The clarity and courage of women’s voices is compelling in this #MeToo era. Women are detailing many ways that men have acted and continue to behave inappropriately and disrespectfully toward them. Women are speaking up about their experiences in being assaulted physically and bullied verbally. Women and girls around the world are testifying to the pain coming from some of the men in their lives.
It’s difficult, no doubt, for them to tell their truths. And it’s hard for us as men to listen.
It’s not just about gender, either. The stories that women are sharing speak from the mix of cultures and experience that shape their identities – their race and nationality, their age, faith, education, language and economic status. Listening is complicated because people are complex.
Women are more likely to respond well and expect more from men who truly hear them.
Perhaps listening is especially challenging for men in leadership roles. We struggle with the pressure to solve problems and lead change, which can put us at risk for quick decisions that do not sufficiently include others. And, generally, we do not 'speak gender’ as fluently as the women we work with.
But when the stories come from our mothers and sisters and wives and daughters, and our female friends and colleagues and customers and students, well, it’s simply time to listen. As men, we can summon our own courage. We can invest in listening to women because our success as human beings requires it.
We may feel like we’re back on our heels, on the defensive, unsure not only of our actions but perhaps our motivations. Our confidence in the ways we relate to women may be shaken.
So how do we lean in, move up onto the balls of our feet, and engage in gender collaboration in a new way? How do we make sure that women see us not as part of their problem, but as part of the solution?
Put another way: What can happen when men listen to women, in ways that establish trust? Women are more likely to respond well and expect more from men who truly hear them.
As human beings, we know when we are being listened to. And we like the care and validation that we feel when we are heard.
A man is an ally when a woman says he is.
Trust is the making and keeping of promises over time. And listening is a fundamental relationship promise – when we truly hear what another person says, we open the door to being seen as worthy of trust. And then higher performing relationships emerge.
So there’s a crucial relationship accountability in the act of listening. At Greatheart Consulting, we say that ‘A man is an ally when a woman says he is.’ This does not mean that women are always right, or that all women will respond well to any man’s collaborative intent. It does mean that women get to decide if they trust us as men.
To earn a woman’s trust and respect, what does world-class listening from men look like? (These skills, of course, work well with interaction between any two human beings, however they may differ.)
|As a Man, I’m Listening Well to a Woman when...||I’m not Listening Well when...|
|I’m genuinely interested and curious about her views, and invested in engaging appropriately with her.||I don’t really care to hear her views, and don’t care if she finds me go be a good listener.|
|I quiet the chatter in my head, and focus on what she means to say.||I’m thinking about what I need and want to say while she is talking, and run the risk of interrupting her.|
|I work to stay present in the moment, so she will experience me as attentive.||I show verbal or non-verbal impatience by multitasking or tuning out.|
|I check my understanding and ask questions to clarify what she means.||I assume I know what she means.|
|I consider how differences between us might impact our communication and relationship.||I ignore differences or don’t consider how they may be relevant to how I interact with her.|
|I convey appreciation, interest, agreement or disagreement, or empathy for her perspective.||I make little or no effort to convey interest, appreciation, or empathy for her point of view or experience, or I question the validity of her voice.|
|I value her uniqueness as an individual, honoring her as a woman and seeing other points of identity that she values (e.g. her race or religion).||I tend to view her as representative of women in general, and miss seeing her uniqueness.|
|I listen because I care that she is a person who has something to share with me.||I push to problem-solve, and it does not occur to me that she may only want to be heard.|
|I build trust by offering my honest views with respect, and make it okay to disagree with me.||I avoid conflict by appearing to agree with everything she says, or I refuse to explore disagreement.|
Listening well is the heart of inclusion.
Listening well is the heart of inclusion. It will go a long way toward healing the rifts between women and men that we now hear about every day.
The next blog in this series of three: What happens when men listen to women to build trust?: Women will more often lead the conversation and drive the solution. Read it here.
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