Women Get No Respect
In my experience, women in Japan are rarely taken seriously as professionals . Their insights, ideas and opinions are not often sought after by their bosses. Passivity and order taking are encouraged and the old axiom about women in the workplace there to be "bedded or wedded" doesn’t seem to have changed much, since I arrived here in the late 1970’s.
Among most businessmen, being confident and asserting your opinion, is seen as forthright and generally admired. The same attributes in a woman are scorned – "harridan" is probably one of the more polite descriptors. Of course it is wrong, unfair, biased, discriminatory, outrageous and by the way, good luck waiting for men to change!
While you are waiting, here are some useful ideas pioneered by Dale Carnegie over 100 years ago, on how to hold your ground when disagreeing with men and to avoid being stereotyped, excluded, ignored or dismissed. Learn how to maintain your viewpoint, and be seen as a business professional with a valuable insight into any problem.
"During disagreements women are more emotional than men". Really? In my observation men are quick to emotion too – they express it as anger, frustration, short tempers, swearing, nasty comebacks, vicious one-upmanship etc. Generally speaking when we are way too fast in our response to another’s differing opinion we get ourselves into trouble.
The usual speaking speed is 150-200 words per minute, but our listening capacity is closer to 600 words. In that gap, we are thinking very quickly, picking up the threads of where a conversation is going and can find ourselves perfectly ready to weigh in and disagree with our interlocutor. We are often so quick, we manage to cut them off before they have finished and through either words or body language, we strongly signal our dismissal of their position.
While we can admire the speed and efficiency of all this latent brainpower, this is not particularly effective. For most men, as soon as they hear the vaguest hint of a "no", "but", "however", or sense rejection, or disagreement etc., they just stop listening and their brains go into overdrive with all the reasons you are wrong and he is right. We really add fuel to flame because often we blurt out the "no" or "but" and then haplessly try to supply the valid reason. The latter just simply goes unheard as the man goes temporarily deaf and totally concentrates on formulating his spiffy comeback.
So the first thing we all have to learn to do is to sloooow down. When you want to disagree with a man’s idea, suggestion, recommendation or policy don’t jump in – wait until he has exhausted all he wants to say. For clever, high paced people this can be excruciating. Think of all the people you know who can very handily finish your sentences for you. Hey, maybe you are an expert sentence finisher yourself for others? Be patient!
We need to put a "cushion" between the last word they speak and the main body of our rebuttal. This is only a few seconds, say 4 or 5, so it does not seem to be an unnatural delay in proceedings. What we are doing here is stopping ourselves from blurting out the very first thing that comes into our head. This "blurt’ is rarely the best structured or considered response.
How do we arrange that cushion and appear completely natural? It is simple – we vocalise a comment, while we are thinking at the same time, about what we want to say. The comment however has to be such that it does not inflame the disagreement. We make a remark that neither agrees nor disagrees with his opinion and one which is almost impossible to argue with.
For example, you hear his comment on your wonderful new shiny idea: "There is no way we have budget for an expense like that at this time of the year – really what are you thinking making a ridiculous suggestion like that?"
Hearing this, we may contemplate going into gunplay at close quarters and start blazing away, denouncing this affront on our person and his temerity in dismissing our idea.
This is when we need the cushion. What we say is something like this: "You make a very good point, that how we allocate the budget is a critical decision for the company". Hard one to argue with, it buys you valuable thinking time and better prepares you for what you are now going to say.
By the way, in those few seconds we need to quickly re-visit the possibility we could be wrong, to enquire to ourselves why we hold the opinion we do, and to consider our position before making a response. Can we do all that in 5 seconds – actually we can without much difficulty.
Before venturing forth with our counter to his opinion, we play a clever move, not dissimilar to castling in chess – we change the goalposts on him. We don’t launch into a comeback featuring sparkling revelations as to why we are totally justified in holding that position. We tell a story instead. Most blokes are pretty simple, so even they can usually follow a story.
This story is actually an artfully disguised context for our opinion. We add into the story names, dates places, events, incidents etc., especially things he is familiar with – we make it real for him. We weave a tale that fleshes out why we have come to the conclusion we have, based on what we know about the situation.
It is very, very difficult for him to argue with context. How we might interpret the context is another matter, but often inside that story, which we have stocked carefully with evidence, sits the keys to persuasion. We may bring up certain information, about which he had no idea or we may show a different angle, based on evidence that he had not considered.
This whole process will take less than two minutes, and at the end we again note the action we recommend and the benefit that will avail everyone if our advice is followed – this close takes about 10 seconds.
Back to the example:
"There is no way we have budget for an expense like that at this time of the year – really what are you thinking making a ridiculous suggestion like that?"
"You make a very good point, that how we allocate the budget is a critical decision for the company".
Incident with Evidence
"I was talking to Bill the CFO after the phone conference last Thursday afternoon, and he mentioned that there was an internal rebate on certain expenditures, but they only applied if we got the paperwork in, with receipts presented by the end of September. He gave me the example of our branch in Denmark, who had been able to fund a major project study off the rebate, and this set them up nicely for their business plan for the new financial year. They increased revenues by 30% in the first quarter of the year as a result. I was impressed when he told me that we could do the same thing, but only if we moved fast.".
Action and Benefit
"That is why I have suggested we make this expenditure now because by accessing the existing residual monies we will halve the total cost of this project , which we all agreed we should do and get a major head start as we kick off the new financial year".
The keys are being able to cushion first and then switch into the story (backed up with evidence) and then tie the bow with the action and benefit piece.
So before you launch forth with your rebuttal to his stupid, ill conceived, half baked, rude, ludicrous and inaccurate comment on your idea, hit him with your cushion and set yourself up for some persuasion power. Start bracing yourself to be treated as a professional by men!