back even before she gets a word out. Anticipating that response, can cause her to feel “uptight” before she starts to communicate. To make matters worse, that uptightness is viewed by her male counterparts as being coiled to pounce when ironically her uptightness is in reaction to her anticipation that whatever she says will be ignored, dismissed, discarded, disregarded or demeaned.
And what about the man’s point of view? One man told me that a pushy woman makes him uncomfortable because as he said, “It’s not right to hit a girl.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “If and when things escalate between you and another man, you don’t consciously think of it coming to a fist fight, but if it escalates enough, those kind of dares and threats are not uncommon. But with a woman, if it starts to escalate and you know that hitting her is not an option (which is sadly not believed by physically abusive men), you can reach a point of explosiveness that is unbearable.”
So what is the answer? Is there a way that women can effectively stand up to men for the benefit of their organization without being dismissed or just plain dissed?
I like to build on my friend Marshall Goldsmith’s sage advice to focus on the future that nobody has messed up (or gotten into an argument over). By having a pre-emptive, anticipatory conversation with people you’re likely to get into one of these awful confrontations with.
To do that as a woman (or anyone who wants to avoid unpleasantness in the future) say to the man or group of men you have in mind, “Going forward, in the event that I notice something or have something to say that might help us to be more successful in an initiative or help us avoid doing something too risky, what is the best way for me to bring it up?”
Then take out a pad of paper and write down exactly what they say. After they finish telling you (which means they are committing to letting you speak up in the future), say, “I apologize, but this is so important for me to get exactly right to avoid future problems, here is what I heard you say… (then read verbatim what they said back to them). Did I get that exactly right?”
Then pause and wait for each of them to give you a confirmatory, “Yes,” which will further their commitment to letting you speak up and speak back to them in the future.
Then when the moment comes up to speak up, pull out that piece of paper and say, “If memory serves, and I even wrote it down, you (or all of you) told me that if I had something to say to make us more successful or prevent us from doing something too risky, that I should go about it by (then read what you wrote down). Did I hear you (or all of you) correctly?”
Then using all your presence of mind to not escalate in your tone, pause and wait for them to respond, “Yes, that is what we told you.”
Then reply, “Great than using what you told me, might I say something?”
Having the presence of mind to exercise such self-restraint will not only gain you their attention, but it is likely to gain you some respect, both from them and you after you handle the situation this way.