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The next workplace area where we’ll explore on the masculine-feminine continuum is “How We Influence”. Max and Fran, prototypes of masculine and feminine approaches, each represent one side of the continuum. On Max’s side is “Command”; on Fran’s side is “Persuade.”

The foundational difference between the masculine and feminine view of “self in the world” is that Max sees himself as an individual in a hierarchy while Fran sees herself as part of a network of relationships. In a hierarchy, people at higher levels have more power than those at lower levels; in a network, power is spread more equally. In a hierarchy, those higher in status tell those below them what to do. They may speak politely, but they express what they want clearly and directly. This form of influence doesn’t work as well in a network, where preserving relationships matters more than status. Influence is done by persuading, a more indirect form in which the influencer doesn’t hold himself or herself above the one being influenced.

Commanding is the best (maybe the only) form of influence that works in some situations—when there is limited time or urgency or when consistency is important. In battle, the commander doesn’t have time to solicit input from his soldiers. In a complex surgery, the head surgeon gives orders. If a work team is making beer or tires or computers, they need to do the task exactly as they’ve been told. Persuading is best when others need to feel heard and involved and when creativity and buy-in are important.

Fran tends to use persuasion more than Max. In a meeting of peers, Max may introduce his idea directly and confidently by saying something like, “What we need to do is xyz.” Even if Fran is confident about her idea, she may say something more like, “I’ve been thinking; what do you think about trying xyz?” Even at home, Max tends to speak more directly about he wants, saying, “It’s hot; please open the window” while Fran may say, “Are you too warm?” If she wants to stop for coffee, Fran may say, “Would you like to stop for coffee?” while Max would simply say that he wants to stop.

If Fran speaks with confidence and tells someone else what to do, particularly another woman or a peer, she may be caught in a double bind: using persuasion, she may be seen as weak, but if she gives commands, she may be seen as bossy or arrogant.

Have you seen these differences? When do you think each works best? Share your examples in a comment!