10 Tips for Men to Communicate Better with Female Coworkers

Gender Cooperation Workshops

It may surprise you – as it did me –that there are still times when men have difficulty finding common ground with their female colleagues. There’s always work to talk about, right? But many men feel they can’t connect with women like they can with other guys, by inviting them for an after-work beer or talking about last night’s football game.

Often they’re afraid of their approach being misconstrued or that other colleagues might look askance on them for mentoring emerging female leaders. As a result, some professional relationships suffer and the team doesn’t work quite as efficiently as it could. Men and women both miss out on opportunities to build advantageous new connections in their industries.

If that sounds familiar, here are ten tips to help men connect with female colleagues:

  1. Be authentic in every interaction. Nothing creates “awkward” like a coworker who thinks you’re trying to be something you’re not.
  2. Listen. Ask more questions in conversations, and comment to show you’re engaged and interested.
  3. Identify topics to talk about – like world news, culture and industry trends – rather than relying on typical small talk about work and sports.
  4. Family is always a safe area. Parents love to talk about their kids and this can provide you with common ground to bond over.
  5. Don’t view attractive female colleagues as something to be avoided. Think of them as sisters or girls you grew up with and treat them like anyone else.
  6. Don’t worry about how you’re being perceived by others. Focus on learning from your coworkers and collaborating to create the best possible results.
  7. Come up with networking goals before conferences and events. For instance, decide you’re going to meet three new professionals in your industry and learn three specific facts about their background and current position.
  8. Praise coworkers on their professional abilities or share a technique that’s brought you success. Remember tip 2 – listen more than talk.
  9. Don’t stick to your clique at work. Attend some of the social team-building events to meet new coworkers at all levels and build genuine connections.
  10. Don’t assume your new female contact is less accomplished or educated, or needs your assistance. What you might view as “help” might be perceived as condescension. Get to know her background and treat her as a peer, not a subordinate.

Remember, most of your coworkers want to minimize awkward moments, too. Authentic and positive work relationships benefit everyone – and if you reach out to women in your workplace and industry in a respectful way, that’s exactly what you’ll build.

We’re Not in High School Anymore: Moving From the “In Crowd” to Inclusive

Inclusive

The workplace can feel exactly like high school. You have the class brain that has the right answer in every meeting. The bored employee who likes to sit in the back, play with their phone and hope they don’t get called on. The social butterflies who are on every committee, organizing baby showers and charity events.  And of course, you also have the jocks.

Ah yes, the jocks. Let’s think about their role in high school. Usually they’re the most visible of all the students, eclipsing even the valedictorian and the troublemakers. They attract a lot of attention from fellow students, teachers and even people around town who come to their games. As such, they usually have the confidence to express themselves openly and they tend to launch trends or set cultural norms, like how to dress, act, or even how to greet each other. (e.g. “Hey man, how’d it go last night?”) While some students resent the jock’s popularity, others admire and emulate their behavior.

And of course, many jocks – accidentally or on purpose — intimidate or exclude those who don’t conform. The outsiders who don’t comply with the code of popularity often feel marginalized or even bullied.

That about sums up the jock archetype, right? I think we can admit that we’ve all seen these dynamics play out in the workplace as well.

Here’s the thing, though. In some ways, those high school jocks are as invisible as the class wallflowers. No, really. The jock archetype is so defined and well known, the spotlight so intense, that all the other traits are often lost in the shadows. This doesn’t always become visible until after graduation. I realized this when I thought about the athletes I knew in school; one went on to be a famous animation designer, while another followed a spiritual calling and became a pastor. And another jock started a hair salon.

These classmates went off the prescribed jock trajectory  – and it makes me wonder if they too felt limited or silenced in high school by the one-dimensional stereotypes assigned to them. It’s quite possible they didn’t feel able to express their true interests. Which makes me wonder if the workplace is just as limiting. Would our “jock-like” colleagues (or any colleagues for that matter) appreciate the ability to expand and exhibit other qualities? Are we too quick to assign roles to our coworkers and exclude or interpret accordingly?

For instance, if we view our project manager as the humorless “class brain” who never stops working, we may exclude that person from team-building happy hours. Or if we think of the sales team as a bunch of gregarious socializers, we might dismiss a complex product idea that comes out of that corner. It’s all too easy to quickly label an employee’s strengths and cast them into an eternal role, instead of encouraging growth and allowing for multi-dimensional interests. Let’s take the case for gender in the workplace, women may not always fit into the male-dominated jock culture (even if they were jocks themselves) and that can foster misperception, create a culture that makes women feel excluded, and ultimately lead to a lack of diverse leadership within an organization.

And it doesn’t only apply to gender. When one strong culture prevails in a workplace, everyone may feel obligated to play the same role, instead of exhibiting his or her own unique gifts and contributions. This article by Jim Dougherty explores how one office came to be dominated by “jock culture” and performed poorly. It wasn’t because workplace jocks are inherently bad; it was because the one-note focus on a certain interest (in this case, sports) created a damaging insularity that drove outsiders to disengage or leave the company. Eventually, the team performance withered without diverse points of view.

Groupthink is the opposite of innovation. Don’t get me wrong, cliques spring up in every big workplace. But when a good portion of your team feels disregarded because they don’t fit in with the prevailing vibe – or when they feel they must stifle parts of themselves to be accepted — productivity suffers. That wonderful synergy that comes from professionals of different backgrounds and interests blending their efforts never gets the chance to happen.

Take a look at your workplace and the roles your colleagues are playing. Maybe some of them would like to expand those roles, make surprising contributions or explore new development areas. So often when we think about talent, we think about finding the right people – but all too often there’s an untapped goldmine waiting right in our own office.

 

 

Traits of Global Leader Part 2: Be Mindful

In my recent post, Traits of Global Leader Part 1: Know Thyself, I introduced my theory that great global leaders have two essential sets of traits: awareness of self and awareness of others. That first post explored the awareness of self, including understanding your personal brand, sticking to what you believe, and how these two traits affect public perception of you as a leader.

Now we’re going to move on to awareness of others. This doesn’t mean that great leaders are universally liked. As a recent Inc. article on leadership explained, “Great leaders aren’t always the most likable people. In the long run, great leaders recognize that their job is to get people to do things they might not want to do, in order to achieve goals they want to achieve.”

In a nutshell, your goal as a global leader should be to earn respect by doing the right thing and making the hard decisions that benefit your organization. At the same time, you don’t want to alienate your employees — so be sure to demonstrate empathy and understanding, even while reaffirming your role as a strong leader.

Of course, many leaders assume they’re already aware of others in every way that matters, but there are two practices that can deepen every leader’s ability to connect with others.

Listen to People

Plenty of leaders like to talk, but the best leaders realize the value in listening. The problem is, a huge part of being a good listener is acknowledging you don’t know everything, recognizing when you don’t know something and allowing someone else to fill you in—a tall order for many in leadership roles.

Once you can get over the fact that you’re not always the most informed person on a particular subject, you might be surprised by how much you learn. There’s a less obvious reward too: the enhanced respect that comes from giving your employees an opportunity to shine.

This is especially important when critical or difficult decisions must be made. Sure, you could just make the decisions yourself, but by opening up the conversation to others on your team you can gain valuable insight and discover fresh angles. More importantly, you give your employees a chance to be a part of the decision-making process, which recognizes their value and allows them to become invested in the outcome.

As TV host Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Broaden Your Reach

When was the last time you talked to an entry-level employee or visited a far-flung office or division? Traveled around to store locations? Rolled up your sleeves to help with a small project? To many employees in your organization you may just be a name at the top of an organization chart, or the office where major decisions are made – and that needs to change.

Great leaders are more than just a name. They’re a symbol and a source of encouragement, stability and expertise for employees. So don’t hide — get out there and meet your people and get a taste of their daily lives at work.

Best Buy’s CEO, Hubert Joly, epitomizes this notion. When he took over as Best Buy’s CEO in 2012, he spent a week working as a floor employee at a Minnesota Best Buy store, helping customers, restocking shelves and going on Geek Squad calls.

I had a similar experience when I started my project with the global, Swedish-owned furniture giant, Ikea. They asked me to work for two days in a store to understand fully what an employee’s day was like. I worked the cashier, lugging furniture in the warehouse, in floor design, sales, and in the back offices. It was a phenomenal experience and taught me a lot about Ikea’s company culture.

I think Kasper Rorsted, head of global manufacturer Henkel, perfectly stated the importance of being available as a leader in a recent interview with McKinsey. He said: “I am convinced that a visible and accessible leadership style is most effective. My door is open; I encourage colleagues to call me directly. Our employees know who I am and what I’m doing. I eat with employees in our canteens whenever I am traveling or here at headquarters. You cannot run a global company from your desk. That’s why I spend around 170 days per year abroad, meeting employees—from top executives to young high-potential individuals—as well as customers and business partners.”

To close this two-parter, I’ll encourage you to remember that everything leaders do has a trickle-down effect. Be mindful of your actions and relationships, because your colleagues and your employees will emulate what you do. Successful organizations need inspiring leaders. Be the confident, self-aware and empathetic leader your employees want, and they will follow your example.

Want to approach your workplace with more Global Savviness? Ask these 3 Essential Questions

When you take a vacation to a different country, you spend a lot of time researching the culture -everything from the food to cultural customs such as tipping in restaurants or conducting yourself at historic sites. So why shouldn’t you do the same when looking to expand your business?

As you look into market potential, labor costs and building codes, don’t ignore the cultural implications of doing business in that country. Research what cultural, ethical and legal differences exist, and come up with a strategy to navigate them. Building respectful, culturally appropriate relationships is crucial to the success of your new venture.

One idea: to help develop global savviness, find locals to be your guide. When searching for consultants, accountants or law firms in the new country, for example, look for firms that have previous experience helping foreign companies make a successful transition. Make contacts in expat business communities or look for government or economic agencies that specialize in international relations.

As you make these connections, there are three vital questions you should ask to ensure your business doesn’t run afoul of hidden traditions, considerations or business practices.

1.     How are contracts negotiated, structured and agreed upon?

Business laws and contract requirements vary wildly across the globe. Besides the differences in ethical, legal and structural requirements, there are often specific cultural conventions in play. For example, in some Latin American regions, a verbal commitment and a handshake is more important than the paper. In fact, too much emphasis on a paper contract could turn off potential business contacts because they view a verbal commitment as being more trustworthy. Finding the right legal representation in the country is key to handling this process correctly.

2.     What expectations do employees have about office culture?

In the US, cube farms are so plentiful, they have become a part of our culture (and our pop culture). However, cubes are not necessarily an accepted office setup in other countries. As I discussed in No Such Thing As Small Talk, 7 Keys to Understanding German Business Culture, in Germany, legally, employees must be able to look out a window. It’s also more common for Germans to work quietly at their tables so they don’t need the noise buffer of cubical walls. When they do have conversations, they’ll move to a meeting room or take a break in the coffee corner. (They don’t spend as much time speaking with others while working as we do here in America.) Ignoring these cultural differences can result in confusion and even foster aversion to cooperation.

3.     What are the unique HR considerations we need to consider?

So many cultural aspects affect your HR policies and procedures in a new country, from hiring practices and acceptable interview questions to the employee holiday calendar. In the US, we have guidelines about what you can and can’t ask during the application or interview process. But these restrictions don’t exist in other places. In India and some European countries, it’s common for applicants to submit photos and include things like age and marital status.

With some countries, radical cultural differences and cultural sensitivity plays an even bigger role in HR. In South Africa, healthcare plays a large factor. For instance, it’s common to have mandatory HIV testing for employees on the shop floor. And therefore, sadly, funerals are important affairs in South Africa. When an employee requests time off for a death, they can expect to have up to two weeks of leave.

Opening your organization to a global mindset unlocks endless possibilities for professional—and personal—enrichment. But global savviness does not happen overnight; it requires patience, an open mind and above all, respect for those around you.

Contact us for more answers to your questions about global expansion: info@lamsonconsulting.com