How We Influence: Strengths and Limitations of Masculine and Feminine Approaches

The prototypical man influences others to do what he wants by “telling” or “commanding.” The prototypical female does so by “persuading.” The advantages of the masculine approach are that it is clear and efficient. Its downsides are that it can shut others down. The advantages of the feminine approach are that it is inclusive and invites buy-in. But it may lack clarity and take more time. Women using the masculine approach can be caught in the double bind.

Ambition: Do Women Have It? Power: Do Women Want It?

Is one reason that women aren’t proportionally represented at the leadership level in business because they lack the ambition or interest in power to be there? This question was debated a decade ago. Some women have ambition and want power in the masculine way. Other women simply define these terms differently. Typical female behaviors of avoiding taking credit or tooting her own horn mask ambition. Women who do appear ambitious are often caught in the “double bind.” To achieve gender diversity in leadership, we must broaden our definitions of “power” and “ambition.”

What Women Must Do to Get to the Top: Walk a Tight Rope and Chew Gum

I usually focus on what leaders can do to create inclusive cultures and achieve gender diversity in leadership. Women themselves can do things to improve their odds of reaching the top. To be seen as leaders, be heard and get credit for accomplishments they must do some “masculine” things–speak up, act confident, take risks, ask for what they want, toot their horns. But if they act “too” masculine, they will be caught in the double bind. Avoiding the double bind while demonstrating leadership can be like walking a tightrope and chewing gum!

Masculine-Feminine Difference: How Max and Fran Use Humor

Most people agree that men and women find different things funny and use humor differently. Max, our prototype for the masculine approach at work pokes fun at others to demonstrate his own status and that he likes the other. Fran, representing the feminine approach uses humor to create connections and smooth things out. She is unlikely to poke fun at another and more likely to poke fun at herself.

Masculine-Feminine Difference: How Max and Fran Handle Conflict

Another workplace area where masculine and feminine approaches differ is How We Handle Conflict. The masculine way (represented by our prototype Max) is Direct; the feminine way (represented by the prototype Fran) is Indirect. There are physiological and cultural roots to these differences. Max has more testosterone, associated with aggression; Fran has more oxytocin, which drives her to value relationships over winning. Max grew up playing games of conflict, Fran games of relationships. Healthy conflict management is not a strength in many workplaces. A balance of masculine and feminine approaches is involved in healthy conflict resolution.

Masculine-Feminine Difference: How Max and Fran Talk–continued

Differences in how the prototypical male (Max) and prototypical female (Fran) talk at work is linked to foundational differences in the masculine and feminine worldview. Max sees himself as competing for status in a hierarchy–and so speaks confidently and assertively. Fran sees herself as part of a network of relationships–and so speaks in ways to maintain relationships. This area has the “double bind” trap for women. If a women speaks “Max,” she may be seen as uppity. There are nonverbal versions of the two languages that Max and Fran speak. Fran’s female brain picks up on more nonverbal cues. She uses nods and smiling more and is more likely to talk face to face with lots of eye contact.