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Men are From Mars

Newsletter • volume 1 • number 8

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (1) is the intriguing title of a current New York Times bestseller authored by John Gray, a neighbor of ours in Marin County, California. The ideas in his book confirm many of our own experiences in relationships, and have relevance to principles we teach in two of our seminars ­Interviewing Today's ® Workforce and Diversity at Work.

Gray's basic premise is that men and women are brought up so differently, it's almost as if they come from different planets, i.e. Mars and Venus. This drastically different upbringing results in very different communication styles, which lead to frequent and considerable misunderstandings. Here are some examples of what he means.

In communication, men use their left brain to think before they speak. They review ideas in a linear fashion, then figure out the most accurate or useful response. Women, however, have a greater capacity to draw on both sides of the brain because they have 40% more connectors between the left and right brain. As a result women draw on feelings, intuition and seemingly random thoughts when communicating. This can be confusing to the man who is waiting for the woman to simply "get to the point."

This observation runs parallel to what we see happening between high and low-context cultures. The tendency of Middle Eastern or Hispanic people, high-context cultures, to talk around a point and be less direct is often confusing to Americans or Northern Europeans, low-context cultures.

Gray also discusses the fact that women place a greater value on relationships and harmony in their lives. This is similar to high-context cultures. Men, and low-context cultures, are more analytical, tending to value their fact-finding and problem solving abilities.

This brings us to the different ways in which men and women, and low and high-context cultures, address personal problems. When a man hears about a problem, he feels frustrated unless he can do something to solve it. Thus, he will mistakenly offer solutions to a woman who is describing a problem. According to Gray, the woman doesn't want a quick solution to her problem, she wants understanding and validation of her feelings. In personal relationships, women talk about problems to get close, and not necessarily to get solutions.

As we point out in both of our seminars, the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Senate hearings provided a dramatic example of how this type of misunderstanding leads to miscommunication. Senator Grassley of Iowa, one of the fifteen white male Senators on the panel, was questioning Judge Hoerchner, a female judge testifying on behalf of Anita Hill. Senator Grassley could not believe that Judge Hoerchner was truly a friend of Anita Hill's "since she did not offer her any advice at that time." In fact, Judge Hoerchner said she "just wanted to listen and comfort Anita Hill." We use this example of miscommunication between genders to illustrate what people experience when they lack knowledge about cross-cultural, or in this case, cross-gender differences.

Since we have now met John Gray and will be attending one of his seminars, we will be looking for more ways of using his ideas to help our clients understand gender and cultural diversity.

1. Gray, John, Ph.D., Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, HarperCollins, New York, 1992.